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"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Matthew 5:4 (NIV)
This past year has been an emotional roller-coaster for our family. It began with the joy and excitement of new birth - the arrival of our fifth grandchild - then the even greater joy of travelling to California and holding two week-old Matthew Ian in our arms.
Shortly after our return home, we drove to Hamilton for a visit with Mom and Dad and to share with them the joy (and pictures) of our trip to California – we even talked about taking Mom and Dad our west for a visit. The night before we returned home, we enjoyed, what would turn out to be that last family dinner where we would be entertained by Mom’s lively sense of humour. Just over a week later she had a heart attack and was hospitalised.
The family gathered again, though this time not for joyous celebration - we were worried. As I watched my Dad minister to his dying bride and partner for the past 70 years, I saw a depth of love and compassion that defies description. I can only imagine that this was the love that Jesus meant when he told his disciples to "love one another as I have loved you." On August 6th, Mom went to be with Jesus and our period of mourning began.
We shared a private family memorial service and I learned quickly that everyone deals with their grief differently - everything from unashamed tears to quiet stoicism. We decided to hold Mom’s celebration of life on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend - the same day we had planned to celebrate her 90th birthday. It turned out to be a perfect send off - scores of people came to spend time with Dad, to share in a great feast accompanied by several of our family’s musicians. I am sure Mom was with us in spirit.
We travelled home early Sunday morning – our daughter Heather and her two boys, James and Matthew, in tow – and arrived home to set the table for Monday’s Thanksgiving Dinner. As for the preparations we are blessed to have a Chef in the family and he volunteered to take care of making dinner. What a wonderful celebration it turned out to be. Heather had a chance to reminisce with her brother and her cousins, and James and Matthew were able to meet their cousins. Twenty two people gathered around the table for an amazing feast - thanks be to God!
We were still eating leftover turkey when Teresa’s sister called to say that her Mum had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Down the hill we go again and once again found ourselves in Hamilton to celebrate another life well lived. "Mother Mary" had just celebrated he 96th birthday; although it was more of a remembrance for the family, as she had been suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease for more than 20 years. I was honoured to be asked not only to share the eulogy, but also to officiate at the funeral service. Like Mum’s life, the service was sprinkled with laughter, and tears - tears of joyful memories and tears of grief. I shared Jesus’ message of hope, peace, joy and love found in John 14.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27 (NIV)
While we were in Hamilton, we set the wheels in motion for Dad to visit us in Navan. As I write this article, Dad is sitting a few feet away in the sunroom reading a book. This is his first time away from home since Mom’s passing and he is still very much in mourning. I pray that he is finding the time with us comforting. We are sure talking a lot - that’s something I certainly miss! Yesterday was a special blessing, being able to worship together and to be able to serve Dad during Communion. Tonight, we will hold an early but traditional style Christmas dinner with Dad; our son and his family will join us. I know God will be here and that His blessing will be upon us.
Yes, this year has been an emotional roller-coaster; but I take comfort in knowing that Jesus has been right in the front of the car with us through every hill, valley and corkscrew turn. While I know he will always miss Mom, I look forward to watching my Dad continue to heal as we all hold close to the promise of Jesus Christ.
Now as we approach the end of the year, the Advent season has begun. This is the time we anticipate the excitement of new birth – the coming our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ – and new life in Him. It is a time of hope, joy, peace and love. I pray that you too will find, and hold tight, to the precious gift that is Emmanuel.
"The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope." May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:12-13 (NIV)