When will the funeral be?
When can we get together for coffee?
When will you come back to worship at the church?
When will you be ready to speak in person?
When? When? When? When?
Since my husband’s passing last February, the questions have kept coming—questions from others and questions that I ask myself.
At times I’ve had an answer: “Instead of a gathered funeral during the pandemic, there will be an online tribute.” At times I’ve responded with another question: “Could we go for a walk instead?” Or “Could we meet for ice cream at the park?” Sometimes I’ve put off answering: “I can’t even think about that right now.” Or more simply, “I don’t know.”
In the midst of the many questions, I’ve also been told many times, “You’ll know when you’re ready.” When one pastor lost his wife to cancer, he took six months off before resuming his ministry at the church. Another took a year. Others take a few weeks or months. Some return part-time. Some end up changing churches. Perhaps they were also told, “You’ll know when you’re ready.”
I’m not so sure I’ll know when I’m ready for the different invitations and opportunities that await my answer. Or if I will ever feel ready for them.
When my husband asked me to marry him when we were both just eighteen years old and in our first year of university, was I ready then? Now when I look at eighteen-year-olds, I think I must have been too young. When I was called into pastoral ministry on an interim basis, when I received a continuing term as a lead pastor, when I was ordained—at each step along the way, I remember thinking, “This church seems more ready than I am for my new role and responsibilities.”
I wasn’t ready for my husband to be diagnosed with cancer the first time, or the second time. I wasn’t ready for his long hospital stay during the pandemic. I wasn’t ready for him to die suddenly in February. It still seems sudden to me, and I’m still not ready to be without him.
Yet here I am. Ready or not.
That’s true for so much in life. Things come to us unbidden. Life happens when we’re busy doing other things and turns us around. And around and around, even when we’re not ready.
Some time ago, I read a newspaper interview with William Shatner. The 91-year-old actor was celebrating the release of his latest book, Boldly Go Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder (Atria Books, 2022). When asked about the death of his wife, Nerine, he said his voice trembled when he answered—even though her death was over twenty years ago. The host said, “It never goes away, does it?”
He replied, “It doesn’t. Grief is a palpable entity in the human experience. Grief has sides to it. Depending on how you deal with it, it can be assuaged. But it never goes away.”
When asked about his successful and varied career as an actor, producer, screenwriter, author, and space tourist, he said that he hadn’t planned any of it. “I feel that life is so chaotic that there is no chance of organizing it,” he said. “Life organizes you.”
So this year I’m not organizing Christmas. I’m not organizing Advent. I’m not organizing my grief. I’m letting those things organize me. I’m not ready for Christmas—or maybe I am, and I just don’t know it. But ready or not, I say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Christine Sine’s book The Gift of Wonder is a welcome respite in our harried world. Journey along with Christine in the Gift of Wonder Online Retreat as she guides you through creative practices to recapture your delight in God. Learn more here, or purchase the book from our shop!