When I opened my eyes this morning, the sun was peeking in through my blinds, which were slightly open to allow the cool spring breeze in while we slept – one of my favorite things about this time of year in New Jersey. I could hear the birds, cars on the street, the kids from next door outside playing basketball… It’s Easter! My heart leaped at the thought – this was what I’ve been waiting for all week! The day of celebration! Sunday came – it was finally the third day. And then, in the middle of my happiness, my train of thought jumped to my youngest brother, Ryan.
About a decade ago, we buried Ryan. An aspiration caused his lungs to fail. I was thinking about the moments surrounding the time when he died – the actual moments. The strain in my mother’s face, the feeling of my heart legitimately pounding in my chest, the look the nurses gave us when they asked us to leave the room to administer pain medication… and I wondered if it really was pain medication, or something to end this nightmare of watching my brother contract every muscle in his body to take a single breath.
I can hear the sound of my mother’s feet running down the hallway, searching for somewhere to hide. I know I am standing alone when the nurse tells me he is gone. I know that my mother, wherever she is, must be told, and I know I am the one who must do it.
I found her, buried in the depths of a storage room, head over a bucket, and I realize she needed a place to vomit. The strain had overtaken her body – she wasn’t trying to escape. In that moment I remembered my father telling me once that my mom was so nervous about giving birth she threw up then, as well.
And I look at her lovely face – torn and weary from a sleepless night – pain in her eyes and her breathing uneven, and tell her he’s gone now, and we sit in that closet surrounded by boxes and weep together.
Weep. On the first day, we were weeping, and wailing. We weren’t reasonable, or approachable. We weren’t consolable. We were out of our minds with distraught and sadness.
I remember little else about that day. I have vague memories of telling my daughter – just a toddler at that time – and holding her while she cried, praying her typical relentless inquisitiveness would subside, just for today. But the day is a blur. Nothing I said or did on that first day could be counted as right-mindedness.
And I had this fleeting memory of a conversation with one of my best friends the day she lost her unborn baby, and how she spit words at me in hurt and anger – of how it wasn’t fair that I effortlessly had a baby I didn’t plan, when she wanted one so badly and lost it. In that moment, years ago, how I remembered the sadness of the first day, and knew she couldn’t be held accountable for the things you say when you are buried in that kind of sorrow.
As I listened to the sound of my blinds tapping against the window frame, the breeze gently blowing in, I thought about the second day, the day after the death of my brother – the most innocent human life I have ever witnessed – and I considered the drastic difference that night of rest provided. The tears readily flowed as we looked through photographs and chose music for the funeral. The flowers poured in, turning our house into a garden – reminding us of life – its beauty and its fleet.
The phone would ring, and each well-meaning caller would force us to relive our nightmare, but with every word of comfort they would offer, a small stitch would bind the tear in our hearts, and while nothing was (or has ever been) enough to heal the tender wound completely, those little stitches still remain. Each one reminds us of that day, the second day, when so many souls wrapped us in love.
The second day is a day of planning. We answer questions. We make decisions. We choose flowers, and music and caskets and dates and times… we make choices. It’s best our emotions are a bit numb still – it allows us to answer. And the second day passes. Little stitches. Little decisions.
My heart aches at the thought of Jesus’ death. The first day – darkness, terror, inconsolable sadness, fear – a death more horrific than any we’ve witnessed, watched by his mother, his friends, and those who would be forever changed by his presence on the earth. The first day, who could be held accountable for their actions? Who of these could have mastered their tongue, or suppressed their sorrow or outrage?
Were their emotions as raw as ours on that first day? I think even more so.
And when day two came – were they consolable? Were their wounds beginning to bind? I can imagine, with their emotions numb, the questions the disciples must have asked themselves. What chaos was ensuing around them? Were there flowers to remind them of life? Were there friends who came calling? A Sabbath day stood between the first and third days… a day to worship and rest. What must that second day have been like?
In our place in time, the third day is often a day of celebration – a sad day, yes – but a day set aside to celebrate the life that has now left our presence. On the third day of my brother’s death, I woke early to write a eulogy. When I finally had the chance to share it with a room full of my friends and family, I allowed myself laughter as we basked in light-filled memories of happier days. As we told stories of Ryan’s life, we swelled with a bitter happiness and longing for things we could never again see here on this earth.
Today is Easter Sunday – the third day! The day of bitter happiness and longing. But for what? Because of Jesus’ third day and resurrection, our longing can be different! I miss my brother, and while I wish he was here with me, I know that my ultimate longing is to be where he is! I can long to be with him at the side of a savior who died and rose to spend eternity with me. And that changes the face of death. It doesn’t make it easy, or desirable. It doesn’t make it attractive, but it does enlighten what comes next. It blankets death in peace.
This morning, as my thoughts of Easter Sunday mingled with memories of my brother, I experienced a raw and profound understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, and truly grasped the meaning of eternity. I felt as I never had before, in a lifetime of serving Jehovah, the overwhelming power of the cross, and my desperate need for it. If you need peace of mind in your inevitable death, and in your eternity, than the answer is so simple and easy. The peace that is beyond your understanding is legitimately free for the taking. Just reach out and take it! Jesus died to give it to you. He just asks that you believe it.
No magical prayer, no bells and whistles, no payments or credit checks.
Today, when I think of Ryan, I imagine him laughing. I imagine wind in his face and hair, his olive skin warmed by the sun. I imagine his sweet voice calling to me across a sandy beach as he rushes the water – the waves crashing against his stomach. I imagine a feast of chocolate, and peanut butter sandwiches. I imagine happy music playing like a constant soundtrack wherever we go.
If you could spend a lifetime and then some doing anything you wanted, what would it be? I would choose to make music, and be a good dancer, and the weather would feel like autumn in New York. Every tree would be a cherry blossom, and the air would always smell like the rocky mountains – like sweet pine trees and clean water and wet earth. And I’ll walk with Ryan.
What would you choose? Jesus wants to prepare it for you. And it will be better than you imagine. Death will have no sting – because on the third day, Jesus conquered it! He beat death, and showed YOLO who’s boss. And he’s longing to let you do the same.
Happy Easter. It’s a glorious day, and there are chocolate bunnies, too! And cheesecake if you’re lucky. But it’s a day that has a lot more hope built into it than just a good meal and a school holiday. Thanks for loving me, and for sharing in my sorrow, and my celebration. I hope that one day, we can all go for a swim in the waves together, having lived a good life here on earth, and a better one in the life to come.