I clearly remember my first experience with death while living abroad, and I was completely unprepared. It was in Nicaragua, back when I was 23 years old. Ernie's neighbour lady passed away, within a week of our arrival, and the family needed his help. What I was so very unprepared for was being asked to sit with the body while they got things ready (went to buy a casket, bring home an embalmer, etc.). SIT WITH THE BODY!? Coming from a western first world context I was in no way prepared for that. But sit with the body I did!
In my Western culture we have prettied death up, so my experience went as far as going to a funeral, maybe viewing a body, all nice in a casket. I imagine that Nicaragua is not the only part of the world that deals with death in a much more personal and hands on way. The beliefs, traditions, and even superstitions, are most likely vast and varying.
Why am I talking about something that happened years ago, or, for that matter, why am I even talking about death? Since being here in Guadalajara we have shared in the grief of several friends. Just yesterday we attended a funeral for a dear friend from our cell groups here in GDL. The day before that we went to a funeral home to support a friends from the gym who was grieving the tragic death of his youngest brother. Maybe a month prior to that we joined another friend from the gym who lost her aged father, another friend lost a grandmother (who was like a mother to him), and we have another dear friend whose grandmother is very ill right now.
Death is inevitable. From the moment we are born we begin to die. We live like we have forever. We deny its eventuality. We fear it. We don't understand it. We don't prepare for it, or even talk about it. We just live our daily lives till we are forced to deal with it, whether through the loss of another, or a personal loss. It often leads us to question God; why did he take our loved one? It can lead to blaming God, or doubting and questioning him.
How does one reconcile a loving God and death? Often during these difficult times these questions and doubts surface. "Why God?" This question comes with doubts, and at times anger. How do we help a person walk through their grief, in a healthy way, with their faith in God intact? And, at times, that faith in God may be weak to begin with. To share in their grief, to love them and to help them, that is a heavy task. I believe that part of 'being salt and light' means walking with the next person in their grief, empathizing, and being there for them. It's probably not a time for 'pat answers', its usually a time for 'presence'. Living out your faith takes many forms - this is one of them.