Unexpected Times of Sheer Joy
John and I were the sorts of friends who grew up side by side and stayed in touch despite the different paths we took in life. Life allowed our paths to cross a year ago before my brother left for China. We were having a going-away party, and John arrived in his usual quiet manner. He smelled of coffee and men’s cologne. I gave him a hard time about never keeping in touch with me. He apologized and promised to come around more often.
I never expected to lose a friend so early in life. John was my god-brother, meaning if my parents passed away, his family would take me in. We were friends in a non-romantic way but there was always this thought that maybe he and I would end up together. Probably because as kids our sisters teased us about it.
Over the course of last year, I grew closer to him again, like we were as kids. I began to learn that adult John was different than childhood John. He was always searching for a sense of belonging and community. Our last conversation took place on a warm autumn night in my brother’s backyard. Fireflies buzzed behind the screened-in porch and John said he wasn’t really in a good place. Working as a barista he was learning about the art of roasting coffee, but from there he didn’t know what to do next. This came as no surprise because I hear this from a lot of twentysomething single Christians. But still, I listened to him talk, realizing this conversation was very precious because he didn’t often open up to me. So I told him to convey these feelings to God. “If you want God to show you where to go ask him to give you a sign. I’m sure he will.”
A few weeks later I was driving home from my evening class. Jazz music played on my radio as I yawned sleepily. My phone buzzed with a text from his cousin that said John had been in a bike accident. I stopped for sushi at the grocery store and crouched down in the parking lot to text my family, “Pray for John, he’s in the ICU.”
Not ten minutes later I got the call that he didn’t make it. It was just four days before his 24th birthday, and we had lost him.
Losing Johnny has mostly been a journey of pain too deep for words, but there have been some unexpected times of sheer joy along this road of grief. I allowed myself to weep for the first few days, recognizing this was the saddest thing I had ever experienced. I wept the most at the service before we laid his body in the ground.
I wrestled with the thought of not going to the funeral because I dreaded having to see his dead body. But for some reason, looking back I’m glad I did. Driving to the funeral was probably the worst car ride of my life, but I went because I had to. For it is just as important to see the dead, as it is to know they will be raised. I realized this after reading 1 Cor. 15:42-44 “42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” The day after John was taken to heaven, I read these words with my pastor and there within me began a longing to join him in heaven.
Despite the comfort I found in knowing John was in heaven, I struggled with the adjustment of his absence.
Eventually, I began to see the light and to recognize new feelings erupting inside of me. The greatest comfort I found in losing Johnny was the knowledge that he is now fully known in heaven and he has found that community he was searching for down here.
A pastor recently told me that John is experiencing more life than I am. This was reassuring because I struggled with the idea that he might be lonely away from us all. And I felt scared that he was in an unconscious state waiting for Christ to return and raise him from the dead.
I still don’t know if grieving gets easier. Every time I find solid ground I begin to sink into doubts, fears, and overwhelming sadness. And the smallest things will trigger it, like a biker on a dark road, or a sushi roll in the grocery store, or the places we walked together and made memories. Words cannot capture the depths of grief or sadness, but they can present a great deal of hope. Despite missing my dear brother, I’m incredibly comforted to know where he is, to remember the way God was glorified in his life on earth, and to stride toward the finish line till my race is done.