Talking to Stan

Stan, my wonderful father-in-law, just put his garden to bed for the winter. There is nothing he loved more than driving his tractor around the farm on a fall day in Michigan. So it was both fitting and beautiful that he took his last breath doing just that. In fact, he died between sentences, while talking with a close friend.

This good man was the nearest thing I had to a father in my adult life. He was a man of integrity who loved God, a patriot in the best sense, a warrior who shed tears when his grandchildren left after a visit. He loved and cared for his wife of 65 years, a spry and feisty centenarian who can no longer live on her own. She and I are puttering around the house together now, waiting for a room to open in a nearby assisted-living facility. As I search for missing items, calm repeated fears and welcome a parade of visitors, I find myself talking to Stan.

Sometimes I ask his advice obliquely (what would Stan have done about this?) and sometimes directly (Stan, please help me figure this out). I tell him how grateful I am for the plans he made, the family he raised and the legacy he left. I grumble at him for his packrat ways and for hiding his wife’s driver license too well. I’m a bit astonished at myself for doing this. I don’t know whether he hears me, and so far, he hasn’t answered back.

Many otherwise sane people have talked to their dead throughout history. Some have institutionalized the practice as prayer or ancestor worship. I understand the impulse. My love and my frustrations are real. They want a target to aim at. Someone who cares deeply about me now sees further than I can. Someone in heaven has the wisdom I need. Stan, as I knew him, was both strong and tender. I trusted him. He could understand my situation as no one else could. So I talk to him.

I realize I should be talking to God like this all the time. My love and even my frustrations have been invited by the King of Everything. Someone Who cares deeply about me sees further than I can. Someone in heaven has the wisdom I need. The Lord God is both strong and tender, and I can trust Him. He understands this and every situation as no one else could. So why am I talking to Stan?

It’s easier to feel warm about a physical person you have hugged and laughed with than a Spirit you’ve never heard or touched or seen, I suppose. But I don’t want my memory of Stan to be a substitute for the reality of God. Instead, I want to understand God better through my love for Stan. I want to know my Jesus as the warm, wise, ready heart on the other end of my conversations.

I don’t think it’s wrong to talk to Stan even though he’s dead (as long as he’s not talking to me), but it is more effective and more real to speak with the living Christ. It is not Stan who has what I need, loves me the most or intercedes for me with God. His death cannot yield those benefits. But his life is still pointing me to the One whose death ensures that Stan and I will sit down together again. There are so many things I look forward to in heaven, but one of the best will surely be talking to Stan.

“Christ is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)


Related Content:

In the Aftermath of Trauma

Many people in my hometown of Orlando, Florida are feeling the effects of trauma right now.  Some of them are victims or relatives of victims of the two shootings which occurred here in recent days.  Others are first responders, police, fire or ambulance personnel who witnessed the carnage or its aftereffects.  But others are experiencing symptoms of trauma at more of a distance – those called upon to counsel victims or first responders, relatives and friends of those involved, maybe even the community as a whole.  We are struggling to wrap our brains around the idea that such massive evil and bloodshed could occur in our midst.  We are shocked, frightened, grieving, trying to “fix it” or to escape. 

Of course there have also been some lovely examples of heroes and helpers giving blood, offering prayers, providing food and comfort.  This reminds us of our role as God’s children, entering the scene of tragedy as Jesus did to bring the hope of redemption. We cannot not lose sight of God’s goodness, but, at the same time, we should not use that truth to dismiss others’ pain, jumping too quickly to a hope that many cannot yet feel.

Part of the healing that needs to be done is to allow ourselves and others to talk, to grieve, to feel our own feelings, whatever they may be.  Be kind to yourself and others right now.  We won’t always feel this way, but part of moving forward is living in the present, acknowledging whatever may be, telling the stories and validating the pain.  To that end, I offer the following handout which you can download, print or copy for others.

Trauma Recovery Handout

May you struggle well and heal in God’s time.

Grieving God’s Way by Margaret Brownley

This devotional book receives my highest rating, even though I hate the title.  Any time you tell me you are doing something “God’s way” I get suspicious!  However, novelist Margaret Brownley has written so beautifully and helpfully on the topic of grief that I will forgive her this once.  Her words are filled with the poignant flavor of personal experience which she gained after the death of her eldest son.  It must be this personal quest toward God in the midst of suffering which makes such a profound impact.

This is a short book which can be read quickly and returned to many times over.  In addition to the 90 days of devotional readings, Ms. Brownley provides a wealth of practical advice and creative outlets for the pain of losing a loved one.  As she succinctly notes, “the needs to change, grow, seek and create are all signs of healing” (p. 195).  They are also means to healing, and there is no lack of helpful, hopeful opportunities here.  I have used some of her suggestions already in my counseling practice, and I would recommend it for the friends of those who grieve, too.   I will be buying multiple copies to give away, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you found yourself doing the same thing.

If you would like more information, visit Margaret Brownley’s website: https://www.grievinggodsway.com/