The weekend before Thanksgiving, my niece passed away. She was 22 years old, leaving behind her husband and two sons.
I officiated the service and offered a reflection on making sense of her death. A friend of her husband’s family is a pastor in town and gave another one that focused on the afterlife. My reflection is below as prepared, slightly edited to remove her name:
This doesn’t make sense. We’ve now had just over a week to try to make some sense of such a sudden and tragic death, and it doesn’t make much more sense than it did a week ago. We cry, yes, because of how much we loved her and the sadness of not having her next to us today, but we also cry because of how surprised and shocked we are to lose her so quickly at such a young age.
It just doesn’t make sense. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. Husbands aren’t supposed to be balancing two babies in their arms while at their wife’s funeral. But here we are.
In the past week, two things have helped me, not make sense of this, but to help me begin my own personal process of healing. First, what we see here today is not what she sees now. As the Old Testament tells us:
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,Wisdom 3
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead,
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
Even as we view her passing with sadness and something that destroyed our world, she has been entrusted to the merciful hands of God and she is now at peace.
And the second is being reminded of how much God loves us, which can be really hard to believe right now. One thing I’ve heard by different friends and loved ones this week is some variation of not understanding how God could have this be his plan, not understanding why God would have done this. Why would such a loving God let such a loving person perish? Why did God’s plan have her taken away from us now?
It wasn’t God’s plan. God didn’t plan out each day of our lives from the beginning and just hoped that we stayed on that path. God’s plan for us is, ultimately, to return to him, he who made us. God so desires this that His plan for us is too powerful—it figures out a way.
I don’t think God plans for us to get sick, to get cancer, to get in that accident. I don’t think God penned a plan that would have us together in this funeral home gathered today around her up here in the front.
God’s plan for us, though, is that we all have the free will to decide for ourselves what we will do today or what we won’t. God’s plan for us is generally for the world will play out with how all of those decisions every day by all of us here impact each other. God’s plan for us is to live in his creation, accepting the scientific rules and realities that have evolved over the eons.
God’s plan for us is to accept the decisions we all make, to accept that what brought us to this point brought us to this point, and then for us to decide to make it better from this moment forward. To use what we have before us—good or bad—and transform it with the grace of the Spirit to something better.
Paul in his letter to the Romans helps us:
If God is for us, who can be against us?Romans 8
He did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all,
will he not also give us everything else along with him?
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish or distress or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
No, in all these things, we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God.
God loves us so deeply, so fully, so passionately, so all-consuming. God doesn’t just like you or thinks you’re okay, or tolerates you only when you’re in a good mood. God loves you. God is like fully obsessed-in-love over you.
God’s love for us is something that God wants us to share with each other. God can not but have his love spill out onto each one of us and, in return, being given such full and complete love, we have to share it with those around us.
And that’s how, maybe, while being here today for this reason still doesn’t make any sense, that’s how it can give us purpose and hope.
She had such a beautiful spirit who shared so much love with us and the world is a worse place for her not being here anymore. She is better off — she is at her peace — but we still have less here with us.
While I don’t think God’s plan was to have her life on this earth end a week ago, I think that, maybe, God’s plan for us today moving forward is to take a moment to pause, realize how much love the world lost when it lost her, and then for us to commit to being that love. To be that extra love for each other–her friends and family, for us to be that extra love for the rest of the world who never will get to experience her love this side of heaven, to be that extra love in some small way for her husband, and to be that extra love for her boys so they will always know their mother by her love.
I don’t think her death will ever make any sense to me, but we can accept love, we can show love, and we can love for each other. And through us and through that love, her light will continue to shine.