I was an inside but yet separated observer of a family going through the grief process of losing a parent. I only met their father a few times. At that point, he was older, struggling with the life, unable to really talk. I enjoyed his visits. He had a smile that gave you a picture of what he was like when he was young. The gentleness in his soul made him easy to be around, even when he was an invalid.
With his passing, the initial grief experienced by those who knew him well was like a fire. From a distance one could see that it was burning but it rarely looks that hot. Up close, everything changes! The pain, anguish, and sense of loss were tangibly real. As I watched and participated in the five day wake, funeral, cremation, and moving his ashes to the columbarium, the sense of loss that I could feel morphed into something else.
His children and grandchildren began telling stories of how his spirit was touching their lives. In their faith tradition, his spirit was still alive. The memories that he has embedded deep in their hearts lived on! The sense of loss was still real, but not always dominant. I heard the laughter that was a result of his smile. I felt a growing sense of hope because of his life and the way it touched others.
I watched and experienced the amazing way smiles and laughter can touch one’s heart. Everyone’s body language was echoing the same phrase; “You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance; you ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers.” (Psalm 30.11) In the prayers that followed on the seventh day for seven weeks, I continue to watch a mix of tearful remembering, smiles of hope, and laughter that comes from being part of a community. I keep thinking it will pass into silence but the feelings are resilient.
This man may not have consciously known the god I know, but he was definitely one of God’s kids.