I had the last handful of dirt. Many of our dear Native American friends had led the way. They really loved my Karen.
As I threw mine into that six-foot hole, I spoke the three words engraved inside our wedding rings. "Til Jesus comes." And then, quietly - "See you soon, baby."
I know I will.
Because of Easter.
Easter didn't stop the tears. Easter didn't cushion her adoring grandchildren from the shock that they would not see again on this earth the one whose hugs and laugh and love had lit up their lives.
Neither would I. Neither would her children who never stopped depending on her prayer and her wisdom.
Easter doesn't shield us from the grim reality of the casket, that hole in the ground, the empty blue recliner. Or the gut-wrenching emotional ambushes when the "I'm missing her" feelings that usually whisper, suddenly scream.
But the reality of that empty tomb near a skull-shaped hill in Jerusalem is a game-changer in so many ways. For the one by the grave. And the one in the grave. On both sides of the dirt.
To be sure, most religions offer some form of hope beyond the grave. But no real evidence that they can deliver on that hope.
And then there's Jesus. Who is, in the Bible's words, "a living hope." With proof. "Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). Eyewitnesses. Hundreds of them. Followers who saw Him, dying because they wouldn't deny it. Written, contemporaneous history. And the power elite of government and religion, desperately wielding their power to prove Jesus wasn't alive - and couldn't.
There's no need to speak of Jesus in the past tense. He is alive now. He is our future. And because He's proven He has eternal life, He is the One who can give eternal life.
So it wasn't just some religious copout for me to look in that grave and know that my Karen wasn't there. Oh, her "earth suit" was - the body we need for this life, like an astronaut needs his space suit for the moon. But the real Karen - her soul - never stopped living.
When the thief on the cross next to Jesus expressed faith in Him, Jesus made this astonishing statement: "Today you will be with Me in paradise" (Matthew 23:43). I believe that's what He said to my Karen that May afternoon in our living room.
Standing by her grave, I remembered her actual new address: "away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). That's why I call May 16, 2016 her "Homegoing."
That Easter reality didn't erase what I lost that day. Karen was with Jesus. I was not. Her children and grandchildren were not. But because our death-crushing Jesus promised that "because I live, you also will live" (John 14:19), grief doesn't own the death scale. There's something on the other side. Something more powerful. Hope. Separation now. Reunion coming!
Since Karen went Home, I keep finding journals of hers. They are essentially heart-dumps to Jesus. And they reflect a vibrant love for Jesus. She signs her prayers, "Your loving daughter, Karen."
Many times I've stood in church with my arm around her waist as we joined in singing praises to Jesus. What blows me away is thinking she is now singing those songs, face-to-face with Him!
Although she impacted - even rescued - many lives, she always had a hard time accepting my assurances of the difference she was making for Christ. She knows now. He's told her Himself.
Oh, I just love thinking that this incomparable woman I did life with is now experiencing what "no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no human mind has conceived - things God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
But what about us on "the other side of the dirt"? Suddenly doing life without her.
God says He is "close to the brokenhearted" (Psalm 34:18). All I can tell you is this living Savior has been closer to me these past three years than in all my life before.
The downstream effects of His Easter Resurrection swept in to carry this man who suddenly felt like a lost little boy. He gave me courage and strength to feel my brokenness and face my grief - so I could start healing. Unlike so many I've spoken with who stuff and deny their grief. Until it metastasizes into something dark and damaging.
I have never felt more loved by Jesus - in a thousand little ways. I have never felt more led by Jesus. But then, I had never felt so lost. He has taken me by the hand and so clearly shown me where to step next. And He has used my grief to deepen my compassion for hurting people. Because He's enabled me to feel my real feelings, I can also feel theirs. Jesus has used my broken heart to open my heart. To Him. To others.
The power of Jesus' Resurrection has taken my greatest treasure from her last heartbeat to His heaven. And resurrected the broken man she left here - giving him so much hope that it's overflowing into many other grieving hearts.
Jesus has walked every step with me through the valley of the shadow.
I know He'll walk with me all the way Home.