First published April 29, 2013
I was eight when I met him. A black furred, charming teddy bear named Dickens, he was given to me as a Christmas gift and I loved him. My sister had a matching golden haired bear named Chadsworth and together we would make and package them food out of paper as though these bears were of our own flesh and it was our job to nurture them.
One day, in my absent-minded eight year old brain, I left Dickens on the side of the road (evidently my nurturing of his development didn't stretch as far as to cover his personal safety). Big mistake. Some of the neighbouring kids kidnapped Dickens and stuffed him down a drain. Ruthless.
The great enquiry
I was devastated. I can still remember the injustice and confusion I felt as a young girl. Why would somebody do this? It was then that I heard it said that 'things happen' as though that explained away the mystery and obscurity of life.
Sister in tow, we hunted high and low for the bear, persecuting pedestrians for answers and stopping at nothing until we found him. Astoundingly, we did find him. Dejected and damaged at the bottom of a man hole. Dad climbed down to retrieve him, Mum cleaned him and Dickens to this day, sits in his rightful place on my bed.
In the case of Dickens, mercy had prevailed. Calamity was pacified. My sister and I were soothed by the sense of peace we found in the resolution. This is a nice story of two sister's determination, a tidy example of tragedy narrowly avoided but I have come to realise that in spite of how much we want it, we don't always find the answers to the questions that afflict us.
I was 14 when I met him. A shaggy haired, self assured young man named Jude, he was given to me as an unwavering friend and I loved him. Together, with others, we would laugh, make up silly games and travel across the place camping here and visiting there. It was a genuine, slightly obsessive and poignant closeness. One that saw us grow through our teenage years, weave our way into each other's families and allowed us the grace and acceptance we needed to exist.
One Sunday in February, we lost him. He was swimming on an oppressively hot day when 'things happened' and he failed to resurface. I grimace as I recall it, the anguish nonetheless present, the nagging sense of something, someone omitted from my life still heavy in the air. Everything meaningful, tasting ever so slightly of grief as the presence of the other people we love, highlight the absence of the one we miss.
I slept in my wardrobe for the next few weeks, uncertainty permeated my bones, riddled with questions, my wardrobe seemed as good a place as any to take shelter in. Death in its very nature isolates. It provokes desperation, aggravates imagination, and incites despondency. It is almost laughable that it is liveable. It is not of God. This much I know.
Moving through the melancholy
The night Jude died, my sister and I sat on the phone, endeavouring together to make some sort of sense of it. This time, we had no neighbours to interrogate, no man holes to explore, no quest to carry us through the perplexity of loss and I quickly realised that there was no remedy to my reservations, my question marks, my doubts, these would go unanswered. When you realise that you can not go back, the questions change and you have to worry, only about the best way to move forward.
I can speak only from my experiences, as death is unique, exclusive to the individual and the relationship, but as I journeyed this rough terrain of unknowns, anger and deep rooted sadness, I found myself asking new questions like, how do I exist well in this? How do I live with integrity and authenticity in the midst of such turmoil? How do I clamber out of this dark, cold grave of suffering with my faith still intact?
The truth is lots of the time I didn't. Some days I drank a lot of wine. Others, hidden away in my cave of misfortune, I wrote him letter after letter after letter. Fighting with God, I wrestled with Him on the absurdity of death, on how He could be so passive in it to let 'things happen'!
And then it came. A peace and a stillness that I had been lacking. Amity between God and I, as I realised that He wept for Jude too. The God of restoration, of power, of sovereignty, vulnerable to the choices of His people, so loyal to the freedom He has allowed us, for without that, it is just manipulation; He wore my pain in Jude and in Jesus. And then everything else, fell away, my God knew me in my grief and clothed me in love.
If death doesn't compel us to love those around us with more enthusiasm, if death doesn't coerce us into having the courage to be open and authentic with others, if death doesn't inspire appreciation for the beauty, mystery and hope of life, if death doesn't bring new insights into ourselves and the brokenness in the world, then we have let death rob us of more than it deserves.
Take a sad song and make it better
As life continues, and hope is renewed, I am marked by death, there are days when the wounds still weep, but there are no more questions. They have been replaced with a sense of honour to know something of suffering, replaced by gratitude to have loved so greatly, and replaced by confidence in God that He is trustworthy.
As the Beatles so wisely said..."Hey Jude, don't make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better". I have been exposed, as have many others, to a sad song, and as I stagger my way forward, the death of my beloved friend, will not be found futile as I seek to remember, to learn and grow and to make it better.
Gemma Taylor despite constant scorn and painful jokes is proudly from the Waikato; although she is presently living in Auckland with her fingers in many pies. She is inspired by truth, creativity and connection. Gemma writes for buoyancy and hopes to one day live wholly by the ideas that she writes of.
Gemma Taylor's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/gemma-taylor.html