How love has flourished in the face of loss

Today we celebrated Mother’s Day with my eighty-eight year old grandmother – all her children and grandchildren together.  My aunts put on a fabulous spread of cakes and pastries, the coffee was good, the conversation was, well, hilarious… Put some of us together and it’s a rather entertaining experience!

It was only when I came home and looked through all the photos I took today that I noticed something I’d completely glossed over between the great food, witty banter and raucous laughter.  Our clan, our group, our family has gravely diminished in number.

It started with an aunt in December 2011.  She died of cancer.  Then an uncle in September 2012, also cancer.  And then with wrenching, heart-ripping swiftness, my dad of a sudden heart attack in January 2013.  A few months later, another uncle.  Voices not heard today, silent and no longer seen at our feast table.

Unseen but not forgotten.

Our collective loss has altered us permanently.  There is no going back to the way things were.  As individuals, we face difficult seasons ahead now without partners, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters. We stood bereft at four family funerals, tears streaming down our faces.  And as if the initial loss of the person you loved so much is not enough, time drags on and cruelly displays to you the sheer enormity of a complex network of losses all connected to this death.  You can wallow for a while, but eventually you have to turn and carry on, with gaping heart wounds and heads hung in sorrow.

The human heart will heal – if you give it enough care and don’t resist the process of grief.  I saw it today as we laughed and reminisced about Dad’s silly antics.  Our heads are starting to lift, and we can smile.

As I contemplated our shrunken family party, I realised a greater truth.  That death and the loss of those we loved so dearly have only served to make us care for each other more.  Bereavement brings an alarming clarity to your inner world.  You have to sit up and listen.  Hear this! – your conscience is told – now is the time to love more, care more, appreciate more, talk more, hug more.  No more wasting time in showing your grandmother, mother, aunt, cousin how much you value them.  Our diminished family has been sorely pressed and wounded, yes, but we are not deterred or destroyed.

Our love has simply grown larger.

 

We are pushed hard from all sides. But we are not beaten down. We are bewildered. But that doesn’t make us lose hope. 2 Cor 4:8 NIRV

God’s Gift

For the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about Christmas a lot. It’s my most favourite time of the year. I have fond and funny Yuletide memories… My uncle streaking across our front lawn, early morning, in his boxer shorts, chasing after my aunt’s escaped budgie. My first swimming lesson in my great-aunt’s pool. Laughter, food, family, presents…

I even remember, as a lonely young child, sitting in front of the Christmas tree and praying to a God I didn’t personally know yet, only a vague idea He existed, asking him for a sister and brother – which, many years later, I got.

Now why am I thinking about Christmas at Easter time?

One gift I really wanted, with my whole little girl’s heart, was a train set. A train set with the works – the tunnels, the little town buildings, people, cows grazing in the fields, signals, miniature trees – everything. It was the one gift I never got. No-one gives a girl a train set. Ah, the longing to find that wrapped up under the tree! I can still feel the hankering, the earnest wish within.

Then it dawned upon me. Jesus Christ is the biggest gift I’ve ever received, will ever receive. The train set with all the works. The best thing ever. When he died on the tree – I got two gifts. He died the death I should have died. And not only that, he took my sin nature and gave me his nature. An exchange. Undeservedly. A beautiful, precious gift of love.

Good Friday would have been the day my life should have ended. But I get to live. And not a grotty, meaningless existence – but a life filled with love, unpacking the gift that is Jesus himself, day by day.

‘…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 6:23b)