I wrote this devotional piece after the first of my father’s sisters passed away eight years ago. I returned this past week to the same small town, the same funeral home, the same cemetery to bury another of my father’s sisters (the very one whom I stood beside eight years ago). I am always amazed when our lives come full circle
Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called the sons and daughters of God. 1 John 3:1
We have gathered from near and far to pay final tribute to a dearly beloved aunt. Ours is a family where the generations glide over one another in such a way that you cannot tell where one begins and another ends. It is hard to explain to strangers, but it feels very right to us. Once again, the warp and woof of life have become integrated and reveal the tapestry of our family as we are gathered together in the midst of our shared grief. It is hard, but good and somehow fitting to share in this.
Out of necessity, weddings and funerals have become the means for our extended family to gather and renew relationships. We travel from near and far when God calls one of us home. These losses somehow serve to draw us ever closer to one another and to keep the bonds of family connection strong between us.
Once again, I rejoice to find that the laughter and tears are flowing seamlessly throughout the rooms of my grandparents’ home at 403 Park Avenue – the place that my aunt had lovingly restored and brought back to life. It has been the family home for more than ninety years where it now faithfully bears witness to the passing of yet another generation.
Earlier at the visitation, I had taken my place in the receiving line alongside my eldest aunt. I, who left home for college at 18 with a restless searching heart, have come home to roost in this place of honor at my aunt’s side. I am the oldest of three sisters. We stand in a row: my sisters and I, oldest to youngest. Our names comprise a litany of remembrance in a small town that knows our history as well as we know it ourselves. In our lives away from this place we are wives, mothers, educators, volunteers, citizens of our communities and more. But today, at the passing of his sister, we have become once again our father’s daughters.
We shake hands, hug necks, and repeat our father’s name and our family “connection” over and over. I am referred to once again by my maiden name. We hear stories. At one point I turn to my sisters and say, “I am well past middle age and I have never really thought of myself as simply David’s daughter. I have never said these words so many times before today.” My baby sister who was only four years of age when our father died, marvels that she can never ever remember introducing herself as his child. I start to cry. There is something beyond my understanding that is going on here.
I look at the faces of my sisters and the soul hole I carry around like a second skin gapes open for a second. Suddenly, I am bereft once again. This older woman who greets me in the mirror each day has once again felt the sting of being the fatherless child. I wait and brace for the wave of familiar pain that I know will come. It eludes me. Suddenly something deep inside of me shifts. The carapace over my soul softens. The joy rises up unbidden in my heart and breaks forth over the wall of the dam to flood my soul. I can scarcely breathe. All is still inside of me, waiting. Waiting. Waiting for the pain to come roaring back at me.
I stretch forth my hand to take the hand of the elderly man standing in the line before me. I look him in the eye and say again, “I am my father, David’s, eldest daughter.” His eyes twinkle as they meet mine. “I know,” he whispers. “I see him in your face.”
It takes my breath away.
I lie abed the next morning in my Momma’s house and replay the hours of the day before. I recall the words that were spoken at the funeral by those that I love. I smile at some of the things I learned about my aunt. I ponder the beautiful words of an old hymn, treasured and familiar to me.
I talk quietly to God. I marvel that as I whisper aloud the words, “my father’s daughter,” the familiar ache is no longer patently obvious. Could it be that the death and the hole and the scar that have shaped my life from the time that I was a little girl are finally healed? Could it truly be? I have carried this ache for nearly fifty years. Until the tears slide down my face to wet the pillow, I am completely unaware that I am weeping.
God works in mysterious ways. I have traveled 400 miles to bury a loved one only to find that my soul has taken the longed-for journey of a lifetime. I look into the place of familiar sorrow and at long last find only a glorious peace rising up like a soft, warm wind to meet me. The elongated shadow of the valley of death is no longer falling over me, holding me in its thrall. I feel the sunlight flooding my soul.
I question myself once more, “Could this be real?”
The scripture immediately leaps to mind: “He whom the Son has set free is free indeed.” Suddenly I am walking, no, running in this newfound freedom.
Why this day? Why now? After so long?
I close the door to my skeptical self and choose peace. I whisper, “Baruch Hashem Adonai…blessed be the Name of the Lord.
There are no more words. The most profound sense of awe and gratitude holds me fast.
I know it to be the kiss of God’s grace.
And there will be a day and a time when we will be known forever as our Heavenly Father’s daughters. It will bring a joy unspeakable to each of our hearts…how I long for that day, don’t you?