Last weekend, I experienced a moment when I knew I’d seen a family walk through the fullness of “it was the worst of times and it was the best of times.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it is that we move through life when really bad things happen and also the good too. How do we cope when we are going through hell and those around us are in the peak of joy (and vice versa). I recently mused about it here and was able to spend some time in a Bible study with a group of women talking about this very thing last week (shout out to the Signal Mountain ladies). It’s a difficult topic to be honest about, to wrestle with and to really know what to do with for sure! But then sometimes life just hits you and you must deal with it, no matter if you want to or not.
During my first year of seminary, in mid-January, I got the call from my best friend, Kristina– the kind of call that you never want to receive. “Daddy’s been in accident. He didn’t make it.”
Kristina’s father wasn’t just any person in my life– he was a dear friend, a kind man who welcomed me warmly into his family gatherings, vacations and always ready with a good prank or joke. He never took life too seriously and was the type of father you knew would one day turn into a wonderful grandfather when his three kids got around to having their own. But on that cold January night he was gone. And, we were all in shock. It just wasn’t right. He should have lived to see so much more.
After hearing the news, I caught the first plane out-of-town to be with my friend and her family. For several days. Kristina’s parents’ house was now full of loved ones, flowers galore and food enough to feed a southern army. When it came time to sleep the night before the funeral, I asked where I should go. Kristina had joined her mom in the king sized bed in her room, now cold with grief and loss. Her mom said quickly:”You can sleep in the room with us, Elizabeth.” And so I made a pallet on the floor next to these two grieving ones. I was glad to be close.
The next morning, Kristina, her mom and I got ready together in the adjoining bathroom for the funeral. Kristina’s mom had always called me ”just another family member” so she said numerous times in between tears, “I’m so glad you are here.”
I sat with the family at the memorial service, next to Kristina’s fiance, Richard and her two brothers. We cried together rivers of tears. When all was said and done, I slept (or pretended to sleep) on the floor next to them the following evening. The three of us talked and talked and then sat in silence together for hours. We couldn’t believe he was really gone.
The three of us were together in grief that day. I will always remember.
Then, last Saturday, the three of us gathered in a bedroom once again. This time, nearly 8 years later, we sat around in a bedroom for a completely different reason, though. A day of joy came. Kristina’s mom was getting married again. She was the matron of honor and I was the minister. And a new man was in the room with us– a man who would be her new husband, a kind and gentle and loving man, a wonderful addition to this already wonderful family.
As I watched Kristina help put on her mom’s white dress and make sure her hair was perfectly aligned and her necklace was on straight, I couldn’t help but have my mind go back to that moment when the three of us were in a bedroom together many years ago.
As we tried to make sure her white dress was tied up just right, I couldn’t help but remember dark cloud hanging over us years ago as each one of us asked in our own way: “Will life ever get better again?” But yet on this day, I saw this mom say with her bright smile: “Yes, it can. It really can. Life can be beautiful if you give it time.” Happiness can come, she declared to the world if you hang on to hope!
I am so glad that my circle of family has been cast wide and that I could experience both the sorrow and of joy of these moments with these dear ones. And what a testimony this weekend was for me– when life is rocky, just hang on. For just as bad times seek to destroy us, the good comes too! I’m glad I’m around to see what comes next– both the sorrow and the joy that will be.