On August 11th 2011 an email of a smiling family arrived in my inbox with the heading Rejoice with Us.
The family had just had a little girl and I had just said goodbye to one.
It turns out that loving someone makes no physical difference. Loving someone does not stop the curse. Loving someone means someday letting them go. This was a hard lesson at sixteen years old, eight thousand miles from home.
Five years and five deaths later, it has grown no easier.
I wish that somehow by loving her, I could stop my grandmother from fading grumpily away before my eyes.
I wish that somehow by loving him I could save the man (who saved me from vicious dogs) from the relentless march of Parkinson’s.
I wish that somehow by loving him I could have saved my not-grandfather, that by loving him I could have lifted him from his bed half a world away and given him a new lease of life, reviving him to become the mischievous tinkerer I once knew.
There is a little Burmese man with the heart of a lion and the manner of a lamb whose hair is only growing greyer. There is a legendary historian who is swiftly gaining on his bus pass. There is a gardener from South Africa who grows more stiff and tired every time I see him.
I love them with all my heart but it turns out that loving someone, no matter how fiercely, cannot save them from death.
It hurts so bad doesn’t it? But for the most part we learn to live with the pain and only from time to time are we forced to remember. Loving someone cannot stop them from dying.
We are not God. The consequences of the Fall are far from easy.
It’s not fine. It’s not going to be ok. Not completely. Not in this world. There are dark and painful days ahead which we must wade through.
But when, like me, you are tempted to feel sad and overwhelmed by the things that lie too close to hand, remember that there was a love once which was enough to save us from death, us and those who we love, whoever Christ may call. Only God’s love can do that.
We cannot save them from death by loving them, we can only help them to be ready. We cannot save them but we can point them to the Saviour who, by his love, can.
Death can no longer take the ones we love, it can only borrow.
It could not hold the Son of God and it will not hold us or the ones we love. We cannot prevent the inevitable but the love of God which conquered death can help us to bear the pain of separation until, in the words of John Donne,
One day, Death, thou too shalt die.