Yours? Mine? Ours?

mourner-statueI’m sorry for your loss.

Over the past 10 days I have experienced the deaths of two prominent church members and my father. Of all of the phrases I have heard and said during that period, this one is probably the most oft-repeated.

Because in many ways it fits. A very important person in someone’s life has died. You – as a friend and supporter – have shown up to offer comfort and commiseration. You did not duck out of the difficult moment.

“Sorry for your loss,” seems to strike a good note. It is not one of those sappy sentiments like, “I guess God needed another angel,” or “… it’s probably all for the best” that tries to sweep away the pain with a platitude. It demonstrates to the bereaved person you are attuned to their grief without trying to jump in to assure them you know exactly how they feel. (Because you don’t).

Having a chance to stand over here on the receiving end of well wishes for a change gives me a new appreciation of the hearts of the commiserators without nit-picking the syntax or grammar of their expressions.

But after hearing (and speaking) this expression so many times in recent days, I could not help but begin to wonder about the soundness of the whole idea of “loss.”

Yes, there is loss. But what is the nature of the loss?

Certainly there is the loss that an economist might call “opportunity cost”; meaning the loss of any opportunity to relate further to that person in a direct, one-to-one setting.

There is also the loss of any future contributions the departed person might make to your life or to the lives of those around you.

But here is the piece I am still wrestling with in my mind: apart from those lost potential future interactions, have we really lost that relationship? As I see it, most of what constitutes my relationship with any person is built on connections and conversations from our shared past. And those connections still remain, regardless of that person’s physical presence.

For example; I will never connect directly with them on this side of the veil, but I believe I can accurately say I have wonderful relationships with Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Paul Tillich, among countless others. They communicate with me through their writing and speaking and I communicate back through my reading and reflection.

Also… when someone dies, we can’t really say we lost them, can we? Wouldn’t that imply some sort of proprietary relationship, or ownership status? What I mean is: if I didn’t ever HAVE my dad (in the possessive sense) I’m not sure I can accurately say that I LOST him, can I?

In the end, can we really say our lives are ours to have or to lose? Because in the truest sense, our lives belong – not to us or our family members, but to God.

Just as he did with that first lump of dirt in the Garden, God breathes the spark of divine energy into our nostrils and gets the whole thing rolling. God also gathers in the last gasping, wheezing, gulped, or slow, even breath we breathe at the end, and authors every breath in between.

God is the architect, engineer, contractor, and craftsman of the universe and this individual, particular thing we each call MY LIFE.

It’s all his. King David said it this way: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it… “ (Psalm 24:1, NRSV)

The notion that you or I can own anything is pure illusion. We borrow it for a season and then give it back.

All that said, it is likely I will continue to say, “Sorry for your loss” when I encounter a grieving friend or family member. And I will gratefully receive that same sentiment when it is offered to me.

But later… after the funeral, after the luncheon, after the guests have gone home, and the thank-you cards have all been written… I will remind myself that I can’t lose what I never had in the first place.


And I will carefully cultivate and give thanks for the gifts I have received and continue to receive from the man I lovingly call “dad.”

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