The week before Christmas, the mother of one of the girls in my daughter’s church youth group died of breast cancer. The woman was 49 years old and had known she was in a terminal condition for well over a year. I don’t know the details of what treatments she underwent and when exactly her treatment options ran out, but I do know that she spent the last months fighting fiercely for every possible day.
The daughter my daughter is friends with is in high school. An older daughter is in college. The woman’s divorced husband had shared entirely amicable joint custody for more than 10 years.
At the memorial service, held at our church the week after Christmas, a small, sturdy box made of dark wood, reminding me of a miniature treasure chest, held the woman’s ashes. The box was surrounded by greenery, photographs, and dozens of tiny candles. Numerous friends and relatives came forward to speak of the woman’s love of life, of her adoration of her children as well as any other children she encountered, of her humor, her kindness, her intense caring for those around her.
The minister who led the service wasn’t our minister, but a pastor who, among other things, leads support groups for women with advanced breast cancer. Often, when I attend funerals, I’m offended by the lack of attention paid to the individual who has died: the clergy person puts forth a few generalities that too often indicate he or she didn’t know the deceased personally, and then proceeds to offer endless doctrine-specific prayers. In this case, the minister was both eloquent and personal; she was gentle and understanding in her guidance of the service and her dealing with the family. Her prayers were meditative and, although Christian, open enough to encompass the thoughts of mourners from many faiths.
But (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?) she made one statement that yanked me completely out of the quiet thoughtfulness of the moment and sparked a quick flare of anger that I’m obviously not yet over. In one of her prayers, after referring to the deceased woman’s joyful life and loving family, the minister said something like the following: “And now she is with You, the one who loves her most of all.”
Excuse me? Which part of a God loving her most of all relates to letting her suffer during her treatments and deciding that she should die? Which aspect of love is linked to allowing a still-young woman to waste away before the eyes of her children? How exactly does the God who supposedly loves her more than anyone else justify her months of pain, her too-early death, and all other aspects of removing a marvelous person who had so much to offer the world? And how does a minister dare to stand in front of dozens of grieving family members and suggest that anyone loved the dead woman more than they did?
I’m at a loss to understand or forgive such a statement.