Updated: Nov 18, 2019
The events of the last several days have rocked our world and changed our lives. No one here will ever be the same nor should we pretend that we ever can. Life has a strange way of reminding us what deep down inside we already know to be true but often forget. When we open ourselves to others, when we let them into our lives and give them a place at the table of our heart, we should expect their parting to cause pain and tears. Grief is the price we pay for having someone to love.
When their parting is premature and unexpected, the pain is all that more intense and we feel like we’ve been thrown into another world we are not prepared for. Grief is a reminder that we are not in charge after all. Yet we must somehow find our way through The Valley in which we find ourselves. I have looked for answers this week and found few. I’ve tried to find the right words and came up empty time and time again. So when I don’t really know what to say, I write something down hoping that in all this there is a nugget of truth and a bit of comfort.
There’s a lot I remember about Chip, about their trips to Pennsylvania from Colorado for Grange Fair, about dressing in kilts for a wedding, a reception at the Brown Palace Hotel, Stuckey’s restaurants, George (the dog), park ranger, and so many other bits and pieces that make up the mosaic in my mind. But it’s really what Chip left in my heart that continues to roll around today. In my opinion, Chip was the best of us all and brought out the best in us all. He possessed a unique, optimistic, energetic spirit that was always so gentle and inviting he bridged the gap the miles created. He made friends everywhere he went and I can’t imagine him without a smile, a twinkle in his eye or the gentle word on his tongue.
Chip didn’t have character to offending anyone, it just wasn’t his nature to be demeaning or demanding. Although I suspect as a prosecuting attorney there may be one or two who will take exception to that. We lived apart for most of our lives, yet whenever he was in town or our paths crossed at a wedding or a funeral, we could pick up just like it was yesterday. He was never pretentious, pompous, arrogant or rude. He epitomized the gentleness, grace and authenticity we all needed in a friend and we longed for in our own lives. With Chip, there was no hidden agenda or hypocrisy, he was genuine. I know that there are still many questions that remain unanswered but today I also feel there are many things about Chip I want and need to celebrate.
So if you will bear with me, let me begin…
I want and need to thank God that Chip was part of my life at all. They say you don’t get to pick your family, so I’m grateful God picked Chip to be a part of mine. I suppose he could have been in many other families, but he was in mine.
I thank you God that Chip brought love and untold adventures to my Aunt Jan and Uncle Chuck and especially for being a big brother to Mike and Jen. The adventures they shared together are beyond my ability to tell, but part of me is a tad envious.
I thank God that Chip saw the best in us all, held no grudges and somehow made us all better people just by being there. I thank God that I am who I am today because of the bit of Chip that continues to bear fruit in my life.
I thank God he lived with integrity, faith and love. Never forget that!I thank God that Chip had such a gentle, compassionate spirit who felt our pains deeper than perhaps we knew and who seemed to walk in when others were walking out.
I thank God that Chip gave me my first cousin-in-law, Deb.
I thank God that Chip was an amazing father to Kate and Ellie. I particularly remember him dancing with them at Mike and Jen’s wedding. He radiated love in his smile, his embrace and his actions.
I thank God that in a world marred by arrogance, privilege and pain, Chip lived a different, better way. I will always remember that.
Since you’ve gotten this far, there are three favors I would like to ask of you…
1. Please don’t ask “Why?”
As a personal favor I beg you don’t demean or even trivialize Chip life by thinking you can in any way understand the depth of his spirit. We don’t. We can’t. No one does. We cannot reduce anyone’s life, the sum of their relationship, experiences, fears, and joys to a nice neat little package that we can look at and comprehend. This is an eternal question that God does not answer for a very good reason.
In the Book of Job, Job suffers horribly but does not curse God as he is encouraged to do. Instead Job struggles to understand and wants to ask God ‘why’ these things are happening to him. “Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul,” [Job 3:20] But God never answers Job’s questions because what we need is bigger than the answer, we need hope. The answer Job receives is a personal encounter with God’s majesty, grandeur and power. If you look for answers you may find them, but they will be cheap substitutes and come at the price of hope.
The ‘why’ questions will tear your soul apart and leave you bitter, angry and with a dim, skewed memory of the joy we were given in Chip. The depth of a person’s soul, their struggles, their dreams, and even their life belongs to God alone and as my family is fond of reminding me, I’m not God and neither are you. My soul and yours is beyond the limits of my understanding. You might as well ask why the universe exists. It is, therefore, to God, the infinite, incomprehensible, pure radiant light, purity of Love and Purpose that we must yield the unknowable and the unanswerable questions that press on our hearts.
Chip was always a deep well of emotion and feeling for which we are grateful. I saw the face of God reflected in his eyes, expressed in his optimism and the tenderness with which he cared for his family. I will not, therefore, tolerate having that memory diminished with an endless string of pointless questions that lead nowhere. Every life must take its own path, perhaps not the one we would prefer, but a path marked by pain and joy, mistakes and wisdom, redemption and faith.
Instead I believe the most important question we should now be asking each other is “What now?” In his book, The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck begins with a statement he says is the beginning of all good mental health, “Life is difficult.” Reject this basic truth, he says and you’re sure to find yourself on the road to depression, disillusionment and despair. We are vulnerable people, we are all getting older, we’re all showing the miles and we all have grief we’re trying to deal with. What we should be asking is ‘what now’? How can we love one another better, deeper, with more honesty? How can we get past the superficial pleasantries, the games and posturing and embrace one another because of our shared need? The events of the last week have become a megaphone for the pain we all carry around beneath this veil of skin. But though we hear it, will we listen?
2. Please don’t dwell on “What if?”
“What if…” — I had been there, done that, seen that, said that? What if I had been there. What if I had been a better friend, cousin, co-worker… Again, these questions are endless, destructive and meaningless questions that consume our energy but never have answers. They are however, like a rocking chair when confronting grief. They take up a lot of energy and give you something to do, but they never really get you anywhere. What they really do is reinforce the notion that someone is to blame and that someone may just be you.
This grief is the worst! Not only is our loved one gone, but perhaps we’re partly to blame. How many people carry around a crushing weight of guilt because of what might have been. Many people do not recover after a death partly because they really can’t forgive themselves and must punish themselves. We punish ourselves by cutting ourselves off from others, from happiness and from life. In many respects, it is a cancer that will slowly devour you. Recognize it for what it is, a lie!
This is not from God and therefore not worthy of our time. They are instead incredibly destructive questions. They will leave your soul in tatters, broken and bleeding and ultimately alone in the dark. They create scars no one ever sees but you feel constantly. They whisper evil thoughts in the dark recesses of your mind late at night, and they drive a wedge in many healthy relationships. Life is far too complicated to imagine all the “what if” scenarios. We all want to play ‘god’ but we’re not very good at it, and will fail every time! I plead with you to be vigilant against this horrible form of soul-cancer. When we do battle with these questions they consume our strength, our hope and our memories, leaving us only recriminations, resentments and regrets. So, when you hear these questions begin to be raised in conversations, put a stop to it. Don’t let them get a foothold. Go on the offensive and fight to keep what is good, honorable and worthwhile.
‘Thank You’ is an expression of gratitude for a gift you neither deserved nor expected. It expresses genuine humility and an appreciation for what has been given. It shifts the focus from scarcity to abundance. It values the Giver and the Gift and accepts the love with which they are offered. It is the open palm rather than the closed fist. “Thank you for the time we’ve had,” rather than be miserable what you didn’t have.
3. Don't be afraid to say "Thank You"
I have always found that the best healing comes through the doors of gratitude. Our ability to see not just the loss, but the blessings. It focuses not just on what might have been, but it embraces the reality of what is. It releases the anger, resentment, bitterness and despair so that is can be replaced with joy, peace, wisdom and hope. Thank you that we have been loved so well and so deeply for so long.
So let us give thanks for the people in our lives (living and eternal), thank you for the struggles we face that remind us we are spiritual beings on a journey the end of which we struggle to understand. Thank you for the love we receive despite failure, faults and foibles. Thank you that we are able to be loved by others. Thank you that despite the seemingly endless days of sorrow, grief and sleepless nights, the Promise of God is for an eternal dawn.
“Say not in grief that he is no more but say in thankfulness that he was. Death is not the extinguishing of a light, but putting away the lamp because the dawn has come.”