Nobody really talks about how busy you become near the end of someone else's life. There's a lot of paperwork that needs to be obtained and understood and filled out. There are appointments to make (and keep). There's tupperware to fill with snacks, and efforts to make every last conversation meaningful.
And the whole time, even though you don't want to think about it because thinking about it makes it real, there are arrangements that need to be made for if and when that end comes.
Ultimately, we do all these things, and more, not just for the person, but also for ourselves. It makes us feel better to be busy; to be useful, rather than helpless.
I don't deal with grief well. I never have. When my goldfish died after one week, I was devastated. I felt like I had failed Gilligan (that was his name), and I could have at least graduated him one day to a bigger bowl with prettier rocks.
Since I was a child, when I've been faced with the fear of the death of loved ones, I would wait until nobody was looking before bursting into tears. In those instances, I returned to prayer, using all of the faith my Sunday school and church upbringing had afforded me. In those instances, God showed up.
Until He didn't. And I would get the call or email or message that so-and-so wasn't getting better, or that so-and-so hadn't made it. And I'd still pray, and wait for whatever was coming next, while keeping myself as busy as I could – with work, with projects, with new plans.
But somewhere in the last two years, I kept making myself busier and busier to prolong the agony of having to grieve. And somewhere in all of that, I stopped praying.
Inside the oldest building and church in Amsterdam in April, I lit a candle and hoped for a miracle. Hoped – not prayed. There, surrounded by a structure that was built by and for believers, I realized that I've been losing faith, and doing nothing to reverse course. It didn't matter how many parables I read or songs I sung; I've been struggling to understand my place in a world where the outcomes don't always match the wishes. And while I know, deep down, that unanswered prayers are no reason to close the door on your faith, rather than leaning into the brokenness, I just stopped trying. That failure is on me, not Him.
Around this time, five years ago, I was preparing to speak at my university commencement, only I had written a speech that touched too much on failure without redemption. "It's a graduation speech," an adviser suggested, "so make it a little more...optimistic."
We met halfway, and I was ultimately proud of the speech I gave. But when I think about it now, maybe we need more stories of failure – not to deter us, but to teach us that we can change the world regardless of how often we may fall in the process. Maybe we need to hear about failures so that when we fail ourselves, we treat it as part of life rather than a red traffic light.
And maybe we need to hear more stories of failure so that when our hearts get broken or our worlds are put on hold, we stop running away.