Gatherings, greetings, and goodbyes. Welcome, Baby New Year, and farewell, Old Man Time. Endings yield beginnings.
“Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The exchange of one year for another evokes reflection, but this isn’t about New Year’s resolutions or figurative arrivals and departures.
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, my dad’s cousin passed away. I’d grown to know and love him. He was friends with a couple of general authorities, a fact I hadn’t realized until, seated in the chapel before the funeral, “… the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:44) — for the first time — as they walked past my pew. We gave this baby a variation on my long-deceased, faith-filled grandmother’s name. Watching my daughter grow into a woman, I rejoiced that she considered these two servants of the Lord her apostles.
Three months before my second daughter’s birth, my other grandma died. At the funeral, a man with tears in his eyes told me Grandma changed his life by teaching him to read during his incarceration. “I was in prison,” he said in slightly different words, “and [she] came unto [us]” (Mathew 25:36). My husband and I gave a version of this grandmother’s name to our newest baby girl; her affinity for her great-grandma’s interests and aptitudes surprised and delighted us.
A few months after that baby’s birth, my mom discovered cancer. She and Dad treated it aggressively; I prayed with a bargaining, whiny faith: “I already lost Grandma while I was pregnant. Please don’t take Mom while I’m nursing.”
We received the miracle of remission.
Early in my pregnancy with our third daughter, Mom’s cancer returned, untreatable. I hoped Mom would meet her third grandchild, but her projected six-month window closed in two. My youngest we named for both her grandmothers, and my mother’s artistry manifests in this daughter’s creativity. I’ve wished — oh, how I wish — she could’ve known firsthand “the unfeigned faith that … dwelt first in [her] grandmother” (2 Timothy 1:5).
In these pairings of births and deaths, I’ve tried to echo Job’s attitude: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). I’d like to claim it’s foremost in every thought.
Though sometimes — even 22 years after Mom’s passing — what first comes out of my mouth is the less faithful, less mature pleading of a young child: “I want my mommy.”
In the earliest months (and years) after my husband’s unexpected death, I clutched the solidity of Job’s declaration. It didn’t lessen or ease my grief, but it gave me an anchor to hold when life tumbled upside-down.
(I penned the paragraphs above in the earliest hours of Thursday, December 28. I bolted upright minutes past 2:00 a.m. — just 90 minutes into the night’s sleep — abruptly aware the words I’d drafted for this December 31 post would no longer do. I wrote the words below after returning to bed for a three-hour snooze.)
This fall, I gained a granddaughter. Her sweet disposition matches her namesake great-great-great-aunt, who died the year before my son-in-law joined our family.
This October, Mom’s brother — the uncle who’d fed me and each of my daughters our first, infant tastes of dill pickles just to watch our expressions — entered hospice care. Staff gently suggested his kids, grandchildren, and great-grandkids arrive within two or three weeks to say their goodbyes; he’d not last longer.
Uncle Bill intended otherwise. Though bedridden, he presided (and joked) through celebrations of Halloween, his daughter’s birthday, Thanksgiving, nieces’ visits, his 57th(!) wedding anniversary, and Christmas Day. Tech-savvy, he still checked, liked, and commented on Facebook postings as recently as a week ago.
Mid-Thursday morning, the call came. A mile away, minutes before my wee-hour awakening, Uncle Bill joined Mom and other beloved ones across the veil.
Blinking through tears, forehead against my dog’s warm neck, my voice shook as I repeated: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Other losses have taught me to depend on the promise that “Blessed are [we] that mourn: for [we] shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Shall. In future. No doubt.
Meanwhile, my heart aches for my aunt and cousins (and myself and my kids and my dad). I can’t yet fathom entering a year without Uncle Bill. But when my granddaughter tastes her first dill pickle, we’ll be thinking of him, and she’ll grow up hearing all about him.
What traditions will you bring into the year ahead to honor lost loved ones?