Monday, May 9, 2011

Leaving Without a Goodbye

TITLE: Leaving Without a Goodbye
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 9 May 2011

"And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him." (Gen. 5:24)

MAIN POINT: Life hurts. Sometimes the cruellest hit to take is an unexpected death, especially when one leaves without saying a proper ‘goodbye.’ I recommend three thoughts about coping with sudden departure of loved ones.

Life hurts.

On May 4th, 2011, a friend of mine went out for an evening run. It was nothing unusual. He had been doing it for many years. A marathon runner, an avid sportsman, he would achieve distances that his peers can only dream about. He ran out but never came back. It was reported that he collapsed in the middle of the run due to chest complications. In one evening, two grown children lost a father. A devoted wife became a widow. I lost a dear brother in Christ.

My children were stunned when I told them the news. My wife was shocked. I remained in a state of anguish that translated into an absence of blog updates. As I collect past photos and videos of my brother in Christ, I cry inside. I grieve within. I question above.

A) Leaving Without a Goodbye

Shock. Incomprehension. Dumbfounded. These are immediate emotions to news of a person who leaves this earth without a decent goodbye. Like a family that perishes after a horrible highway crash. Like a teenager who drowns during an excursion. A Church elder I know is still crushed by the memories of a boy who died at a school outing many years ago, when he was a teacher in charge. The recent tsunami in Japan leaves many people no chance of saying goodbye to their loved ones. Michiko Segawa of Chiba a survivor from the tsunami disaster shares her grief:

I can’t explain how I feel for the victims and their family. Did they have a happy life? How cruel to lose something so precious to a tsunami. They could not even say goodbye to those they loved. I only hope at least all the bodies can go back to their waiting families.” (Quakebook Community, 246 Aftershocks,, 2011, p38)
When one leaves without a goodbye, imaginations run wild. How did the person die? What was he thinking just before dying? What last wishes did he have for his loved ones? Is there a last goodbye he had wanted the family to know about? What will happen to the family he/she leaves behind? What about the many projects and things undone?

Such questions may never be answered. It only ushers in a painful flood of emotions beyond our own understanding. Emotions flip flop in all directions.

  • I think I know why. No I don’t know why.
  • I think I understand his intentions. Maybe, I don’t really know.
  • Perhaps, he had wanted to leave this earth sooner than later. Maybe he does not.
  • Is she happy just before she died? Or are there some unresolved issue that saddens her?

Stubborn questions can only face up to mere speculations. As I read Genesis 5:24 about Enoch, I wonder: “What was Enoch doing just before God took him?

B) Enoch Walked With God

Enoch is an interesting biblical character who has a very brief mention in the Bible. He is the son of Jared, and the seventh descendent from Adam. The name of Enoch means ‘consecrated’ or ‘dedicated.’ He lived 365 years, which is by modern standards practically impossible. Perhaps, the environmental conditions during that time allows for a longer life. Without the threat of radiation in the atmosphere, global warming or polluted natural resources, life is certainly cleaner then. The most significant part in Gen 5:24 is the phrase “Enoch walked with God.” This is significant for at least 3 reasons. Firstly, his name (consecration) reflects a life totally dedicated and reserved for God. Secondly, like Noah later on, he walked with God. Later we will read about Abram who walked before God in Gen 17:1. At 99, Abram heard the LORD saying to him:

I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” (Gen 17:1)

Interestingly, for Enoch, no such conversation is recorded. It simply mentions ‘Enoch walked with God.

Some scholars prefer to see Enoch as someone who has not actually seen death. God just took him. They quote Hebrews 11:5 which says:

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found because God had taken him away.” (Hebrews 11:5)

By faith, Enoch walked with God. By faith, God took him away. By faith, he did not actually see death.

Thirdly, when one walks with God, one fears neither life nor death. I am encouraged as I reflect on the life of Enoch. In faith, Enoch has eyes only for God. In faith, he walked with God, indicating that it is a life where all of his plans, his actions, his words, his deeds are done with glorifying God first. I am encouraged because as far as God’s children is concerned, God will take them away in the most comforting manner. I am encouraged because when one walked with God, there is no need to fear. There is no need to worry about the uncertainties ahead. God walks besides Enoch. God talks to Enoch. God takes care of Enoch. Enoch was no more because he has gone to a better place.

C) Preparation For End-of-Life

I first learned about end-of-life (EOL) when I was working in the manufacturing industry. Months before a product reaches its end-of-life, engineers would have several new alternatives to take its place. One of the end-of-life responsibilities for support staff will be to advise customers about continuing support as well as upgrade options. Both manufacturer and clients will then be in constant talks about possible options to tackle the product’s end-of-life.

One of my personal beliefs is that no one is indispensable anywhere. A replacement is always available. Thus, there is no need to try to puff up one’s importance. Instead, it is always a responsible move to train the next generation of leaders, to plan ahead, to discuss options, to prepare for end-of-life scenarios. If we in the workforce are intelligent enough to make strategic plans about a product’s end-of-life activities, how much more our own human end-of-life?

I have three thoughts to share. If it is helpful, use them. Otherwise, just consider them.

D) Coping with Sudden Deaths

First, take a photo from the past and give thanks. A good way is to collect a pool of photographs through the years, piece them together to tell a story of the deceased life. With each photo, arrange them together with a thankful heart. Some experiences are heartwarming. Others not so. Yet, all of them are part and parcel of the life of the cherished one. Just honour the story.

Second, capture a memory from the past, and see if there is something it can be used to honour the deceased. Remember what the person stands for. It can be faith. It can be a work of art, or a project. It could even be a surprise for another person. Maybe, look forward to fulfilling that wish of the deceased. It could be elaborate. It could be simple. Most importantly, offer it as a loving parting gift, to honour the life of the deceased. I like to add a small caution. Always maintain a balanced approach. Some memories are good while others are not so good. Do not pack all the good together until the memory of the deceased are polished to perfection. Neither should we go to other extreme of loading ourselves with bad memories that depresses us. You can choose to fulfill the dream of the deceased, or to live your life to honour him/her by fulfilling your own dreams in his/her honour.

Thirdly, at some point, think about our own end-of-life preparations. What are we doing ourselves to prepare for our own death? Are we prioritizing our most important things in life? Are we responsible only for current matters? What about the future? Have we done more than just talk when it comes to reconciliation and healing of relationships? What about our own deepest desires and plans of our heart? Are we doing something about them, or are we procrastinating?

Let me end with this story. It is about balancing our need to grieve together with our desire to celebrate the life of someone who left without a proper goodbye.

“One man, in speaking at his father’s memorial service, began his comments with a remark about how his father had been an intensely stubborn and frugal man. ‘You could say that my father was cheap and uncompromising,’ he said. Looking out on those assembled for the funeral, he could see a few faces tighten, and a few people shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. Then he said, “And I’m just like him, thank God!’ The audience cracked up.” (Barbara Okun & Joseph Nowinski, Saying Goodbye, Harvard: Berkley Books, 2011, 278)
Yes. Life hurts. Life is also full of the overcoming of hurts. Live a balanced life of grieving as well as celebration. Do not let one overwhelm the other. For some of us who are grieving loved ones who have died without leaving a proper goodbye, it can hurt real bad. Let us look to Christ for help to enable us to balance grieving with celebration; thankfulness with every memory; and a continued faith, just like our dear brother or sister who have died. For men and women of faith, people who have passed away, we can honour them well through our faithfulness to God, and a perseverance of faith in God.

Personally, I do not think that it makes any big difference whether one is an Enoch or not. What is most important is that when we can, like Enoch, walk with God. If we are able, like Paul, run for God. If we are able, always be prepared. Be prepared to say goodbye. Be prepared to meet God. Be prepared to continue running the race of faith. Until God calls us home.

For my brother Paul, I like to say that in my years of fellowship with him, I can firmly say that Paul did not just walked with God, he ran for God. The best compliment and honour that I can do for him, is to walk and run for God, like him. What earth has lost, heaven has gained. Hallelujah!

Thought: “Pain is never permanent.” (Teresa of Avila, 16th Century Spanish Saint)


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