This morning my Uncle Stanley died.
He had been in poor health for some time, and even before that he struggled with many other matters as well. He was no doubt weary, and his body was no longer serving him well. He had been on life support more times than I can remember and had managed to fight back again and again. I remember joking with my dad after one of those touch-and-go instances that he may have been part cat. Nine lives and then some.
My earliest memory of him is when he came to stay a weekend with us when I was still young and pudgy and bossy (some days I guess I may still be the latter two of those things, anyway). He was in the next room as I was matter-of-factly bossing my big sister around and I remember his chuckle as he told my dad what he’d overheard me say.
When that big sister of mine called me crying this morning, I remembered that for some reason, that Johnny Cash voice and the crinkles around his eyes when he was happy and smiling and doing well, and then I shed my tears too.
The sadness and the mourning are a completely natural response. But after sitting with that for a moment, I started to think of what he must be seeing now, and the immeasurable peace and joy that must come with moving from a broken body in this mud puddle of a world on to the beautiful seashore of the afterlife, for we truly are
“like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”-C.S Lewis
We cling to this life, not being able to fully grasp that we are offered something that is
when it’s over. We can’t comprehend the magnificence of what we have not yet experienced, so we try desperately to stay in our insufficient little shells in this broken little place because the beautiful parts of it, which are really only mere shadows-whispers-of the glory to come, are all we know by which to measure. And maybe that’s the only way it can be.
It’s natural to mourn the loss, but Stanley knew where he was going and I believe he was ready. My aunt says his favorite song says, “When I get to where I’m going there will be only happy tears. I will shed the sins And sorrows I have carried all these years.” How lovely that is. So even though we will mourn, right now my Uncle Stanley is having the time of his afterlife at the Seashore, and so I mourn and rejoice simultaneously.
So let me rephrase that opening sentence for more detail and accuracy:
This morning, after coming near death at least a dozen times over the past several years, my Uncle Stanley with the Johnny Cash voice who struggled with the health of both his body and his spirit for a great portion of his life slipped out of the wearisome burden of his earthly body and went running into the open arms of his heavenly Father.
Yes. That’s so much better.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:54-56