I preached on death this past Sunday, and afterword a retired man gave me a book written by his son after the sudden passing of his teenage daughter. I’m usually reluctant to receive these gifts, as I have a stack of reading that I still must plow through, but it’s a topic that I’m interested in and it clearly meant a lot to the man. I just read it this morning, and it’s good. It’s really good.
The book is Written in Tears, by Luke Veldt, who is a missionary in Spain. I know it’s common to say that a book is “honest” about the fear and pain of death, but this one really is. There are no stained glass window Christians here, just a normal Christian family that is grieving for their child.
A couple quotes to illustrate the point: Several times the family questioned the reality of their faith, including the mom. She asked shortly after Allison’s death, “Is it all true? Is any of it true? Is there a God, and is Alli with Him? Oh, it needs to be true” (p. 17).
Luke wrestles with the tension between needing mementos of Alli and not wanting to turn his living room into a shrine. He wrote: “I like the idea of having a keychain with Alli’s picture on it; I hate it, too. I want to keep her picture always at hand, but I don’t want her memory turned into a good luck charm, a trinket. I don’t want it reduced to keychains and videos and pictures on the wall. I don’t want to cheapen her memory by making junk out of it” (p. 44).
And Luke offers good advice for those offering comfort: “As bad as I felt for a long time after Allison’s death, my primary worry was never whether I would feel better. I was terrified that I would forget—forget Allison’s face, her voice, her personality; afraid that everything that made Allison what she was would be lost to me and to the world forever.”
“And so the responses that I treasure most of all are stories about Allison that I hadn’t heard before, stories that painted her personality more clearly, maybe in ways that were new to me; stories that illustrated her beauty.”
“There weren’t very many of those. Many people said, ‘Allison was such a special person. She was so loving,’ which was good to hear, but wasn’t enough. There were a few people, though, who could say things like, ‘Do you know, Allison was in my Sunday school class, and every week she….”
“If you can, tell the grieving a personal story that reveals a special quality of the person they’re missing. It will be greatly appreciated” (p. 128-29).
Then there’s this: “I believe that God is good. I don’t believe that it’s appropriate for you to tell me so when my daughter dies. When my daughter dies, it’s my job to tell you that God is good. Until I can do that, don’t be like Job’s friends. Offer your support, and wait in silence” (p. 131).
As you can tell, the writing is poignant, direct, and quite moving. My only quibble with the book is its discussion of the bodies we’ll have in heaven. This is a common mistake, but I’ll never stop saying that we won’t receive our resurrection bodies until Jesus returns to live with us on the new earth. Let’s not confuse the intermediate state with our ultimate hope in Christ.
But with that caveat I warmly commend Written in Tears to those who have lost a loved one, and to those friends who need the straight scoop on how to comfort them. It’s a great supplement to my The Last Enemy, Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son, or Dave Branon’s Beyond the Valley.