02 April 2009

Lenten Journal: Death and Goodbyes

This is not going to be one of my happier posts - consider yourself warned.

Early this morning I had a terrible dream. I was riding a roller coaster with Ainsley in my lap (no, I don't know why - it was a dream). Suddenly, we rocketed skyward, until about a mile or so above ground we flipped upside down, at which point Ainsley slipped out of my grasp and I watched her falling, screaming, toward the earth below. Yeah, that one woke me up right away, gasping and heart racing until I calmed down enough to get out of bed and go make the coffee. You try to sleep after that one - I knew I was up for the day at that point.

The day just got happier from that point on. First there was the whole Guy episode. Then, as I was writing that post this afternoon, Beloved called me and told me that Pastor Erik Erickson, our friend and colleague from Minnesota, died of brain cancer this morning. We knew things hadn't been good, but didn't know it would be so soon.

It got me thinking about the first time I met Erik. It was our annual Runestone Conference Christmas Party, held in the Depot in Alexandria. I had only been in Barrett a few months, so I hadn't met many of my colleagues just yet. I sat down at the table and introduced myself to the balding, spectacled guy to my left, and before I knew it, we were deep into a discussion of the finer points of Tolkien and how much we loved the Peter Jackson movies. I knew I had a good friend from that moment on, and four years of collegiality proved me absolutely right on that account. I remember watching him strap up his arm braces so he could play a round of golf without aggravating his tendinitis, how much he loved his Toyota Prism and the 60 MPG he was so proud to be getting, his droll sense of humor that led to some of the best one-liners and worst puns I've ever heard.

Tonight a lot of folks said goodbye to the show ER. I caught a few minutes of the 'Retrospective' show between reading books to Ainsley and folding laundry, and I was struck by how much Mark Edwards resembles my friend Erik. Same balding head, glasses, obvious intelligence, goofy charm. As I sat and thought of Erik, I remembered the episode in which Dr. Green died. It was the spring of 2002, a rough time for me: first marriage falling apart, living by myself in Florida while finishing an internship, supervising pastor assigned to Patrick AFB and unable to do much more than help keep me sane in our weekly meetings. I was an ER regular back then, mostly because I loved Dr. Green, and the night his final episode was finished, I bawled like I'd lost my best friend.

I know, I know - it's a TV show. But Dr. Green left behind a wife he loved and a daughter he was just getting reconnected with, and now, as a father of two daughters, I think I know why I reacted so strongly: then, and now, I couldn't bear the thought of being separated from people I love.

Loss sucks. Loss effing bites. There aren't words strong enough to encompass the pain of losing someone you love. All night there's been a 'retrospective' of conversations with Erik running in my head, paired with vague memories of that awful dream from last night. I even waited to blog about this until all my girls were in bed, so I could spend time with them rather than waste it staring at this computer screen.

I don't know what all of this means. I do know that the people I love who've gone before me into death are in a continual retrospective loop in my memories: my grandfathers, my grandma Johnson, Pastor Larry, Dr. Forde, Dr. Kittleson, Erik and all the others to whom I've been forced to say goodbye are never completely gone. But they're not here, either, and there's no way to fill the empty space they've left behind. Whatever it means, one thing's for certain: I'm going to check on those baby girls before I go to bed. I'm going to kiss their foreheads and say goodnight while they sleep. And I'm going to pray with all my heart that we won't have to say goodbye for a long, long time.

Grace & peace,

Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) would be a good song to listen to right now. I'm going to be off to Chicago for a campus ministry retreat this weekend, and I hope to have some happier blogging to do when I return.


  1. Beautiful post, Scott. This is something we all need to remember - how precious and wonderful life is and especially the people God brings into our lives.

    Sending you hugs and prayers.

  2. i second what moe said above!

    i'd add that it's an excellent reflection on the communion of saints and what that means... i hope you can feel that this upcoming holy week.