Saying goodbye to a friend or loved one who has died is difficult. Though mentally and spiritually I know I will see my dad again, there is still a void in my life. The reoccurring image of him sitting in his chair with his cigar resting in his mouth watching a Texas Ranger game; the image of him barbequing in the back yard; the image of him sitting down the left field foul line watching a youth baseball game; the image of him driving his pickup truck to his favorite fishing hole and patiently taking a fish off a little boy’s line; the image of him speaking Czech to his brother and sister; the image of him speaking very little, but enjoying a road trip as we drove from Dallas to California; the image of the twinkle in his eye when he told a story or a joke; the image of him sitting down with his grandsons and their friends and telling stories (most with a little bit of truth and a little bit of bull). These images are very real…very alive… and very personal! We all have these types of images from people we knew and loved. And yes, I do know God has a plan; and yes, I do know that everyone will eventually die; and yes, I do know “all things work together for good” (Ro 8:28). But the death of a Christian’s loved one is still difficult, because of that place in one’s life and heart.
Why is it so painful to say goodbye to a friend or loved one? One of my favorite explanations of this question is from C. S. Lewis, who lost his wife to cancer. He asked, “Why love if losing hurts so much?” His insight is extremely helpful during our time of grief. Lewis notes, “The pain now is part of the happiness then. Pain is woven into the fabric of love. To isolate ourselves from pain is to isolate ourselves from true love, true happiness.” It hurts so much when someone you love dies, because that person was apart of your life and brought some type of happiness. Our pain and tears over a loved one is because of our memories and experiences with that loved one. Garth Brooks’ Song, “The Dance,” gives a Lewis-like insight to saying goodbye:
Looking back on the memory of the dance we shared,
'Neath the stars above for a moment all the world was right.
How could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye.
And now I'm glad I didn't know the way it all would end.
The way it all would go, our lives are better left to chance.
I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance.
How do you say goodbye to a person you danced with? Saying goodbye is always emotional, mixed with tears of joy and sorrow. When I left home for college, I can’t recall if the goodbyes were tearful or joyful, but I do recall that emotional word “goodbye” as I drove off into the sunset. But when I thought about it, what did that goodbye really mean? I was coming home again in several weeks. The goodbyes were merely “I’ll miss you until I see you later.” They were not meant to be a final gesture of love or a farewell forever, but merely a temporary gesture of sadness and love until we meet again. Likewise, for those who know Jesus Christ, death is not a final farewell, but merely a goodbye for now, until we meet again in heaven.
When Winston Churchill planned his funeral, which took place in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, he included many great hymns and an eloquent liturgy. After the benediction, a bugler positioned high in the dome of Saint Paul’s played Taps, the universal signal that says the day is over. But then came the most dramatic part, as soon as Taps was finished, another bugler who was placed on the other side of the great dome played Reveille- a call to get up for it is time for a new day to start. Churchill’s goodbye was that his last note would not be Taps, but Reveille, because a he is starting a new day and is waiting to dance again with all his friends and loved ones.
We have said many goodbyes in our church over the last year, but please remember that those goodbyes are not that we will never see them again, but merely gestures of our love- that while missing them, we look forward to dancing with them again. I can’t wait for that day and the dance!
-Pastor Mike Kotrla