Just after my first cup of coffee, my Mom called with the news of my Uncle Robert’s passing in the early hours, as well. He was one of those uncles who cared much for me when I was a child, or maybe just pitched in when my own family had a need. If he knew about mentoring, maybe that’s what he was doing when he would take me to Biltmore Dairy Bar for Sunday ice cream cones, or another method, just allowing me to play around his farm as a young boy.
He was approaching 100, so much has happened since the time that I was young. However, I have had the privilege of observing his life at a distance, a man who worked hard (actually gainfully employed well into his 90’s) cared for his family of four, and loved God deeply, even in hard times. He never ventured far from the small town in which I spent my early years. Possibly never having met a mayor, he probably just winked when he heard I had become one? Yet this man, like my Dad, laid deep roots around my heart for some reason, roots that are the core of who I am as a person and a leader. Mind you, my only reason for saying all this is to honor those who shape our lives. None of us are self-made and in fact, any implication of accolade to me is an awkward necessity for posting my thoughts.
I had first posted on Facebook this morning just to honor him, but soon realized by the response of my friends, that there was much to say about grief and the way we release and mourn our dead.
A familiar scripture passage comes to mind, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1
Christianity provides such valued perspective on life, especially around “passing.” Death has forever ended in Christ; passage is now our privilege. The sting of death has been stolen by the Savior. Then, what is it, that we feel when the call comes and we realize a sudden and yes, felt vacuum, where the thoughts of this loved one once dwelt?
Truly unselfish sorrow is felt, like mild pain; but it is only the edge, and thus tangible evidence of real love and joy. The same emotion spoken of in the Velveteen Rabbit, one of my favorites:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”2
Uncle Robert was real, he didn’t break easily, have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. May God rest this good man until that day!
11 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (New International Version, ©2010).
2 The Velveteen Rabbit Or HOW TOYS BECOME REAL
by Margery Williams DOUBLEDAY & COMPANY, INC. Garden City , New York.