Life is not fair. Sometimes there is no other way to put it. Or at least nothing that makes it as clear at that. Life is not fair. That is one of the hard truths that we face today.
Life contains pain. Another hard truth we face. Life contains pain. Sometime we can handle the pain, sometimes we can't. Sometimes we seek out others to help us handle the pain, sometimes (for whatever reason – maybe being “brave”, maybe afraid to ask, maybe we don't believe anyone can help) we try to do it by ourselves. And sometimes the pain just feels like too much to deal with and we try to find a way to put it behind us.
Other people's choices sometimes hurt us. A third hard truth. Perhaps the hardest one of all. Sometimes other people make choices that hurt us. And for whatever reason she made that choice, H's choice to end her own life has caused great pain. I do not believe this is why she made that choice. I believe that H was most likely trying to escape from pain that she found unbearable. But it is undeniable that her making that choice hurts her family and friends. And so we gather together to begin to deal with our pain and sorrow.
I am sure that there are many different emotions in this room this morning. There are people here who are sad. There are people here who are still asking “Why?”. There are people here who are angry, maybe angry at H, maybe angry at themselves, maybe angry at the world. There are people here who are anxious, unsure what the future will bring. There may also be people here who feel guilty, wondering if they missed something, if there was something they could have done, or not done, or said or not said that would have helped H find other choices. And there are likely people here who have some or all of these feelings in combination. All these things are normal. All these are ways we respond to a tragic, totally abnormal event in our lives. And the best thing to do is to let ourselves feel what we need to feel. We need not try to push the feelings aside or deny them. Only by allowing them their space will we be able to start the process of coming to a “new normal”, of figuring out what life is going to be like on this side of H's death.
But take heart. We do not face these feelings alone. We have family and friends to help us express our feelings. And we have God walking with us, giving us support, giving us strength, helping us through the rough patches. We do not have to face the pains and struggles of life alone. And that is good. Indeed that is very good.
As we deal with these feelings there are some things we need to acknowledge as well. One is that there are questions to which we will never know the answers. We can never answer all the “Why?” questions. We can never know what was troubling H, what the sources of her pain were. We can make guess, but the only one who knew the whole story was H, and for her own reasons she chose not to share those things. Another piece that we need to acknowledge is that while it is normal to ask us if there was something we could have done, if we could have been more supportive, even if somehow we were part of causing H's pain; we need to know that H's death is not our fault. And we need to allow ourselves to be forgiven, as God has already forgiven us, for any way in which we might think we failed her.
How do we move forward in the face of tragedy? How can we face the future when the world seems to make no sense?
One of the things people have done for centuries, probably for all of human history, is gather together just like we have done today. Here we have taken time to share some memories, and later today there will be more time to share memories. As you came in you were offered a piece of paper on which you could write some memories to share with H's family. All this storytelling, all this sharing of memories is a part of how we move forward, a part of how we say good-bye. And strangely it is in sharing memories with each other that we get to know H better. Some people knew H through dance, some knew her through school. For some she was sister, or cousin, or niece, or daughter. But when stories are shared about all those different ways she was known a clearer, more complete picture of who she was (both the good and the bad – she was a real person with flaws and all) is drawn. Yes 15 years is too short a life. But still we can find things to say thank you for in those 15 years.
One of the things we have to do today is make a choice. As we lament H's death, as we face all the mixed emotions her death brings, as we share stories and weep, and maybe even laugh in fond memory we have to choose between hope and despair. Will we lament with hope or despair? Will we choose to believe the claim that we can stare into the face of death, even unexpected, premature, tragic death, and proclaim that life still wins? It doesn't make sense after all. How can we, is it even possible to, lament with hope?
There is, in my mind, only one way we can lament with hope. We can only do it through faith. We can only do it by reminding ourselves of the promise we find in our faith stories, stories of people who often found reason to weep and lament and worry, but who also had hope. We only do it by reminding ourselves that we are not alone.
Every Sunday people gather together in this place to remember the story of Jesus, the one who promised his friends that there was something beyond death. At one point Jesus is talking to his friends and talks of going to prepare a place for them. Going to prepare a place means that there is a place for us. It is our promise that something lies beyond death. This is good news. Even in the face of tragedy this promise can give us hope.
Writing to the church in Rome, Paul proclaims his conviction that nothing, NOTHING can separate us from God. Nothing in life, not even death can separate us from the God who watched us grow in our mother's womb, who has shared every step, every breath of our lives. Here is more hope. If death can not separate us from God then there must be something beyond death. Something beyond the tragedy not only for H but for her friends and family who have been left to mourn her death.
“Yeah sure”, I can hear some of you saying. It's easy to talk about hope. Easy to talk about faith. Easy to talk about God. But where is God in these times? For that I think of the chorus to a song from my teen years – “Lean On Me”:
Lean on me, when you're not strong
I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on.
we all need somebody to lean on.
In times like this God speaks these words. In times like this God is the one who helps us get up in the morning, who helps us stand up when the weight of the world crushes in on our shoulders.
The book of poetry we know as the Psalms contains much wisdom for times such as this. In Psalm 46 the poet says that God is our rock, our refuge, a help in times of trouble. Even when the earth shakes and life seems uncertain God is our rock and refuge. In Psalm 121 the poet looks up at the seemingly barren hillsides and asks “where will my help come from”. Think of that image, down at the bottom of a deep valley, surrounded by high hills that seem insurmountable. That sounds to me like a good image for the depths of grief we feel at a time like this. And the Psalmist knows that his help will come from God, that God is always there, that God is not asleep at the switch, that God “will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”
God is not there to stop the tragedy from happening, as much as we might want that. But God is there to help us climb back out of the valley. Even when the world is falling to pieces around us, God is there to help us put the pieces back into some sort of order. And this is a cause for hope.
On Tuesday the unimaginable happened. A young person who was loved by many but who was apparently feeling that there was no other option chose to end her pain by ending her life. It makes not sense. It isn't fair. And now we need to find a way to live in a world that has been changed. As we try to do that we can take hope from the realization that God is with us, that we do not face the pain and anger and emptiness and uncertainty alone, or solely with our own strength. This is a cause for hope. We can also take a measure of comfort in knowing that for H the time of pain and unhappiness is ended. Jesus told his friends there would be a place waiting for them, for us, when our time on earth was over. When we make the journey to the life which lies beyond this life we are welcomed with the open loving arms of the God who has been with us since before our birth, the God who loves and accepts us unconditionally. There is comfort there, there is promise there, there is even hope.
We are not alone. We live in and walk with God. God will walk with us through the valley of grief. God will lead us back into life. In life, in death, in life beyond death we are NOT alone. Thanks be to God. Amen