My mom asked me to go with her to this cancer community wellness support group ceremony thing. I said yes and figured it would be an awkward time…it was. Rather than detail all of it, I’ll get straight to the point. It was during one of the times they encouraged people to share memories about the loved ones who passed that the thought struck me: We are manipulated by the dead.
I listened as people talked about loved ones as if they were saints and master theologians. Two problems emerge from this: 1) When someone dies we suddenly forget every bad thing they did and act as if they never sinned at all. Granted, never in a public setting like a funeral or support group would you say something like, “Man, she was a terrible person! Always got on my nerves!” But I have to wonder how deep our flowery and kind words go. Do we get to the point where the only thing we remember is the good and convince ourselves that the person was always that good? In other words, do we forget that they, too, were sinners saved by grace or needed saving by grace?
2) When someone is dying, our theology falls to pieces. We suddenly take whatever the dying one is saying as divine revelation. If they mention something about going off to fly among the stars or become one with the sunrise, we allow that it must be so. As if the person, since they’re so close to death, know better about what lays beyond. We give in to this vague mysticism that sounds poetic and nice but flies in the face of what the Bible teaches.
And so we are manipulated. We become haunted, not by spectral visions, but by spectral theology. We loosen up and let them say what they want and let that toy with us beyond the grave. As I’m on the receiving end of grief myself, I’m not trying to be insincere or harsh. I’m trying to be honest and helpful. Over the past year I’ve come to realize that Americans have no clue how to handle death. Maybe, for whoever reads this (all two of you), this will be helpful and free you from whatever ghosts are haunting your heart.