My sister, Jane McEwen, died on Wednesday. She was 8 years older than me, and according to family lore, when I came home from the hospital on March 16, 1953 (my oldest sister Carol’s 10th birthday), I was not the birthday surprise she had in mind! Jane, on the other hand, a born nurturer, immediately become my mini mom and I became her own living baby doll. She delighted in changing my diapers, giving me bottles, and rocking me to sleep.
I remember her blowing raspberries on my tummy to make me laugh, and later, listening to each other’s belly sounds and giggling about all the noises our digestive tracts made. She taught me to eat lemons with salt on them – a memory that still makes my mouth water. She was determined that I would not get cavity creeps, leading to a toothbrush breaking off in my mouth during her attempt to brush my teeth. I confess in hindsight that I most likely was being stubborn and clamped down to inhibit her best efforts. The last belly laugh I had with her was during a phone call in May when we remembered that misadventure.
One of the things my sisters and I most cherished was sister time together. We would inevitably get to giggling about something, tears rolling down our checks, and not able to stop until our abs began to hurt or we (in more mature years were in danger of having a toilet-related accident. When that happened, we were transported back in time, three sisters sitting together in church and getting the giggles. My father would give us the look. Mom, in the meantime would look out at us from her seat at the organ, shake her head and roll her eyes.
There was never a time that I didn’t have my both of sisters in my life, until now. I’ve often thought of the death of a loved one as an earthquake in which the ground beneath has been shaken from the very core. The landscape is both familiar, and yet fundamentally different. Navigating in this new terrain seems almost impossible, yet necessary.
Still, in the midst of the loss, memories of moments of joy bubble up unbidden. In the mysterious ways of God, those memories become moments of joy right here and right now in the midst of the grief. Perhaps that’s what Jeremiah hints at, “I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
The next sermon I need to prepare for is December 20, the fourth Sunday in Advent, when we light the candle of joy. May little flames of joy surprise you (and me) in this difficult season. ~ Anne