In my family we joke about the “Fulton Goodbye,” a fond remembrance of Grandma Fulton, where it takes us forever to say our goodbyes. We remember last minute news we meant to share, give an extra hug or re-launch into crazy laughter over something that tickled us earlier. Someone runs back into the house to send home food or “Oh! I almost forgot that I was going to give you something.” Or we just stand around, not wanting to be the first one to leave. We just can’t say goodbye.
My brother Nathan (middle name: “Fulton”) was no exception to this. His goodbyes included giving each one an extra bear hug and an “I love you” with a kiss on the cheek, followed by another strong hug.
This time, he didn’t say goodbye.
Nathan, why didn’t you say goodbye?
It’s just not like you.
We are all tormented by something in different seasons. A few years ago it was Mom who was tormented by cancer. In the moment, it would seem to win.
My brother was tormented by something unseen, intangible, menacing, with twisted thinking replacing truth. A gradual death by loss of reason and rational thought, the crumbling of balanced emotion.
He would be crushed to know the pain he has left for those of us here missing him, even shocked by our emotion.
Death never catches God by surprise. Actually, nothing does, ever. But this realization is the one that I need as I sort things out after last month’s events.
Death is one of those events where we say the most strange, even cruel things to each other out of a loss of what to say. Or because of faulty beliefs we have based on cultural ideas.
We have all probably heard “I guess it was just his/her time to go” at any number of funerals. What I could never account for in my mind was the idea that God plans our days (including our final day) and that’s the way it is, period. “Bing! Time’s up!” Like God has a cosmic timer for your life, and when it’s over, you just need to accept it. As if we should even accept the ugly, painful, terrible ways that death comes. The insinuation is that He decided it would end this way. And trying to align that with His love and kindness, I just can’t make that correlation and justification.
But maybe I am looking at it from the wrong angle.
I solidly stand on the fact that God did not plan for my brother to die the day He did, nor the way that he did.
But the Father was READY for that fateful day when it came. There is a big difference.
I don’t believe that He is the cause of our suffering, but He is our companion in it.
We say with Psalm 90:12, “Father, please teach us to number our days,” because we are the ones who do not know when or how they will end. He does. But I don’t take this passage to say that God is standing there with His calendar in hand, ticking off the days.
What God does plan is to put as much of Himself into our days as we will allow, or recognize. And our days are filled with all that other stuff too, those things that cause us pain, hurt and anger, because such is the world that we currently live in. But He has overcome the world. That includes death.
God planned for the days that Nathan was alive. And He planned to be present in his death, because there is no darkness that we can hide in that God is not with us there in it.
Nathan, you know we would not have let you say goodbye this time, had we known.