I had the horrible experience this morning of finding out a co-worker had died by heart attack last night. I’ve never, ever experienced this situation before. Imagine a room full of over 100 adults all slowly finding out that someone they’ve worked side by side with (some for years) has suddenly died, never to return. Someone who’s presence you’ve grown accustomed to, someone who you’ve gotten to know, someone you’ve shared jokes with over morning tea, someone who made you feel welcome on your very first day in your new job – gone. Suddenly.
I’ve never been in an office environment so silent. The only sounds for a good ten minutes was sniffing or the occasional sob of my co-workers. It was moving, it was surreal, it was beautiful and it was complex.
For the first few minutes of the announcement, I stood silently, feeling terrible for a man I barely knew, but already liked a lot. I stood with my team and held a lady who wept, thinking how awful a situation this was, feeling helpless and completely shocked. I didn’t know what to say, what to do, how to feel. It was gut wrenching.
Within a few minutes, I started to tear up. I got really emotional. Tears spilled out, I couldn’t hold them in. I felt so, so tiny and so, so powerless. The whole floor stayed quiet for most of the morning as everyone processed that our friend Spiros was not coming back to work, ever. That he wouldn’t be in the lunch room with a friendly conversation anymore. No more trips to the social club chocolate stash in our department. He was gone.
Over the course of the day stories started to emerge as people tried to lift the spirits of their team mates, and as they remembered Spiros. They swapped stories and laughs. The big bosses ordered everyone pizza. We heard about how crazy and wonderful this man was.
And then I felt it. The impact of that word.
I still remember when my brother Kristian died, the first time I used the word ‘was’ in describing him. It came off my tongue without a thought, but as soon as it was out of my mouth I desperately wanted to take it back. I didn’t want to be ready to admit that Kristian was a good person, that he was a loving father, that he was a great man. Past tense is too final. I didn’t want to admit that Kristian was no longer here.
See, the moment you say that word, it’s real. Three little letters pack so much punch in the face of grief. The moment someone was something, they no longer are. And that is a hard truth to swallow.
Until, I guess, you compare it to this.
Death was final.
Until Jesus died and rose again.
So as hard as death is, as much as death was, it no longer is the end. And even though we are still stuck with the past tense of admitting someone no longer is, we have hope.
Because sometimes past tense is a reminder that what lies in store for us could not have been if not for what once was.