The Book of Grief


The casket was just two pews in front of us. It held the sweet and generous wife of a good friend of ours who had battled cancer to the very end. Our grief-stricken friend sat between his two grief-stricken sons at the pew to our right. The large media screens that flanked either side of the sanctuary filled themselves with the photographs that held her life’s story.  Our pastor stood in the middle of it all, just above the casket, and shared his heart on the matter, consoled those who were hurting, reminded those who were forgetting, and read and prayed for hope and peace in the midst of such profound sorrow at the loss of such profound goodness.

My sweet and generous wife sat just to my left and I grasped her hand a bit tighter as I thought about what I was seeing on this day.  There is just no other way to put it – look around and take it in.  Soak up these days together that we have been given, that we have left, and relish the time…for it does not linger.  Things end and time moves on and we have no time to take back the time.

Life is fleeting and beautiful, harsh and wondrous.  This means just one thing to me on this day…now is the time to think about not what we have, but who we have, while we are still alive at a funeral.

P.S.  If you are a parent or grandparent or teacher of young children who might be experiencing loss and grief, there are some really wonderful books out there to help them through the process.  They include Everett Anderson’s Goodbye by Lucille Clifton, Jim’s Dog Muffins by Miriam Cohen, Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola,The Saddest Time by Norma Simon, The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst, When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown, My Father’s Arms Are A Boat by Stein Erik Lunde, and Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen.

Reading with Jacob

“All I have is a voice.” – W.H. Auden

Jacob Reads 2013

For the past several years, I have had the wonderful experience of teaching a Christian Education class on Sunday mornings at our church.  I enjoy it even more because of my friend Jacob.  Jacob is 32 years-old, smiles often and loves to sing and reads from his heart.  He also has Down Syndrome.

A few years ago, I was putting together our Christmas study series for the month of December and decided to ask Jacob if he would read a particular passage from the Bible that told of the story of Christmas.

As the students and their families settled into the chairs around the classroom, I quieted the group and made a few announcements before asking Jacob to come to the front to read the scripture.  He asked if I would stand beside him while he read, “just in case I get nervous,” he said.

The magic commenced the moment he began to read.  His voice was shaky and quiet, reserved and somehow piercing as he read from the gospel of Luke.  As I looked around, the students were leaning forward, some literally on the edge of their seats, completely silent and completely enthralled by this young man’s reading of one of the most familiar passages in the entire Bible.

After the class ended, I stepped outside the room and into the hall to shake hands and talk with guests.  One particular friend in class had been through an especially difficult year in his home and work and I noticed that he lingered behind as everyone left the room.  “I need to tell you something,” he said as he diverted his eyes to the floor and put his hands in his pockets.  “What’s up?” I said.

“It has not felt like Christmas at all to me this year.  Nothing has proved fulfilling or entertaining or worthwhile at all in my life these past few months.”

He stopped and drew in a deep breath, lost in thought for the moment before he continued.

“I felt nothing at all…until Jacob read.  Something about his voice, about the quiet way in which he related such a familiar passage.  Something about it has brought me peace.  Something about reading with Jacob this morning has brought Christmas back to me.  Tell him thanks for me?”

Reading with Jacob.  If you ever have the opportunity to do such a thing, don’t pass it up.  It could even change your life.