What I Would Have Said

As many of you know, the spouse’s sister-in-law was killed Friday by a mentally ill man, who then turned the gun on himself. I really hoped I could say a few words at the service, but it was a delicate situation. I didn’t want to volunteer too strenuously because I figured that Holly’s sister or a close friend would probably be recruited. I wanted to speak because I love Holly and I didn’t want her to get a lot of “We can’t know God’s will, but now we need to heal” boilerplate out to people who really need to hear something a little more substantive.

And unfortunately, that’s what we got. In a 30-minute eulogy, Holly got approximately 10 minutes; the rest was a hard hitting message about why God allows evil (meaning the killer), and how the empty cross makes it all make sense and by the way, here’s an anecdote about me and the wife that has nothing to do with …..anything. I started the service in tears; I ended it confused and depressed at what seemed to have missed the mark by a country mile.

It’s only fair to point out that I did hear several people comment on how they had found the service comforting. Dissent noted.

Anyway, Holly, I don’t know that I would have done better. But I sure would have done it different. For what it’s worth, here’s what I wanted to say:

1. There are no answers to the question “why?” Or there are hundreds of answers, but none of them bring you back. So let’s stop asking it, or at least spend less time torturing ourselves with it.

2. The more important question is “how?” How do we keep you around? Physically, you’re gone. But by getting stuck on why, the random, senseless moment of your death becomes the focus, not the gentle, cheerful spirit that lit up any room you walked into.

3. I think the answer to how is to live like Holly did. I can think of very few people who, if they had somehow escaped death after being randomly shot at, wouldn’t say, “I’m going to completely change my life and appreciate every day and every minute.” Holly didn’t need to say that; she lived it. We can be grateful. We can listen more than we talk. We can accept people for who they are, and not bitch about what they should be. We can make the best of lousy situations, not because we’re loony optimists, but because we know that whining doesn’t get anything done and that self-pity is a dead end. We can tell people unreservedly how great they are and how much we love them. We can put into practice getting more joy in building people up and celebrating the good than we get from tearing people down and railing about how screwed up everything is.

4. This is not to imply that Holly saw the world through rose-colored glasses. If anything she saw it very clearly. But she was very careful about how she looked at things. Her smiles were genuine, and she smiled a lot. When I think of Holly, it is exactly how I remember her. A gentle smile is a great legacy.

5. No matter what you say, this sucks. There is no way to minimize the pain of losing someone you love this much. Saying things like, “God triumphs,” and “The empty cross proves that Jesus is king,” sound frankly odd to many Christians, and downright bizarre if not sadistic to non-Christians. And, for heaven’s sake, I want to hear about Holly beyond a couple of charming anecdotes. There was so much more to her than that she baked the best pumpkin muffins.

Anyway, I’m moving as fast as I can to do a tribute that will hopefully capture Holly pretty vividly. She remains utterly unique, one of the only people I’ve known who seemed infused with sunshine, someone whose inner beauty is inseparable from her physical beauty. I miss her. But I truly believe that only the physical’s gone – which totally sucks, because that’s how we prefer to deal with people most of the time. But we do deal with people in the non-physical sense more than we think, anytime we read what they’ve written or read about them, when we keep them in our minds and hearts, when we smile over something terrific that we remember about them. Heck, I talk to people all the time when I’m in the car and imagine their answers. I’m sure it looks nuts, but I know it keeps me sane.

So we all just gotta learn to do that with Holly.

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