I lost a dear friend to Covid 19 last week. Fran Zimniuch died last Wednesday night/ Thursday morning. He died at home alone and they found him on Thursday. I want to be happy, happy with you today. It’s only five days until Christmas! But it occurs to me that there are a lot of people who are sad with me in this year of too much sadness… and since tonight is the longest night, perhaps it’s ok to be sad together.
I hope you will indulge me to tell you a little about my friend. Fran and his wife Gina were members of the church my husband Mike and I built in New Jersey. They were at the very first service at the Lilly Elementary School in Gloucester Township. They loved the church and poured their life into it alongside several key families in the church. Fran and Gina had two boys about the ages of my older two sons and we quickly bonded. We were in and out of each other’s homes. Gina was in the church choir, a member of our church playgroup and our church secretary. Fran sat on several committees of the church and always kept our congregation laughing. The picture of them and their sons was taken by Mike in the mid 90s in our backyard at a church event. After eight years Mike and I moved back to the midwest to pastor a different congregation, but Fran and Mike remained close talking on the phone and meeting up when Fran’s business travel brought him nearby. When Fran and Gina’s oldest son died suddenly a few years ago, Mike and I flew back to do the funeral. This summer when Fran discovered Mike’s church had online services, Fran became a regular attender. Mike texted Fran just two weeks ago to get a time to catch up, so when Fran’s youngest son called on Saturday to tell us Fran was dead, we were shocked.
Our story is repeated all over the country right now. Covid has stolen our loved ones. It has cut life short for too many. We know that death is a reality. We all expect to die. But we also expect to live to a reasonable age. When a child’s life is taken, or a young person dies, or a parent with young children dies, or even when someone dies in their 60s, we say their life was cut short and we grieve all the more. It doesn’t feel fair. In fact the scriptures acknowledge that life is sometimes cut short. Isaiah includes a psalm written by King Hezekiah when he was very ill and expecting to die. It begins:
I said, “In the prime of my life
must I go through the gates of death
and be robbed of the rest of my years?”
11 I said, “I will not again see the Lord himself
in the land of the living;
no longer will I look on my fellow man,
or be with those who now dwell in this world.
Hezekiah begged for help from the Lord and the Lord saved him. But we know there are times when death comes to early even in the bible. Adam and Eve effectively lost both of their sons when Cain killed Abel. King David and Bathsheba lost their first son. Job lost his whole family. And God lost his son Jesus when he died on the cross.
In the midst of grief it helps me to remember that God knows what it is to grieve the loss of a beloved child, and that God has decided death most die. Our Father raised up Jesus to everlasting life and gave him back to those who grieved with a promise that death has ultimately been undone. This is our great hope as Christians. I hold this hope as you do.
In the meantime, however, I am sad that I will not hear Fran making jokes on the phone sending my husband into hysterics. I will miss his warm smile and too kind words to me. I think it’s ok for Christian people to miss those we have lost too soon. Death always comes too soon when it’s someone we love.
Peace to all of you who are missing loved ones on this long night.