“The last time I saw you,” she sighed, staring at an afternoon decades ago, “you were wearing a little shirt with a pocket on the chest, and a nappy, and I took you straight off ya Mum and walked down the back of the yard. We had a look at the animals, and you put ya head down on my shoulder. It was a few weeks until Christmas, and..” she paused, puffing out her cheeks before starting again, “.. ya Mum said she’d bring you back then to get your presents.” She pushed at the tablecloth, straightening wrinkles and bumps into temporary submission. She heaved in a breath, looked up to meet my gaze, blinking against the tears falling into the creases of her face. “I didn’t see you again. I didn’t even know if you was dead. Nothing.”
“Oh I’ve missed you,” she choked out. “I never forgot you. Never stopped loving you. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you were okay.”
This was my grandmother; a woman whom I didn’t even know existed until two months earlier. But I could see my face reflected in hers, and finally had a physical, genetic explanation of where my red hair and curves came from. It was our first weekend together (that I could remember), and we stared hungrily at each other’s face, asked questions and tried to fill in the enormous, bewildering gap of over two decades of life (and deaths and marriages, babies, successes and heartbreak) we had lived without knowledge of the other’s experiences.
Over and over again my Nan would say the same phrases, and still does whenever we talk. “I never forgot ya. Never stopped loving ya. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you was okay. It broke my heart.” I don’t doubt it hurt her. My biological Dad and his siblings have told me of her grief, of their eventual insistence that she not speak of me in their hearing because of the pain it caused all of them. I couldn’t imagine what it meant, or felt like, to lose a granddaughter – the first grandbaby born to the family – in such a sudden, inexplicable and deliberate way.
Last October, when Elder Jeffrey R Holland began his talk with “There is almost no group in history for whom I have more sympathy than I have for the eleven remaining Apostles…” I thought of those I have sympathy for, and I immediately thought of two: in the scriptures, Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and in real life, my Nan. Every time I reread or again listen to Elder Holland’s words, I think of those two women.
About Mary Magdalene, I’ve often wondered what that Sabbath observance must have been like for her, the rituals and hours sliding past as she (I imagine) sat, wept and prayed, bewildered and mourning the loss of her loved Jesus. I’ve tried to imagine what the pulse of her neighbourhood would have been, with chaos and routine, brutality and broken futures tumbling through the days. Then, Shabbat done, to race to the tomb, to do what she could as a final act of devotion, only to find it empty. What was she thinking in that instant? As difficult as an occupied tomb must be to face, an unexpectedly empty one is surely worse.
I don’t think she believed Christ had risen, asking (to paraphrase) “If you have taken him away, please just tell me where and I will do the rest.” In my thoughts, I hear the ragged, husky voice of a heartbroken woman pleading, the words cracking and rasping on rising sobs. I feel such sympathy for her, asking for help from a stranger who (in just the next verse!) is joyously, gloriously revealed to be the very one she mourns and seeks after. It just takes one word – “Mary” – and she has hope, faith and gladness again, and beyond anything she could understand in that moment.
My Nan claims no faith, at least not in God. She does not discount His existence but harrumphs and bites her cheek when faith and divine love are spoken of (if there is a God, He has forgotten her and hers, and she will continue to return the favour) yet she is accepting of my faith, and grateful that chasing my family history has brought me back to her. However I have also seen her cock her head at my devotion and faithful observances curiously, as if considering the number of times I may have been casually dropped on my head during her absence to cause such odd behaviour.
She says she has no faith, but I disagree. The first weekend together – after a separation of twenty four years – she cried as soon as she saw me. “Oh look at you! I don’t know you, but I do!” she laughed through sobs, stroking my hair and face. “I never forgot ya. Never stopped loving ya. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you was okay. It broke my heart.”
“I didn’t want to die without seeing you again. I knew I’d see you again.”
Then she took me by the hand, out to her laundry room, and pushed me gently towards an old, well-maintained, tiny red tricycle. “This was your Christmas present. I’d already bought it when I saw you last. It’s yours. I kept it for you.”
Faith, sympathy and Easter to me are an empty tomb; a stranger turned loved one; and a slightly rust-chewed tricycle.
What does Easter mean to you? Is there an example of faith you hold particularly precious? Has Elder Holland’s talk impacted your life in some way? Which people do you think of when you hear “sympathy”?