The Best Teacher of Life is Death
We all need a Superman. Adam Shaffer is one of them. Tall, dark-haired, athletic. Add handsome. I did not see his superhero gear, but under his Clark Kent suit…who knows?
Adam is a funeral director. That’s really the wrong name for professionals like him who truly show the world super powers. What is a whole lot harder than outrunning a speeding train or catching a toppling four-story building in one arm while escorting Lois Lane with the other is burying a casket or urn in front of us with our loved one inside.
Pros like Adam should be found under the title “Pretty Much Awesomeness.” Consider the obvious. This death thing is not just hard; it’s all out, WAY over the top impossible. But caregivers like
Adam help us through THE most impossible moments in our lives. Yes, they really do have super powers.
I officiated a committal service at the Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery last week. To give you a sense of this, imagine the Arlington National Cemetery in Pennsylvania.
Now I’m a herder. It’s my thing. Watch for and attend to those who need care.
This time I wasn’t alone. Here’s Adam, a super man.
The area where we gathered for the service was not graveside. It couldn’t be. Instead, we met in a pavilion-like structure with three open sides. People can go anywhere physically and emotionally after a service—and, if there ever is a time to begin to heal and not go off and hurt alone by leaving without at least one connection with someone, this is one of them.
After the service, Adam gathered, valued, heard and responded to those in his care. This showed plainly and perfectly. Mind you, the guy looks and moves like an NFL quarterback. With him, we could sense what was true. We were in good hands.
His schedule is like mine, but we still stole minutes after the service. The subject between us? Death. Specifically, how death teaches us about life.
As a whole, our culture today isn’t valuing what grief teaches us. We are too quick to pass over what we can learn about life through death. Without death, however, how would we even know what life means? How would we value it? How would we express love in it?
And let’s think of how well we, as a society, do for those grieving. A 58-year-old widow was flooded with “Whatever you need, just ask,” comments for the first few weeks after the sudden and unexpected death of her 60-year-old husband. Three months later? Who did she hear from? What about the married friends she had enjoyed with her husband? Some of her greatest pain came from the unresponsiveness of the world around her.
Grief can paralyze and isolate us. It can also make us reach into our broken selves and touch and sit with those whose loss may be so different than our own. One lesson about death is this: loss is loss.
We have all lost someone we love. If we are attentive to it, we learn from death that we have this much time to make our relationships matter. We have this much time to get the words “I love you” in, so we’d better do it.
The worst thing I experience as a pastor are people afraid of death. My heart breaks when people unfamiliar with church enter a sanctuary or a funeral home and are so frightened of death.
We don’t need to fear death. Oh, I get grieving, I totally get grieving, but consider how much harder grief work is when you don’t know exactly what Jesus did on a cross. Death is not the end. It is not the final sting. Jesus came to take death away.
Pros like Adam know this. They also know how to value life, especially around the family of someone who has died.
This blog first appeared in The Susquehanna Independent on Jun2 27, 2018.