Posted on November 16, 2011


As I stood graveside watching and listening to shovels of dirt being thown over the urn, the urn containing the ashes of my brother in law and friend, I came to a point, understanding the finality of this act, where I was compelled to look up into the skies.

I could no longer look down. The angels are saying, “He is not here, he has risen.” So I looked in the direction that I presume people tend to go when they leave this earth… the cloudy skies with glimmers of sunshine peeking through. That’s the source of light. That must be the direction we go. Don’t we?

The sound of dirt being tossed into the hole in the ground brought me back to earth for a second and then …

I opened my heart. I opened my mind. I said as I embraced the skies, “Jim, how ARE you? Jim, where are you? Jim what is it like?” Suddenly I realized that the man of a million questions, my friend and my brother… was gone. But not gone. Not here, but somehow here somewhere. The Bible says that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” What does THAT mean??? I am present with the Lord as I stand here. Nothing in the bible says that heaven is up. Actually, it seems that there is more evidence that heaven is here on earth than there is that heaven is in some other place. And if heaven is a spiritual realm, then “place” is really irrelevant. As with God, the spiritual realm is everywhere. “Where are you, Jim?”

The sound of dirt being tossed into the hole in the ground brought me back to earth for a second and then …

 Suddenly I realized it was me that had so many questions. Who else to ask but the man of a million questions? “Jim, what is it like? Can you hear me? Could I hear you… if you spoke? If so, Jim, I’m listening. What are you doing right now? Do you realize how much people miss you?” My mom made a statement that she thinks people really miss Jim more than he knows. More than he could ever know. What a flood of sympathy cards, flowers, well wishers, givers of blessing. People kept coming and coming and coming during the visitation at the funeral home and during the reception yesterday after the funeral at the church. You are missed, Jim, more that you could know. “Are you watching? Can  you see this? What a response!” People seemed to resonate deeply with your departure and the circumstances surrounding it.

“He was a father leaving behind four wonderful sons.”

“He was a husband, leaving behind my sister.”

“He was a son, leaving behind a mother and parents in law.”

“He was a brother leaving behind his earthly brothers.”

“He was a friend, leaving behind those we reached out to and helped so often (myself included).”

“He was a hard worker, leaving behind all those people that understand the work ethic.”

“He was a seeker of truth, leaving us behind with all of our questions.”

“He was a determined man. Determined to rise above the dire circumstances in which he was raised. Determined to rise to the challenge of being the best he could be and leaving his sons equipped and determined to rise above where he left them.”

The sound of dirt being tossed into the hole in the ground brought me back to earth for a second and then I remembered…

His oldest son shared during the funeral that he had a conversation with his dad during his wedding a couple of years ago that really hit him deeply and helped him understand what it was that his dad was all about. He shared that he realized his dad strove with every ounce of strength that he had to rise above his own dad, to make a better life than his own dad was capable of. Jim’s father was a very abusive and mean alcoholic. The stories are unbelievable. Jim’s son said that when it hit him and he realized what was important to his dad, he said this to him, “Dad, I am determined to rise above the father and husband that you have become.” He said that his dad resonated deeply with this statement and just sat back and smiled… nodding. A lesser man might have taken this as an insult, but not Jim. Jim now knew that his son “got” him. His own son could really “see” him and understood his purpose here on earth. He truly understood the lifelong striving and desire of his heart. Often it is the things left unsaid that are the most powerful when we realize the meaning behind the determination and actions. Because of the gaps in his upbringing, the emotional voids left within, Jim often felt that he fell short in being the kind of father and husband that he wanted to be. But it was his own son that was able to see and verbalize this lacking and this great all-consuming desire.

The sound of dirt being tossed into the hole in the ground brought me back to earth for a second and then I wondered…

What is heaven like? Is it like “they” tell us it is? Or is the afterlife something way beyond words, way beyond anything our minds can imagine?

“How many questions have you asked, Jim? In these four days since you left us, how many questions have you asked? 100? 1000? Of those that you asked, how many were answered? What better place to have your questions answered? What is it like? Do you suddenly ‘understand’ all things? Or do you have to work at it still, asking the questions that would bring to light the things you want to know?” Understanding, knowledge, and wisdom are things that human beings were created to strive after and only allowed to receive once we have gone after them with our whole hearts, and once they have broken our hearts with their pain. I do know this; our minds are so puny compared to eternity, to an eternal God. Our understanding is a grain of sand on an endless beach. No matter how “perfect” we might become after death, we will always be “creatures” and never have the understanding of the Great Spirit that has created all things.

The sound of dirt being tossed into the hole in the ground brought me back to earth for a second and then I wondered…

When God says in the Bible that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” do we really believe that God has told us all things? Do you suppose there is more to it than that? Do you suppose that there are a million things left unsaid about the afterlife? … a million things left to honor the mystery of life and death? Do you suppose that “if we already know, we can no longer learn?” Maybe this sums up all of the questions that Jim kept asking. Maybe he knew that we could never know these things for sure and all he was left with was questions… and that’s the way it should be? Maybe the questions were not “demoting” an eternal God, but rather they were honoring the greatness of an eternal God by acknowledging the mystery, the wonder, and the unknowable. In a sense, I tend to think that Jim’s questions were, by nature and by design, unanswerable. Maybe that’s why those of us with lesser minds were so disturbed by his questions. Human beings tend to need answers so much that they often create their own answers, whether or not they are true. And then we are tremendously disturbed when someone messes with our prefabricated answers … often called theology.

The sound of dirt being tossed into the hole in the ground brought me back to earth for a second and then I wondered…

“What’s it like, Jim? What about those million questions? Are they still burning in your heart and mind? Or do they no longer matter? Or are those questions still the source of all understanding, knowledge, and wisdom? … even in eternity? Is it the struggle of questioning that brings us truth? … even in eternity???

LIVING THE QUESTIONS: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers . . . Live the questions now.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet)

“A GREAT QUESTION refuses to be answered; so it keeps leading us into deeper connections with each other and into deeper thinking.” (Judith Snow)

“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it” – H. E. Fosdick

“Each of us creates a picture of our world by connecting a dozen or so of the trillions of dots that would need to be connected to make a ‘true’ portrait of the universe.” — Sam Keen

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble; it’s what you know for sure that ain‘t so.” — Mark Twain

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” — Bertrand Russell

“There is more faith in honest doubt than in all your Creeds” – A. L. Tennyson


What happened to by friend… my brother?

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A Rockford man was hit by a truck while he was trying to move an injured animal off the road.