My mother, who died two years ago, would have been 85 years old last Thursday, June 23. She died just 10 months after my father passed away. And then came the terrific shock of losing my younger brother, who died unexpectedly and far away, 16 months ago.
Chuck Colson, with whom I worked for nearly 18 years, had died in 2012, which was also a jolt. And my 13-year-old dachshund, a “little heartbeat at my feet” (to slightly paraphrase Edith Wharton), died last year. (Those of you who have beloved pets will understand how intense and long-lasting the grief of losing them can be.)
My pastor told me that many of us experience two kinds of loss: the grief of losing the loved one, and the loss of any chance to do things differently, vis-a-vis our interactions with them. Both kinds are awful.
When I see the dates on my calendar that mark the birthdays of loved ones, I feel an ache—just as I do when I unexpectedly come across a small possession that reminds me of someone whose loss I now grieve: a colorful plate my father brought back from Hong Kong; a blue-flowered teapot my mother found at a yard sale and thought I would like; a souvenir drinking glass from the 1962 World’s Fair, with my brother’s name engraved on it; a book Chuck and I worked on together, which he autographed to me; a ragged stuffed animal my dachshund loved (and whose eyes she chewed off). Emotional aches and pains.
It did not occur to me to mark my loved ones’ birthdays with anything except remembrances both happy and sad until I opened a book called “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” by Amy Morin, a psychotherapist who lost her husband when he was just 26 years old. Morin writes that she dreaded the day her husband would have turned 27; how would she, and her late husband’s parents, pass the time? “My cartoon bubble pictured us sitting around in a circle sharing a box of Kleenex and talking about how unfair it was that he never reached his twenty-seventh birthday,” she writes.
But when she finally asked her mother-in-law how SHE planned to spend the day, “without missing a beat she said, ‘What do you think about skydiving?’”
Morin goes on, “I had to admit, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane did seem like a much better idea than the pity party I’d imagined. It felt like the perfect way to honor [her husband’s] adventurous spirit.”
The skydiving expedition led to an annual birthday tradition that included everything from swimming with sharks to riding mules into the Grand Canyon to taking trapeze lessons. Morin’s late husband’s birthday is now a day the entire family looks forward to.
If you’re not up for skydiving, Morin suggests extinguishing sadness and feelings of self-pity by volunteering for a worthy organization, performing random acts of kindness, or engaging in physical exercise.
This is not to suggest that grieving is unnatural—it’s very natural—or that it’s easy to overcome. But Jesus says God will comfort and be with those who mourn, and that we should have hope even while we grieve.
And we should feel joy, as well, knowing as we do that our saved loved ones are in heaven with Christ, that they are now experiencing joy, and that we will see them again.
We read in 1 Corinthians 15, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. . . . Where, O Death, is your victory, Where, O death, is your sting?” This seems to a kind of taunt to Satan: “Death is NOT going to win. YOU are not going to win!”
Additionally, in 1 Peter 1, we are told, “Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
So why should we not mark the birthdays of our loved ones—those who have gone on ahead of us (even if they went far too soon), with joy? Why not share in the joy they are now experiencing?
I think Morin is really on to something here—which is why, come next June 23, if you see someone falling from the sky (attached securely to a parachute, one hopes), it just might be me.
Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Anne Morse is a writer for BreakPoint.