Laughing at Funerals

When my Grandma died, I remember the whole family gathered in the basement of our church while we waited for the pastor to come in and pray with us before we would be seated in the sanctuary.  I was fourteen and in addition to me and my immediate family, there were tons of my cousins and aunts and uncles stuffed into that room – most of whom I had never met before.  I had grown up living just down the road from Grandma.  I spent time over at her house most days – talking at her kitchen table and usually eating something good she had just baked. I was angry that all these cousins and aunts and uncles were at her funeral – they all lived far away and I didn’t know any of them.  I didn’t consider them to be my family and I bristled at the idea that they were just as closely related to MY grandma as I was.   


So we all sat in that basement room on the light green vinyl chairs and scratchy orange sofas and waited.  The room was completely silent.  Every now and then there was a sniffle.  I could hardly bear it – the silence, the sadness. 
 In the corner I heard a muffled sound that at first I thought was someone crying – but when I looked over I saw my cousin, Cookie, who was a few years older than me, was completely red in the face, her handkerchief pressed in a ball against her mouth, and she looked like she was about to explode.  Her shoulders were shaking and as she wriggled uncomfortable it only took a few moments before I realized she wasn’t crying – she was desperately trying not to laugh.  Her mother realized, too, what was happening and she was whispering at Cookie to behave and to ‘Shush”. But of course,  trying to hold in a good laugh is about as easy as herding a group of cats – and within moments, Cookie burst into laughter.  Even as she did it she said, “sorry, sorry, sorry…” but we knew she was a goner.  The laugh had to get out.  I looked at each of my cousins then, and bit by bit I could see each of them observing Cookie and trying not to smile themselves…but she really had become a funny spectacle, and one by one they started to giggle.  Then the laughter spread to Aunt Vivian, then Aunt Marilyn, my mom, and suddenly the whole room was enveloped in laughter…and that is how Pastor Vetter found us, the grieving family, when he walked in the room.   

There were two things I loved about that moment.  First, as I looked at Cookie and her round face turning red and her robust laugh – I kept thinking about how she reminded me of someone when she laughed.  In a moment I realized she looked just like our Grandma when she laughed.   And second, I couldn’t help but think that if Grandma could see all of us in that moment she probably would have been pretty happy.  To see the country cousins and the city cousins, the unfolding generations of her offspring just laughing together.  It felt like such a blessing and a release to let go of the tears for a moment and see chuckles and smirks, chortles and smiles – a family, though we really weren’t much of one most of the time, brought together that day for a single sad reason, but truly united only in that one random burst of mirth. 

You can’t tell me that moment wasn’t holy. 

Paul’s letter to the Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!”  Brothers and sisters, as we make our way through the challenges and changes of this life, may we be willing to be surprised by joy.  God has the victory.  This is the day that the Lord has made – let us rejoice and be glad in it!

I Didn’t Know

stroller boys

 

 

You have me still

You have me

You have me

You have my heart completely.

            – Gungor

Jesse was sick last night.  It was the awful throwing-up-every-half-hour kind of sickness.  He cried because his stomach hurt so badly and he hated the vomiting.  Sweet child.  I kept thinking back to when he had RSV as a baby and how helpless I felt and how scared I was for him , but then also feeling like I am so dang lucky because these kids have been so healthy overall.  I am deeply thankful for that.  Please keep them safe, dear Lord…all of them, not just mine.

A power ranger sits on my desk.  It was probably Jesse who left it here the last time he played games on my office computer. I hardly pay any attention anymore to the toys left scattered around my church and my home, they have become the background of my life.

I remember visiting a friend with two young children before I had any of my own and I was startled by the assault to my senses while I was there – the house was rarely quiet, there was the faint smell of diapers always drifting through the air, and I was dismayed at the inconveniences: of having to pluck toys out of the bathtub before I could take a shower, of needing to wait for my friend to breastfeed her youngest before we could take off and go shopping and exploring, of how the needs of her children were so obviously greater than her need to visit with me and catch up on the things that we used to spend hours discussing.  Her world had shifted and I knew she was very content with those shifts.

I couldn’t imagine wanting any of those changes.  I loved my quiet house and life.  I loved my little challenges I gave myself – training for a marathon, writing some articles, working on my Doctor of Ministry degree.  I liked things in my time and I had a sense that children would blow up the world as I knew it.

Of course, they have.  Entirely.

I read an article recently that a mother carries cells of her children within her forever and also cells of the mother who gave birth to her.  There’s something so deeply comforting about knowing that physically my dear mother is knit into the fabric of me.  And just as I suspected, there is some very real part of me that is buried with her in the cold Minnesota ground.   No wonder we feel losses so completely.  A part of us is not figuratively dying when a loved one dies, rather a part of us has actually died.

It’s a vast thought…and sad enough to leave me huddled under a blanket in the corner forever.

Until I remember there is a living part of me, still.  And these beautiful sons are here – children I did not expect nor even have the wisdom to wish for very long yet God blessed me in spite of myself.  God saw fit to let me be their mom and to let me understand joy and true love in the best way possible.

I didn’t know, my dear boys, I didn’t know!  I would have been searching for you from the moment I began breathing if I had known how you would cast the world into the loveliest light of all.  I promise you, I live for what is still living – in me and in you.  I do not live for this grief although it covers much of me still.

The Bell Tolled 91 Times

The church bell tolled ninety-one times this afternoon as we brought her out to the cemetery.  The wind swept like a brush through the grass and picked up bits of dust, carrying it far off over the cedars and live oaks.  “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” I said and sprinkled the sand over her coffin.  I drew the indentation of a cross and watched granules slip into the grave below. I stepped aside as we silently observed the flag folded and presented.  She had been a Navy Nurse. The gun salute sounded.  The trumpet haunted in echo.

I thought of my mother and my father, their bones resting so far away.  I saw the man with the cane let his tears fall onto his jacket. We prayed an ancient prayer and headed back toward the church, still keeping watch over her dead all these years.