Since last May 7, we have been looking ahead to this May with a bit of dread. We heard pretty early on from others who had lost children that the first year is the most difficult because you are passing through all of life’s markers without your child for the first time. Each holiday or event is another reminder that your family is three and not four. The first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first birthday. And then comes the first anniversary of the death of the child. “Does it get better after the first year?” we would ask those who were giving us their insights. “Oh no. It will always be painful, but you get better at living with that pain and loss after you have two or three birthdays under your belt.” Others tell us that the bitterness and pain fades over time and is replaced by good memories of the loved one. Bless them. I am not there yet. I don’t mean the good memories, they are always there. But even the good memories–and perhaps mostly the good memories–bring pain.
This May was not the May we anticipated, however. The brief illness and passing of my mother deflected much of our attention from Anna. On the other hand, the passing of my mother brought the anniversary of the death of Anna into sharp focus for us. It forced us to think about Anna’s death not as an isolated event, or something that touched only us. Instead we learned more about Anna’s death by watching and experiencing the death of my mother. The two events were so different and yet the same ultimate reality lay beneath the two. Life here is not permanent. It may be measured in months, years, or decades, but make no mistake, it is measured. And that measure will come to an end.
In Anna, we saw a young girl who, although she had no conscious idea that her bicycle ride that Wednesday afternoon would be her last moment here on earth, nonetheless had an awareness and knowledge of the issues of life and death. She spoke often of death, not in morbid terms though with a touch of fear, and she knew that death was gain for the one who is counted as a child of God.
In my mother, we saw an old woman, full of years, but still loving life and active. We saw a woman who was given news about her cancer and received it as good news that her time here was over and she would soon be with the Lord. My family may disagree with this, I don’t know, but it seemed to me that my mom gave a kind of half-hearted fight to beat the cancer. I think she was doing it for our sakes. She may have felt a bit like Lazarus being called from the grave. “You mean I have to die a second time, Lord?” I think she was ready to face death. My mom’s life was not always the easiest. She grew up in a very poor family in Missouri during the depression. I think her poverty and “show me” Missouri mentality gave her a seriousness and a sense of acceptance about life that served her well in those last days.
We passed through last November and December and celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas without Anna. We looked ahead to her birthday in March and then to May 7. But before we got to either of those we received the news of my mom. So March and April we all rightly turned our gaze to my mother as we helped her to navigate those last weeks in and out of the hospital. And then May came and five days before the day of Anna’s passing my mother went to join her. And two days after the day of Anna’s passing we were in church again remembering my mother. In between those two days we had a moment to catch our breath and think about the events of the past year.
I don’t know what the next year holds. In fact, that very question has been troubling us for some time now. But the word of God is true. And as I look back on this past year, which has seen such turmoil and disruption, I can only think of the words of God to Israel through the prophet Joel, “The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.” Anna resurget. Maranatha.