Surviving Those We Lose

I’ve been thinking about the Apostle John. He’s my favorite Biblical writer. His style, his way with words, the themes on which he focuses resonate with my spirit.

But lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that he probably lived into his nineties. Whereas, according to tradition, we believe most of the other disciples were martyred; we believe John lived out his days in exile on the island of Patmos. To survive beyond all those we love is a special calling.

Have you noticed that when we’re young adults, we tell stories about the first time we met people? “I remember the first time I met my wife.” “Oh, we’ve been friends since college. I remember we met in such and such a class.” “He wore a blue sweater that matched his eyes the day I first saw him.”

Somewhere into mid-life, however, the stories begin to change to “last time” stories. “I remember the last time I saw her before she got sick.” “I remember the last time we were all together and happy.” “The last time we spoke, I remember he said . . .” “I remember the last time . . .”

One of the markers of individuals who are able to thrive into their senior years is their ability to cope with loss. Think about it. The older we get, the more loss we face both in terms of personal capabilities and loved ones. We lose family members, friends, spouses, children, acquaintances. The older we get the more we lose the community of people who share our history.

Saturday night I watched Rocky Balboa, which is the sixth Rocky if you’re keeping count. Rocky is getting on in years and is facing loss on multiple levels. Adrian has died of cancer. Physically, he’s feeling his age. The community around him is deteriorating. Paulie loses his job at the meatpacking plant. A few people still want to hear Rocky’s stories but to many people, he’s an old has-been. Rocky latches on to a couple of individuals who remember “when”. They become important to him simply because of their shared history.

There is still a great fight in Rocky. He’s not done creating memories yet. But what stands out is how very alone Rocky is in a way that no one can change.

So, I thought about John on Patmos. He’s lost everyone who remembers the day they first met Jesus. John must be full of last times.

The last time he saw Jesus as He ascended. The last time they were all together. The last time he saw Peter, James, Thomas, Philip, Mary, Salome – all those who shared with him the moment that God chose to walk among us. John was there at the mountaintop transfiguration, he witnessed crowds being fed, thousands being healed, Pentecost and the birth of the church, then persecution and the horrible deaths of so many he loved, so many he led to the truth.

Now he is alone.

To survive is to learn to cope with loss. To survive is to cope with being alone in a way that cannot be fixed until heaven. He, alone, bears their shared history. He, alone, bears their memories, their stories and the grief of all their deaths. No camaraderie remains to bear him up, to bolster his spirits, to see him through, to remember his last time.

But he is not alone.

Jesus was present with John and knew what John needed, what all of us who survive would need, to stay strong until the end: a revelation of Himself in all His glory and a glimpse into heaven.

Was John so full of the vision, the Revelaton of Jesus, that that was all that mattered? When he saw the twenty-four seated beside the throne or the multitudes worshipping together, did he look for the faces of those he loved? Ah, yes, there is Peter; we will be together soon, brother. Oh, Mary, you are so beautiful here on the other side! Thomas, I see you are, at last, free from all doubt. I don’t know what John was thinking but I believe he drank in every moment of the vision like a man who has survived the Sahara drinking in an oasis. His lonely, weary spirit must have feasted on the vision of a future that includes the risen Christ and those he’d loved and lost along the way.

So we all need to hold on to the vision of heaven. Like Rocky, to survive, we must find the strength to continue the fight. Those of us who are called to survive, to grow older without those we love, to age past the camaraderie of those who bolstered us along the way, to see the world change, our bodies change and to be the sole bearers of the once shared memories, histories, and stories – this is a special calling and to survive it, there is one more truth to which we must hold.

There is an eternity that awaits us beyond this life, on the other side of the veil that separates us from those who rest in Jesus before we do. Eternal life awaits! Jesus reigns! God makes His dwelling among us. There is a place prepared for us. There is camaraderie and fellowship without end. There is a place without sickness, without torture, without separation, without death.

What awaits us is a place where there are no more “last times.”

He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” Revelation 22:20-21

If you are called to survive beyond those you love – remember Rocky – remember John – remember Jesus and what lies ahead. Fight on. Hold on. Live on until the end.

There is so much more just ahead . . .

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  1. Andrea says:

    Stop By Arise 2 Write. I have something there for you. You, my friend deserve it. GOD BLESS, andrea

    PS: amen to your post!

  2. Karen says:

    Beautiful. I will be sending this to my best friend who lost her son last year.