CROSSING THE RIVER
In the last two weeks, six people whom I love have died. I write this not for sympathy, but just for perspective. I know that at my age I should begin to expect death to visit my circle, but the cumulative effect of six deaths in so short a time has made me much more distracted from my duties than I wanted to be.
Let me say here that I do not despair for those who died. I have a strong conviction that we are eternal beings, that death is the crossing of a river into a new life in a better place. And I am convinced that one day I will see these friends again, and we will experience a joy that I cannot yet express. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy when you’re the one left behind, and my heart breaks for the families of my dead friends.
Three of these recent deaths were not totally unexpected; these friends had been battling diseases, one for years, the others for only a short time, but in those cases death was acceptable, since it was seen as a relief from the pain that a terminal illness brings, and release from suffering. In fact, one friend’s last few months were absolutely inspirational: he purchased for a smaller home for his wife, one she could keep up without him, he got her a new puppy, since they were both dog lovers, he spent Christmas with all of his children and grandchildren, spending time with each one individually, and he expended what energy he had in service to others – helping a friend paint his shutters, or doing some home repairs for another friend. He truly set his house in order before he left.
The other three deaths have been shocking, mostly because those who died were relatively young – anywhere from 27 to 53. Two of these deaths have been here in Tonga – a young father collapsed in his front yard, and died en route to the hospital, and the brother of one of our teachers lost his battle with an infection at the hospital. I attended both funerals, and found comfort in the feelings communicated there, both in word and music. And as the days go by, I try to find little moments to succor the family members, when they will allow me to do so. These Tongans are saints in every sense of the word – they bear tragedy with such dignity and faith that I feel selfish expressing my next point.
The hardest part about being so far away from my other friends is that I can’t be there to throw my arms around them. I am sad because at this distance, I am really of no help. I can’t be there to walk into a kitchen and just do the dishes. I can’t be there to take the kids for an afternoon. I can’t be there to bring them a warm loaf of bread and a shoulder to cry on. I can’t be there to spend time telling “remember when” stories. I can’t be there to share a moment with them, to lend them what strength I may have, to offer my love through my actions. When I came to serve this mission, I thought I knew what sacrifices I would be making. Surprise. Now the sacrifice comes in not being able to serve those I’d want to serve in their time of need.
But since I am here serving, I will ask the Lord to give my blessings to those I can’t reach right now. So Mele, Ana Tema, Sally, Mel, Jody, Robert, please know that you will get the blessings you need to help you adjust to the holes in your hearts. The holes will not heal in this life, but I am familiar enough with death to say that you get used to the holes being there.
I know from my own experience that prayer – heartfelt, fervent prayer – is effective. So I assure you that you are all in my prayers. I am absolutely sure that we will met Tevita, Simi, Harold, Jim, Richard and Kathleen again; I know with every fiber of my being that we continue on after this life, that our Father in Heaven will bring us home again. My prayers will be that all of us who lose loved ones will have the patience, the endurance, the acceptance, and the determination to live the rest of our lives so that we are worthy to greet our family members when we finally cross that grand river.