by Shannon Seeley Walters

My friend died this week. My tattoo-bedazzled, bald-headed, father-of-four, husband-of-beauty friend died. There's a website that was created early in his battle against a very rare cancer to give friends and family updates and opportunities to give money. My friend was poor in money, but rich in friends and beyond wealthy in faith. Now his widow is rich in medical bills. If these bills were money, she'd be quite well off.

They put a picture of my friend on the website yesterday with the date of his birth and the date of his death. He looks so happy in this picture. It was taken last summer when the pain from the cancer was becoming overwhelming. He said the only time he didn't feel pain was when he was riding our Harley. So we let him borrow it for a trip to California and they took a photo and now he smiles back at me and I cry. I cry because I loved my friend and will miss him. I cry because that beautiful Harley that mostly just sits in the garage except for those glorious days in spring my husband will ride it out, became a place of healing for my friend, if only for a little while. Now, my friend is memories added to the other memories of the dead I know.

It's amazing how our minds work. Those little triggers that pull an old moldy memory up as though it was fresh and newly formed. Sometimes its a smell. Have you ever smelled something and suddenly you're back in your grandmother's house and you can remember everything about it? My friend's death triggered those old moldies in me and along with them came a million questions.

Some I know will not be answered until I see Jesus face to face. Others aren't questions that really need answers, I just can't help asking them. Some I would seriously like to know. Seriously. Like, where do the dead really go.

People tell me that those who love Jesus are immediately in His presence. But I can't find scripture to back that up. There is something about "we shall not all sleep". Is that sleep what the dead do? Something else about "the dead in Christ will rise first". That would seem to mean they aren't risen yet. I've heard pastors, preachers and sermonetters proclaim that this is just the body going up to meet the spirit. But, again, where did they read that in the Bible? If the dead are sleeping, when they wake up will it only seem like a second ago that they breathed their last? What happens to the cremated? I mean what does the Bible say?

I don't want the theology made up about this stuff, I want truth and in my experience the truth that we have isn't nearly all the truth there is. Is that why we make up the answers? Will I ever understand what percentage of us is not our bodies?

When my Mom died, the shock of her sudden, profound "gone-nes" was overwhelming. Here was the physical form, so familiar, suddenly empty and nothing of Beverly remained. I mean she left and this body was so amazingly not her. I can't describe it. Death isn't just so final, it's way more than that.

I don't think there are words on this planet invented yet to describe death. Nothing that could even come close to preparing you for that moment when the last breath is exhaled, the heart just stops, and it's weird and awful and gut wrenching and life shattering. Everything from that moment at 3:11am on Friday, February 19, 1999 defines everything that has come after it. The death of my estranged Dad 11 days later and my Mom's mother (92) on my Mom's birthday (weird) joined to became a kind of giant ball of pain dropped with a sonic boom onto the path of my life that shattered everything and everything that comes beyond that point carries the definer "After Mom Died". How is my friend's wife sleeping without him? How does grief this deep and painful not kill you? How can a woman so devoted and in love make the decisions that need to be made to put her best friend's empty body to rest.

Funeral arrangements are bizarre. You're in the most pain you've been in your life, your mind is reeling with the unbelief of it all, the shock makes your brain stick and some guy in a suit is guiding you to make very personal decisions for the most important person in your life who you just watched die and Funeral Guy has never even seen you before and never met your Mom. How does he know anything about her, or me, or what we need right now? It's all so mechanical and impersonal. It's cold and scary and feels like a train careening down the tracks and there's nothing you can do to stop it before it plunges off that cliff and the decisions you've made are permanent and unchanging. Like death.

What happened to good old fashioned wakes, where we left the body of the disappeared family member on the kitchen table for a week and everyone came to bring casseroles and pie? You had time back then to get a little used to the idea. You had time to say your goodbyes and you buried this family member in the little family plot under the giant oak when you were good and ready to. What happened to those days?

I understand burying someone in a hurry in the tropics, or where war is raging. I understand not having time for long goodbyes in a place where 30,000 children die every day from hunger. But, not here. Not in America. We have the time and the technology to let that loved one hang out in the Lay-Z-Boy for a good month before putting them in the ground. What's the rush?

We don't like death in America. It's too real and it flies in the face of our youth obsessed culture that's all driven by the love of money and the love of beauty defined by some guy when movies were invented. I hope when I'm dying, very much older and very much grayer that I die in the hands of Hospice workers with my family surrounding me and singing something silly. Hospice workers are not afraid of death and I love that about them. They take what's inevitable for almost 100% of us and they give it dignity and they allow us to face the reality of this painful part of life. They walk you through the stages of dying and they encourage you to hang out for hours or days. And they talk openly about it all. Honestly. Real Gut wrenching honesty.

My friend loved gut wrenching honesty. He'll be deeply, deeply missed.

About the Author

Shannon Seeley Walters is the author of the fine blog, The Desert Dweller.