A person I loved died on Monday. The burial was yesterday in Uganda where she was from. She’d battled cancer for over a year, and just when it seemed she had overcome it, the doctors treating her exhausted the options to save her life. Though she’d lived in London for over 25 years, she chose to spend her final weeks in her home country. Her prognosis was very poor when she boarded the plane on the 17th of June but she managed to hold onto life for another month. In those weeks, though some of it was spent in a Kampala hospital, she also had time at home with her sisters and nieces.
She was a follower of Jesus so she knew where she was going — or more accurately she knew who would receive her once she left this earth. Anticipating being face to face with her maker, whom she’d loved and served since she was a child, enabled her to face the decline of her physical health with dignity and courage. She also knew the importance of forgiveness so before she departed, she made a list of all those she needed to forgive and asked God to help her let go of those hurts. When she took her last breaths, family members were present at her bedside. Though they are grieving, they are also filled with a deep sense of peace that she ultimately finished well and that the suffering for her is over — forever. So in the midst of this difficult and sad event, there are hints of beauty and hope.
The Sunday before my friend left this earth, I had taken a walk in north Kensington, along the streets close to Grenfell Tower, the site of the terrible fire that happened almost 5 weeks ago now. Outside Laytmer Christian Center, there is a wall of remembrance, where families, neighbors, and friends have left notes, cards, candles, photos and even teddy bears. Most of these messages and gifts convey grief and shock, though I noticed several notes raw with anger and others demanding justice. What struck me most, however, about these mementos, and as I lingered at a similar memorial outside Notting Hill Methodist Church, was the beauty mixed in with the sadness: flowers, candles, colourful posters, hand written notes, and the clear sense that those who died in that fire, died tragically, unjustly and too soon. There were multiple declarations that: “you will never be forgotten” and “we refuse to forget you.”
This array of markers telling the story of a community in mourning also signaled to me in no uncertain terms that death is so unnatural. Death was never meant to be. It’s not what God originally intended. No matter your faith, no matter what you believe about God or whether you even believe God exists or doesn’t, death is the one experience none of us can avoid. And I believe we all innately know and recognize that death is wrong. Even for those who choose to take their own lives. Those left behind experience the pain and the loss and know in their hearts the finality of death in this life just doesn’t seem right. Because it isn’t.
God has set eternity in our hearts. And so whether a death is from cancer or from a fire in a tower block that rages rapidly and tragically out of control, the loss of life reminds of us this truth. When we cling to the eternal in the face of mortal — when we audaciously declare that we will never forget — it’s because deep down inside, we all know that’s the way it was (is) meant to be.