SaMWay 9: Fallen Chains

Mourning to Dancing: Part II

You may remember a previous issue in which the story was not one of joy but of pain. Today, two weeks after those events took place, we will end that story by telling of its somewhat happy ending.

A couple of days after I wrote to you of my grandmother’s passing, I traveled with my family to Kentucky for her funeral. Now in the past, much of the family on my dad’s side has held some animosity toward us. I don’t remember this personally, but my parents have often spoken of it in the past.

Therefore, I did not know what to expect when we arrived at the visitation on Tuesday. But as we walked in and reunited, I met members of the family that I didn’t remember. It was like meeting them for the first time, except that they had met me when I was much younger. Therefore, I spent the four hours of the visitation talking with various aunts, uncles, and cousins who asked all about my school and my interests. As we caught up, I discovered that my late grandmother had kept them up to date, so most of their questions were aimed at my recent past, which is told to you in other issues, as well as my goals and ambitions.

Four hours was a long time that day, and as I watched my parents—my dad in particular—interact with the members of the family, I concluded that whatever friction there had been among them had long since been left behind. On this day, there was a general sense of family unity. The conversations drifted between my grandmother’s legacy and the newest developments among the rest of the family. And if it were possible, I felt that the bonds that defined us as relatives were growing stronger as time passed.

My uncle in particular stood out to me on this day, and over the course of the week. In contrast to the way I had seen him before, he was actively engaged in handling the necessary affairs. His emotions were extremely tempered, and he was more approachable from my perspective than he had ever been.

But the most remarkable thing was what happened the next day, after Grandma’s funeral. But before I describe it, I must provide some context for your benefit.

While the visitation was a refreshing experience as I have said, I had no illusions about my position. The average age of the family present was between 50 and 60, with many—mainly aunts and uncles—being older still. Therefore, as a seventeen-year-old, I developed the impression, partly based upon my negative expectation of the same, that I would be an outlier.

Now as I was saying, Grandma’s funeral, which took place the next morning, was mostly uneventful. That is, if you ignore almost being t-boned at an intersection while in a funeral procession, and if you aren’t too affected by serving as your grandmother’s pallbearer. And after the funeral and the burial, most if not all of the family gathered at the house of one of the aunts. And this is where I was most pleasantly surprised.

“Surprised” may not be the right word, but I definitely did not anticipate what happened. There was the initial time of everyone arriving and having lunch—White Castles and barbeque— and then settling in. Somewhere during this settling-in time, I caught the distinct impression that everyone was in the general sense of getting ready to leave. And then one of my cousins invited us—my twin brother and I—into the dining room to play games, which was a favorite pastime among this side of the family.

What surprised me was the way these few hours passed. We sat at the table, playing first Euchre and then Trivia, and the atmosphere was perfectly normal, the kind of mood that you might expect in a room full of cousins, with an older uncle at the head of the table. To me, it was as if the barrier of the past, as well as of not knowing these people for years as a result of that past, had completely disappeared. In reality, I think that it was more like that barrier had really never been.

The other thing about this was how much it enabled me to move forward. I believe that for everyone at Aunt Maryjean’s house, that time of family fellowship helped us to be able to say goodbye. Grandma was everyone’s favorite, and losing her was hard for everyone, but on that day, we all helped each other move forward just a bit further than any of us could probably have done on our own. And for me personally, I gained comfort in knowing that God had done one thing through all of this: reuniting us with our family.

In the first part of this story, I described how my grandmother’s passing affected me personally. Now, I will conclude by telling you how I am personally moving forward.

The day after we returned home, I immediately set about working to organize a Christmas caroling event. This was an idea that I had come up with the weekend after Grandma’s death, right before we left town. The vision is for a group of carolers to visit a hospital and a nursing home, and then to pray over the families represented at a local cemetery. And while I cannot honestly say that I thought of this project with Grandma in mind, I do know that she would have been delighted at the idea, and that this is what inspired me to move forward with it. I also know that working on designing it has given me something to hope for and something to work for.

Sometime this week, in the midst of literally dreaming up Carols of Care Night, all of the effects that Grandma’s death had on me faded away like fallen chains. I feel hopeful now, knowing that this is but a taste of how God will ultimately turn our mourning into dancing. And in light of all this, Carols of Care Night will be dedicated to the memory of my beloved grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Halbleib.

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