Please welcome today’s guest writer, Jacob Kuyvenhoven. Jacob is a 2015 Calvin grad with a strategic communication degree. He reports on sports for a newspaper in Willmar, Minnesota, home of the coffee shop voted “best in the state” by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Ever since my grandfather died a month ago, I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Sleep just comes when it chooses lately. I work until midnight, and every so often I’ll be asleep by three, but those nights are becoming few and far between.
I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t lie awake because I feel sad. I don’t feel sad. I feel sad that we lost a wonderful man who had a large presence and influence in my life, but what I mean is I don’t feel depressed, of course. I don’t spend much time questioning whether life is worth living or things are worth doing. They are. But I do spend a lot of time thinking about death.
Presumably, everyone has their own method of coming to terms with their mortality, the mortality of their loved ones, of everyone they know and don’t know. Or maybe more commonly, avoiding thinking about it altogether. And from what I can tell, most people are doing a better job than I.
Not to say I’m not familiar with some of the reasons not to fear death.
It is a waste of energy to fear death, considering its utter inevitability. Everyone who lives dies soon after. Is an acorn afraid to become a tree? Does a caterpillar go through melodramatic personal crises before entering a cocoon? Death is a part of life, and if there was no death, would life be all that special?
You weren’t conscious for the millions of years before your life on Earth. This was not overly taxing, was it? Dying may be hard, but being dead is easy.
Do you really expect to be ready to die at twenty-two years old, Jacob? You haven’t been close with many people who have died. But those people—they were at peace with it. And if you eat healthy and exercise and go to the doctor to fight off that family history of heart disease and drive safely and look both ways before you cross the road, you can live long enough to be ready to die. What a remarkable privilege. For some people, most people, each day is a constant fight to stay alive, to survive with terminal illness and war and genocide at the doorstep. Who are you to fear death?
And you know, an afterlife could certainly exist too. Heaven. You believe in God, don’t you? Don’t you?
Maybe my faith will grow strong, strong enough to have the message of Christ’s victory over death ring just as true and feel just as real as the body in the casket, the casket I carried with five of my cousins on a cold December morning to be lowered into the ground. The weight pulls my arm downward; I step forward to bring the body one step closer to the place it will remain forever. Forever. A word said so often, that we still know so little about. A wonderful word in some contexts and a horrible one in others.
I feel the body slide around inside the casket as the front is angled higher than the back where I’m stationed. I try to raise my end up to level it, but we’re walking up a hill, and thud I feel my grandfather’s body hit the back end of the casket. I’m not sickened, just embarrassed. He doesn’t deserve this. I’m not sure what I’m referring to.
The Bible tells me this isn’t how it really ends for us. That his earthly burial might be grotesquely finite, but it’s just a symptom of a world fallen into sin and death. It tells me he’s with the Lord he loved, the wife he loved just as fiercely, and the many, many loved ones he had seen go before him, that he had put in the ground. It says the creeping, unstoppable, undefeated, unknown terror known as death has already been defeated.
The Bible also tells me that it’s okay to grieve, and that it’s okay to doubt. And these are the more comforting words for now.