I didn't realize it at the time because I knew the answer. I knew the right answer based on my years of study and attentiveness: God is good. Period. End of statement. What is there to question?
Because, up until that point in my life I had known no other reality than goodness. I hadn't really endured suffering or hardship. Nor had I experienced love, really. I mean, yes, I knew the unconditional love of my parents and family; I knew phileo love - the constancy of friends... but not the depth of love that causes you to realize that you can't imagine a moment where you didn't love this person...where your soul knew a level of completion that it hadn't before.
When Grandpa Joe (affectionately known as Grandpa McGillicuddy to his grandkids) died...his was the first loss that I really felt. My grandpa had been sick for a while; his kidneys first started to fail three years earlier. For three years, his body battled the slow process of shutting down - and my grandmother, the angel that she is, allowed no one else to care for him. (eventually of course there were nurses that had to come in, but up until the last few weeks, she was adamant that he would be home)
He had a stroke (I think; now the details are becoming fuzzy to me) a few weeks before he died. At that point, he moved into a nursing home. I visited him with my aunt Mary, cousin Amy, and Grandma, after my cousin Cynthia's wedding. He was alert and attentive. Like he was. ...and I think it was that week that the reality of losing him started to sink in for me. I remember sobbing in Dan's basement as the reality that a man like this was a gem; a rare treasure; and that this earth would lose something profound when we lost him.
To live such a life, right?
To live such a life that the world notices.
...that a void is left not only in the lives of those that loved you - but in the world itself.
...that a space is created asking another to take up the cross of courage and compassion, to step into this life of truly living and serving and loving others.
I wouldn't say that he loved with abandon - but rather, with reason. He considered. He contemplated. He sorted through a complex issue with logic - and compassion. He then communicated through wit and humor, endearing those to his side - or, at least to listen and to consider. His faith was the foundation of his life, creating an ordered discipline and understanding of the world. His love of family was placed securely upon that foundation: ordering his choices and tempering justice with compassion.
It is through reflecting on his life that I start to see the lesson he modeled to me: love justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) I think of his last letter to me where he said, "we were put into this world to help one another." He taught me to not only believe in the good of the other person, but more importantly to be the good.
So, yes, his loss was profound, but at the time, I didn't realize the question planted in my heart. For as he left this world, then Dan left Iowa for Arizona - and my life speed started to ramp up. I decided to join the Catholic church, and during that year of formation sensed my grandpa's pleasure at this new path I was embarking on my mountainous journey toward God.
During RCIA, I remember doing a visioning prayer exercise where we were envisioning a wall around a palace...and the palace was supposed to be heaven and what we were picturing was where we were, in our hearts/belief, at that moment in relation to God/our understanding of death, etc. (I obviously am not remembering all the details perfectly) BUT - I do remember that for me, it was like a bright, autumn day, the fields surrounding the place were golden, ready for harvest...but there was no entrance. I was on the outside of that wall, with no way to get in.
For right-understanding-Jessica-who-believes-in-God-and-has-made-a-good-confession-of-faith-and-therefore-is-not-afraid-of-dying...like-any-good-Christian-and-of-course-she-is-a-good-Christian; if-she-is-anything-she-is-a-good-Christian - that was a really startling revelation. And, like any good respondent, upon realizing this, I promptly threw it away - paying it no mind - it wasn't in line with the truth. ...and I am in line with the truth.
So, I went on with my life. Joining the church. Getting married. Moving to Arizona. Starting my married life. Moving forward.
...but that seed...that fear of death...that separation...continued to grow/fester.
...and then Dan was diagnosed with cancer.
In a way, the diagnosis amplified the fear, yes. ...but, it also steeled my resistance to believing that cancer would win. The barrier that fear had created was melting in my heart with every Rosary that I prayed - as I focused on the truth of who Jesus is, and focused on His works. I am sure that Mary was fervently praying for me to not only know, but to fully love her son not only through this trial, but beyond.
I have said it before that I never thought Dan could die. I mean it. I was afraid, of course, that he would - but I truly believed that if God was good, Dan would not die. How could he? How could He? How could He bring me to this man, and cause him to love me, and give us this life together - only for it to be snatched away? How could that be good? How, in a thousand lifetimes, could that be considered good?
It would seem, of course, that God had more lessons to teach me.
A lesson that, I think, both my grandpa and Dan knew to be true, through their years of suffering in the body: God's goodness is bigger - than death - than life - than our present circumstance (no matter how good or bad). God's goodness is more than we can even start to comprehend. His goodness is LIFE. His goodness is LOVE. His goodness is the very reality of His presence to us - even in our present suffering.
In those weeks after Dan's death, as I attended Mass and prayed the Rosary, God so simply laid it out there: our dying defeats death. It completes the one circle, while starting another.
Most authors/grief counselors will impress upon the truth that grief is not linear. You do not progress in stages - like ascending or descending stairs: instead, it is a spiral. You are experiencing many things as you progress upward (or downward depending on whether you are healing or festering) - and you will circle back to different stages and emotions - and even memories - as you progress. ...and, I think this is also true of our life: we are spiral. Moving upward or downward...and our dying is not the end of our spiral, but a gateway to the next.
Now, let me say this: Jesus' death is the ultimate dying that has defeated death. I am not saying that we are mini-Christs or anything like that. His death is what defeated sin, and therefore eternal death - while opening up the gateway to eternal life. Only Jesus. Likewise, through Him, through our living of this life and carrying our cross: doing the right, loving goodness, and walking humbly with our God, does our dying defeat the cycle of sin/death.
Early on after Dan's death, I remember coming to Mass with the question: "but why death, Lord?" As I prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary that day, the 4th mystery - where Mary is assumed into heaven (thereby not dying), I knew why we, though Christians and thus "saved" from death, experienced death. Because of sin. Although, we have been washed in the waters of baptism, as we walk through this life, we are still battling sin and temptation. Though we are safe in the grasp of our Father, the enemy is still prowling about like a roaring lion trying to ensnare us, to entrap us, to get us to throw up our hands and not do the right, love goodness, or walk humbly with our God - anything to get us to be ineffective and not bear fruit. ...and our death is actually like a final thrust of the sword into his heart. A reminder to him that he cannot - and will not - win...and though a void be left, by the grace of God, more will be coming to fill our place.
If you have never read the Book of Wisdom, I highly encourage you to set aside some time and read the first 5 chapters. You will be blest.