Empty Places, Full Lives

When my sister died, she left a void in me. This great void is telling of the wide place she once filled in my life. A lifelong established space, large enough to have withstood the passing of years, childhood memories, health scares, immigration to America, graduations and jobs, marriage and children. A space that cannot be rented out, filled up with new tenants, closed off, or even forgotten. You’d think that I’d feel lighter doing life with empty spaces within. But truth be told, her absence makes my heart heavy. The memories and love for her stiffen up, almost frozen, gathered in lose albums of my fading mind. The wind of time blows softly through the aired corners of my recollections. Some memories, I’ve forgotten. Others, are fading slowly. Only a few remain filed inside my brain’s temporal, tired lobe.  

There are spaces in this world that remind me of her. Spaces, other than my soul, where we did life together. But none stir up in me so much conflicted pain as the place where she is buried. Her grave. For all the neatly plotted patches, graveyards cause the most grievous disorder inside our hearts. Have you noticed how often, cemeteries that are smack down in the heart of a town, (as if to remind us all that death is just as much at the center of our life as any other part of living), become mere casual street decorations? Not much thought accompanies the fast-paced people in cars, parading mechanically past the cemetery’s entrance. The somber reality of the dead, neatly plotted 6 feet under, can’t compete with the smell of gasoline, the noises on the radio, the worries of the day, and the iPhones in the ears.

There is a wiry silence echoing in the graveyard air. I remember the Lord’s commanding the dead flesh to return to the ground from where He took it in the first place. Even the dead bodies follow in our Lord’s assigned process of decomposition. The only visual noise dancing among the graves is the multicolored, lifeless flowers decorating each plot. You’d think that Hobby Lobby’s artificial flower section has moved to the cemetery—if not for the live trees with roots extending deep beneath the surface. I imagine the roots rocking the coffins as they wrap around each new one lowered into the ground. The green grass thrives as the deep earth receives unusual nourishment–cells and human dust spreading quietly across the beautiful caskets. There are pouches of serene ponds, and flocks of geese find the coffin-land their home sweet home.

Though designed to resemble a community with manicured lands, (I’m sure it is for space preservation and profit), graveyards are among the loneliest, quietest, lifeless communities you’ll ever visit. As far as I can see, there are plots symmetrically aligned, close neighboring “homes.” They all lay so near to each other, with a plaque and a bouquet of flowers as the only decorations. I feel like an intruder every time I walk towards my sister’s place. I can’t help but step on other people’s plots as I make my way towards hers. They don’t seem to mind anyway. The sound of the cars passing by reminds me I am the living one among the dead. They can’t hear. They can’t respond. They are not offended.

Her name on the plaque pulls me on my knees. The lifeless body buried under her name is the closest I can get to what was once my sister. But the truth is, she’s not even there, either.The nearer I get to her rotten body in her grave, the clearer I see through my eyes of faith: because of her faith in Jesus, she left the grave, too. The skies testify to the gospel hope in the scriptures: we end up where our Savior lives. Even as my weak knees pull me into the manicured plot, the Spirit of the Lord takes my gaze towards the skies and declares to me: “Where Jesus goes, we’ll go also!” The Heavens declare majestically the glory of the Lord. Jesus is with us always, and we are with him forever.

She’s in a better place!” my friend whispered as we watched my sister’s coffin descended slowly in its plot. My mother lost all control and grabbed my arm. Her choking voice coughed up a Romanian demand: “I need to see where she is…to make sure she is not going to be wet or cold.” The funeral assistants responded immediately with a silent wave and a swift head nod: “Let her see!” We approached the hole carefully and inspected it with red eyes and shivering bodies. There was cement all over it. That cold, lifeless, cruel, ugly material was laying there open, ready to swallow its coffin—like a prey its food. I knew my mother was reassured of my sister’s well-kept body as soon as the handkerchief covered her mouth and her eyes close shut. My sister was going to be warm and dry. A small comfort to a mother’s heart, breaking grievously with each shovel of dirt covering the wood.

She’s in a better place…” echoes still in my head as I sit quietly beside her engraved plaque. My eyes lock on the cold grave, and I know my friend did not mean this as her “better” place. As the wind lifts my chin towards the sky, my heart knows that my sister’s “better” is in Heaven. But here’s the thing. I think she is not only in a “better” place—I think she is in the best place ever! To say “better” is to insinuate that Heaven is more than earth and less than something else. Less than what? What can there be more “better” than being in the presence of God? Nothing! Heaven is the best of all the “better’s”. Heaven settles for nothing less and it is always the best of all the “more’s”. Heaven is the utmost glorious home and there is nothing more above it.

I’m not satisfied with “better.” “She’s in the BEST place ever” is more like it. This comforts my aching soul when I miss her presence on this painful earth. Believing she’s in a place she wouldn’t trade for the meager earthly home because the absolute splendor of her heavenly place satisfies her fully. Knowing she’s where there is no room for more wants and nothing is less than absolute perfect around her. To gaze at the actual face of the Savior we gave our life to, the One we spoke about and worshiped on earth—oh, the splendors of Heaven in her eyes! The songs of glory in her mouth! The riches of fellowship in her arms! The shining reflection of heavenly majesty on her face!

Heaven is the best of all the “better’s” we can ever imagine. I don’t want “better” than earth: I want the best of all earths and realms: I want Heaven. And through my Savior, that’s exactly what I’m getting. It’s exactly what my sister received, also. The grave may host for now my sister’s rotten bones, but her soul is alive and well with Christ. Spiritually, there is an emptiness in the grave. And when Christ returns, my sister will leave an eternal void in her casket—the whole 6-foot, iron built, satin-coated, concrete-cased of it. The emptiness in our hearts and in the graves testifies that though our loved ones left this earth, their Spirit has never been more alive!


1 Comment

  1. Hey Anca,
    First, I’m sorry for your loss. Secondly, thank you for sharing that deep pain and your vivid familiarity with cemeteries. If I didn’t know one, your words captured what one looks like and feel like. Your writing is so beautiful. You said everything so beautifully. I mean, knowing that your sister is in the best of the betters of this earth. Loved the way you said it.

    My heart was touched by this writing and id like to save it and come back to it again. Thank you for beautiful heartfelt words. Glad I stopped by. ❤❤❤ May your heart find peace and your pain be purposeful. It is… And if you haven’t seen it yet, it will be.

    God’s work is not in vain. Nothing He does is meaningless. The worse parts of our life, is the greatest parts for God’s purpose and pleasure, as painful as it is. The pain becomes beautiful, all the same. How can one feel such pain, and not die from it? And we don’t. Especially when later on we will see that it was God all along that carried us through the difficult parts. And all so that we will later go on to glorify him. Maybe you have already started doing that. You are a beautiful soul. May God’s love continue to fill you up that you will be poured out and many others.

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