Life from death

Jen Bradbury
May 22 · 5 min read

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As we stood at my mother-in-law’s casket, my nearly two-year-old nephew chased my four-year-old daughter around the empty funeral home room – something they could do since, thanks to the COVID-19 restrictions, the room was empty except for us.

My gut reaction was to reach out and grab my daughter. I couldn’t really let her run around her dead grandma’s casket, could I?

The moment felt so inappropriate… Obscene almost.

And yet, it also felt exactly right.

No one would have enjoyed their game of chase more than Grandma Nancy.

Who am I kidding?

Grandma Nancy would have joined in that game of chase if she could have.

So we did nothing. Instead, by some kind of simultaneous, unspoken agreement between the adults, we simply smiled beneath our masks as the kiddos ran around, laughing and screaming with joy.

On a day filled with death and sadness, it was a reminder of life.

As we left the funeral home, our procession much smaller than it would have been under any other circumstance, people lined the funeral route. Many were dressed as though they were actually attending the funeral. Some held signs of support. Others held flowers. Still others carried paper hearts or heart balloons.

I knew some but not all. That didn’t matter though. They all knew Nancy. And they loved her. On a day that was so very hard, where they would have normally come together to grieve and support our family, they showed their love in the only way they could.

Signs of love amidst so much grief.

When we arrived at the cemetery, we waited in our car as the pallbearers carried Nancy’s casket to the grave, careful not to violate the restrictions put in place because of the pandemic. When it was our turn, we donned our masks and headed to the tent. We spaced ourselves out… we prayed… and sang (or rather, I listened to my father-in-law and husband sing It Is Well With My Soul.) We took flowers from Nancy’s casket… Just as she would have wanted us to do.

Signs of faith and hope amidst a day of death.

As we walked back to our car, Hope – who loves cars – began asking questions about the hearse. So we pulled Mr. Jon from the funeral home over and Hope asked him her questions about the layout of the back. She asked about the rollers used to get the casket into the hearse. She wondered why there were side doors in the back of a hearse when only the casket rides there. Mr. Jon patiently – if not tenderly – answered her questions.

Signs that life goes on… Even when that feels impossible.

Life amidst death.

That’s the way it works right?

Even when we don’t necessarily want it to.

Even when we have a hard time believing it does.

Life after death: It’s the premise my Christian faith is built on. It’s the meaning of Easter.

This year, I’m so thankful that in my liturgical tradition, Easter is more than just a day; It’s a season.

A few weeks ago, I wasn’t ready to celebrate Easter Sunday. Life felt heavy.

In so many ways, it still does.

And yet, now that I’ve stood at a grave in the midst of a global pandemic and still seen signs of life, I’m more ready to celebrate Easter.

Ironically, this Sunday the reading from our Narrative Lectionary is 1 Corinthians 15:1-26 – Paul’s testimony to Jesus’ resurrection. Verse 26 says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Amidst so much death, I’m finding these words especially sweet this Easter season.

It reminds me of what we told Hope to alleviate her fear of seeing Grandma in her casket: Grandma Nancy’s done with her body. She doesn’t need it because she’s with Jesus in heaven. Even though we’re incredibly sad because we don’t get to see her anymore, we know the truth: She’s more alive than she’s ever been.

That’s the promise of eternal life. That’s the hope of the resurrection.

That’s the foundation of my faith: Life comes from death.

I saw it firsthand on the day of Nancy’s funeral.

And today, I’m choosing to believe it’s true, too.