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Reflections

This Doesn't Make Sense

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,
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.

Wisdom 3

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?
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.

Romans 8

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.

Categories
Daddy's Corner Reflections

We don't move on from grief

I haven’t lost a spouse, but a dad when I was 12 and been touched by grief very recently. She’s hit the mark pretty well.

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Daddy's Corner Featured Reflections

20 Years

I’ve struggled with what to write to mark 20 years since my dad died. It’s probably the most common regular topic I’ve written about over the years. Earlier this month, a very close friend lost his mother. A few days ago, I talked heart-to-heart with another friend who lost his father earlier in the year. As the posts over the year demonstrate, it’s a weird journey–grief. No matter the age, losing a parent can be very hard. If you’re in that situation yourself, you’re not alone and it’s okay to grieve however you’re doing it, as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others around you.

One thing I’ve been wanting to do for years is put his casket flag in a nice case with his military decorations. It has literally taken me 20 years, but I finally put it together this evening.

 

 

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Daddy's Corner

Ed Kraft, 1954-2016

My uncle died yesterday. He was 62 years old.

Uncle Ed and Aunt Lynette with Olivia and Catalina
Uncle Ed and Aunt Lynette with Olivia and Catalina

I must admit learning of his passing yesterday morning, I cried for the first time I can remember. True, actual sobbing. I’m sure it was ugly. I didn’t cry when my dad died—a random tear here or there during the immediate events and cry some more recently looking back, struggling with his death still. But, I’ve never actually sobbed upon hearing sad news before yesterday morning.

We last saw him six weeks ago at a family reunion in South Dakota—an epic road trip for a family of seven. He didn’t look 100%. Within a week of us heading back to Texas, he found out that he had cancer. You always see these things better in hindsight.

My dad was one of 12 children—10 surviving past childhood. Of the 10, six brothers and four sisters. My dad was the first to pass away in 1997. Ed is now the 4th of the boys. While my uncles have always taken special care of me, be it their oldest brother’s youngest who lost Dad when I was 12, it has been such a joy for them to equally take a special interest in my kids. There are many things hard about not having Dad around to see them grow up and I’ve voiced difficulty in picturing Dad playing with my kids. Having my uncles treat my girls as I could imagine my Dad doing has been a true grace.

Of my uncles, he was the one whose looks and mannerisms reminded me most of Dad. I wanted him to live forever, even if it was unfair of me to want it, in part, because he helped me put an adult context to the fading childhood memories of my Dad dead 19 years. Quite selfish, to be honest. He was a good man who was kind, loving, and sweet in a wonderfully gruff way. I’m going to miss him dearly.

 

Blessed are those who have died in the Lord;
let them rest from their labors,
for their good deeds go with them.

Eternal rest grant unto him , O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen.

 

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Church Current Events Reflections

Orlando

There isn’t a word for the event overnight in Orlando. To call it terrorism, which it was, makes it seem like something far away, isolated, and a something abstract that politicians will use to further their own ends (which they will anyhow). To call it a mass shooting, which it was, lumps it into the 160 or so other mass shootings we’ve had this year. Each murder is unique and the victim(s) are individual, unique, and special people whose untimely ends do not deserve to be lumped together with other savage acts. Mass shootings all the more with their large-scale impact.

It isn’t fair to the Orlando victims or their families to just consider this a random act of terrorism or one of far too many mass shootings. Sadly, there are so many mass shootings and acts of terrorism that they’re going to be lumped into and, all-in-all, forgotten as we fail as a society to work together to reflect on why this is happening here and what do we need to do to reduce and hopefully end it.

The victims and their families are in my prayers.

I’ve read folks saying, basically, prayers don’t matter and that’s only a cop-out to make myself feel better. I’ll grant hearing “thoughts and prayers” from NRA-supported politicians is pretty pathetic. John Scalzi covers this pretty well.

For me, my faith and belief system forms the foundation of my world view. I believe we are a spiritual people that have a connection to a higher being with prayer being the venue for exploring that connection.

My prayers are not a half-second thought or even just a “God, bring comfort to these people” moment. My prayers for Orlando—the murdered, their families and friends, the responding officers, the broader LGBTQ community, the murderer, the Muslim community, our nation and our political leaders—are on multiple levels.

Yes, part of that prayer is asking God to be present in this situation and for the people involved to seek love. Part of that prayer is critical self-reflection on how do we as a people and how do I as a person need to respond.

I believe that God is love, the font of mercy and justice, the one we are crafted from and destined to return to. The latest I read doubted the murderer was religious, just a homophobic bigoted asshole. That said, religion has played a role in hate and shockingly still does. How do we, as a religion, and as religious individuals, need to respond not only to the victims in a compassionate way—which is still good, needed, and required of us—but also form ourselves and our practices to ensure we are not creating an environment that fosters disgusting hatred. What could we do better to make beyond clear that hatred has no place within our communities?

Yeah, I know. I’m Catholic. I am not under any illusion that the Catholic Church is gay-friendly. This is something we must do better. “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” The more I think about that line, the more it is a disservice to everyone. Hate has no place here.

The Catholic Church is celebrating a “Year of Mercy” this year. Rome commonly declares a year for something every so often when there are special thematic elements to remind the whole church of that piece of our tradition. “Hate the sin, not the sinner” puts the focus both on the sin and hate (as the subject which is acted upon and the action verb) and a passing reference to the sinner without any clear direction of the action toward that subject—are we to ignore the sinner?, outcast the sinner?, somewhat kinda tolerate the sinner?, try to “reform” the sinner?, love the sinner?

No, instead, we should love each other. We’re all sinners, so there’s no need to even say that we should love the sinner. We can equally say “love everyone”, “love people”, “love all humans”. God is love and the font of mercy. If we start with love, we can act with mercy to those we interact with that we don’t agree with, don’t understand, or seem “different”, in some way in far greater and more beautiful ways than if we begin with hating the sin.

I have no interest in rehashing sexual theology today. This is more primal than that. We are all different than each other in some way and, in the end, I trust that the vast, vast majority of humanity are good people trying to do their best in the world as they understand it and to each other.

Too often, religious folks understand this to be combative. “My way is right, thus your way is wrong, and that’s the end of it. You’re weird and you’re different and that ain’t right.”

No, we need to stay focused on love and mercy. “Your way is different? Alright, well, I might not understand it or I might not agree with it, but I still love you. We can find common ground, we can be friends.” We’re all different in some way. For my Catholics, none of us could possibly fully live up to the Christian ideal and we all need love, mercy, and forgiveness ourselves constantly. Who are we to withhold that same love and mercy that we profess and need ourselves?

We don’t need to become the same. We don’t need everyone to agree with us in order to act out of a position of love. In fact, our faith demands that that we love unconditionally. We fail to do that far, far too often.

Back to the point, when I say I’m praying for everyone in Orlando, I’m not trying to make myself feel better for a few minutes or offloading the work to a deity that isn’t known for making grand obvious gestures. I am processing it, seeking inspiration on what I can do to make a difference, and offering to them my respect.

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Daddy's Corner

Tell People How You Feel

On my birthday, a few years ago or so, I received a touching e-mail from a very close friend. We had another close, mutual friend die not long before in his late 30’s from cancer.

The e-mail was an expression of feeling. What did our friendship mean to him. It wasn’t the stuff guys talk about often, if ever. I was extremely touched by it, but I never replied. To do it justice, I would need to spend some serious time in serious thought about it. He was my best man and my longest roommate during my bachelor years. Not an e-mail you can shoot off a quick reply to.

After all this time passed, I still haven’t replied. It reminded me of the post I wrote after our friend passed away. My inability to write the words about what people meant to me while they had the chance to read it. I’m still frozen, unable to reply to the oldest e-mail in my inbox.

Over 18 years ago, my father died. I wasn’t a teenager yet, my dad was sick for some time before his death and he never was one to deeply share his feelings, with me at least.

Now, as a father myself, that lack of sharing impacts me more than it did before Olivia was born.

Life is relationships. Every aspect of life is a puzzle piece of puzzle pieces that we measure, balance, compare, and connect to the other aspects of life. While difficult, being open with each other about the importance of these relationships should be more common place.

Many of us have a teacher, a mentor, a boss, a coworker, a friend, a coach that has profoundly changed our lives who, while we hope they realize their impact, may not. We shouldn’t let the chance to share that when we have it.

While I can’t have a talk with my father about what I meant to him, I can try to change that for my girls. Not only do I try to tell them directly, I am not naive enough to assume I’ll have the chance to have an adult relationship with them. To that end, I’ve started recording quasi-annual videos to each one, telling them their impact to me, my feelings about them, what about what they do now that I take note of. I don’t talk to them as the 6-year-old or 4-year old or 2-year old that they are, but rather, what would the 25-year old daughter of mine want to hear from their father if they couldn’t hear it directly from me.

I pray that this is all an “umbrella method”. If you bring your umbrella with you, it won’t rain. If you skip it, it’ll rain without doubt. I hope that by being so conscience of this now, these videos won’t be needed. I’ll be around long enough to where they won’t cherish them. If not, though, I can mitigate the impact in some very small way.