I remember sitting on my bed, leaning against the wall and going through my notes as the exam was just few hours away. Out of the blue I get a call from my brother passing on a very disturbing news. “Nick’s Mom is very serious in the hospital. She may not make it,” he said. For a moment I did not know how to react to that. And so I called my mother over to my room and told her to say a word of prayer, which she did with my dad. I went about with my preparations. Few minutes later my brother texts me saying that Aunty was no more. My heart skipped a beat. I did not know whether to believe it or not. Did I misread the text? Did my brother mistype the text? I called him back and when I heard it to be true, I was left speechless. I held back my tears. I did not want to cry. I wasn’t going to cry. For some reason I didn’t. Somehow I managed to muster some courage over the next few hours and finished giving the exam.
Now five hours had gone by since I had heard that tragic news and I hadn’t spoken or texted you yet. I did not know how to face you. I did not know what words of comfort to speak. I just couldn’t face you, Nick. But then, I wanted to be there; I had to be there. When I came over to the Church I began looking for you, and as soon as I found you, I came to you, held you tight and wept. I can still hear those groans, Nick. It suddenly hit me that Aunty had left us in an instant and I wasn’t going to see her again. She never warned us of her departure nor did she know of it herself. She just left. Heaven couldn’t stop itself from stealing her away.
Later, as I was sitting inside the Church looking at people crying, I said to myself, “Why do we cry? Do tears have any meaning? Are we emotionally weak when we cry? Is that a sign of fragility?” Even as I wonder now as I did then, I am reminded of the message in John 11:35. It simply reads, “Jesus wept.” This was not a one-time-act. The original language implies that Jesus kept on weeping. If Jesus is our “role model” and he himself wept when Lazarus died, why should crying be viewed as deplorable? Even if it is a sign of weakness why do we get repelled by it? Jesus at that moment became vulnerable and there is no shame in becoming vulnerable. It is in being and becoming vulnerable we embrace the mystery of God. So often when someone experiences the loss of a loved one, we seek to create an environment that makes the individual/s desist from shedding tears. We overuse ‘words of comfort’ and we ‘spiritualize’ death, and in doing so we alienate the intimacy between the bereaved and the deceased which would otherwise show up in the form of tears. Tears is a language of its own and none must prevent it from speaking. Who are we to silence it even in the name of God? God created tears; let them speak for in that little volume they speak volumes.
Nick, when you cried, you did what Jesus did; when you cried, you spoke the language of love; when you cried you gave away what was meant to be given away; and when you cried you showed the remaining inhabitants of your little world that there is no shame in becoming vulnerable for your love one. I wasn’t as close to Aunty as some of my friends, brothers and sisters. But I felt like I had lost a piece of my heart. I never hung out with her often nor did I ever have long conversations with her. But still I felt dislocated.
Several months later, I found myself thinking of Aunty one late night. And as I was doing that, I began to understand that one’s love for a person can go beyond what appears to the naked eye. It can go beyond the times spent together and the words exchanged with one another. There existed a clear void in me, but it was not because I was ‘close’ to Aunty. But then love goes beyond all these material, visible and actual realities and memories. I realized then that I loved her more than I thought I did. And it was in the shedding of those tears, I felt the absence of her presence more intensely. I may not have known her like others but then I didn’t need to. I knew her in a way that only I could and that for me that was my treasure. This was my way of connecting with Aunty. Perhaps even God wanted it to be that way.
I have this void in me and I believe God has left that void unfilled so I, through that, can connect with Aunty for the rest of my life. Relationships are not cherished through memories alone but also through vacuity; vacuity that possesses an eternal nature. Aunty may have left me, but she hasn’t. She exists in that void. This void is uninhabited by anyone and stands barren; yet it is a void that is filled with the memory of a beloved. It is this void that breaks my heart and yet it is this void that gives me hope. It is disconnected from the world outside only to be connected to the world inside. And how precious is that void!
Nick, you are alone now, and yet you are not alone. That space that Aunty has left behind may have been inhabited by precious people over time, but trust me, that inhabited space does have a space uninhabited by anyone, and so it should be. I believe even God leaves it to be that way because God wants you to connect with Aunty by virtue of that uninhabited space. She may have been taken away but she’s there inside of you. You and I can still embrace her by embracing that void. The rest of us must allow for that space to exist undisturbed for it is a sacred space; sacred because it still holds tightly a relationship that goes beyond physical boundaries and its underpinnings.
When we question God in times of pain, sorrow and hopelessness, it is not a sign of faithlessness but a sign of deep rooted faith. The heart of a human does not find fulfillment only in answers but also in questions. When God entered into a relationship with humans, God knew that humans would use this God-given gift of questioning, and that is why I believe it isn’t a sin to question God; after all Jesus did the same on the cross, right? What is wrong, Nick, is we humans ‘playing’ God in trying to answer those questions, questions that arise from a broken heart. So when things go wrong, I believe God won’t be disappointed or angered by your questions, because it is your very act of questioning that affirms the relationship you have with God. I have few questions myself and I know you will have many more. Keep watering them with more questions. They die out when answered. These questions that you have may or may not get their answers, but even if they don’t it will serve its purpose in keeping this relationship between you, Aunty and God going.
Nick, you are precious to me. I know I have written much but I just had to. Let the absence of Aunty somehow make her presence immanent and celebratory. She has gone only to return someday. She left without a word; she will return the same way. Until then all you and I have is our memories of her, and let those memories continue to live and speak in that tear-shedding, question-raising, sacred space. I love you, Nick.