Plan the ultimate celebration for the person you’re closest to, and tell us about it. Where is it? Who’s there? What’s served? What happens?
I had heard about him for as long as I could remember. He loomed large in the consciousness of my family. His shadow was cast across their remembrances. In many ways he was still very much there; alive and influencing their lives and futures.
Even as a child, I felt as though I knew him personally. Story after story had painted a vivid picture of the man. Stories of his love for life, his unquenchable enjoyment of laughter and his bond to family. These were painted in stark contrast to his upbringing. A childhood that would seemingly suck the life out of most. Early years that left little to nothing to laugh about or to find humor. And a home that was anything but bonded; a mother who abandoned him for some guy, leaving him with a relative and traipsing off to God knows where.
The truth is I never met the man. I couldn’t have; he died some five years before I was born. He died in the prime of life, in his forties, an accidental death. A death that not only shook his family, but the whole community.
He was the sort of man people didn’t expect to die; at least, not until he had lived a long life and reached a very old age. But die he did. And young. He left a wife and two children in the torrent of grief and emotion, struggling to keep their heads above the flood waters.
Thousands of questions would haunt them for years to come. He would haunt them. His life had been a ray of light for them. His death had brought about an immense and unbearable shadow.
His widow, my grandmother (we affectionately called her Nanny) was left to pick up the pieces. October of 69′ forever changed her. It drew a permanent line in her life. From then on, time for her would be reckoned by the sad demarcation: before and after his death. An unexpected death. A tragic, life-altering death.
They were told to get over it. Get over it? You don’t get over the death of someone you cherish and love like life itself. You get over your team losing the ballgame over the weekend. You get over not getting the raise and promotion. You get over your friends criticism of your choice of clothing or the extra pounds you have gained. You get over the flat tire that made you late for work this morning.
But, you don’t get over the loss of a father, a husband, a child, a friend . . . your world. You don’t get over it or under it or beside it. You accept it as reality. You find strength in the hope of Christ.
You come to the place where you understand that creaking of the old house at night isn’t his footsteps coming down the hallway. You understand that voice you faintly hear, as you turn your head side to side frantically, while standing in a crowded room isn’t his voice. You understand the phone ringing isn’t him calling to check in and see how your day is going.
You understand, no matter how much you hope and pray and cry, he isn’t coming back. He is never again going to walk through the door. He is gone.
You cope. You manage. You put one foot in front of the other, then stumble back a few paces, then forward again; on and on, until the pain isn’t quite as intense as it was before (at least not as constant). You come to the place where you can think of him, and instead of shattering on the inside, you can smile and even laugh. You come to the place where you are appreciative for your time with him, though it was much too brief. You learn to walk again, but forever with an incurable limp.
But, you don’t get over it. Never. Not if you live a thousand years.
And that’s okay. It’s nothing of which to be ashamed. Some things are not meant to be gotten over.
Nanny, she became strong, probably stronger than she realized she could have been. Though tragedy was nothing new for her. The loss of a young sibling in a tragic accident. The loss of both her parents in a fatal car wreck. These had already taught her life can be cruel and hard. No, she had known pain and loss on an epic scale already.
Now, here she was again staring into death’s black, ominous face. It leered at her with contempt and glee. Four it had taken from her. It dared her to get up, to keep going. It told her to give up, to get over it.
But by God, she raised her head high, stared it down and told death to go to hell.
She didn’t quit. She didn’t give up. She didn’t shirk at the responsibility that now weighted her shoulders. A young widow in the 1960’s with two children and very little money on which to live.
So, she did what she had to do. She picked up the pieces, put her children on her back and went to work. She became both father and mother. She learned to cope. She learned how to live all over again. She learned eventually how to smile and laugh again.
But, she never got over it.
I knew for the longest time, her one great desire and hope was to be reunited with him. As a believer in Christ, she had the hope of a future day, when she too would pass through the flimsy veil we call life, and she would see him again. She would feel his embrace again. She would hear his laugh and his voice and it would seem they had never been apart at all. They would meet again. They would embrace. They would dance.
Oh, she loved all of us, we had no doubts of that. We also had no doubts she loved him. She never dated again. Never remarried. She had already found her soul mate. And she could hardly wait for the day of their reunion.
On June 17, 2005 she embraced him again. The eternity of some thirty-six absent years, vanished in one last heartbeat. She closed her eyes in some dark ICU unit and opened them to the splendor of the light of an eternal dawn. Finally, she was home. Finally, she was once again with the one she had longed to be with for so long.
Finally, she was again in the arms of her beloved Bo.
Way to go Nanny. Way to go!
Here’s some others: