My five-year-old granddaughter Anna, who was close to my wife Catherine (who, as many of you know, passed away unexpectedly this month), was over with her mom and dad to celebrate the college graduation of my daughter (her aunt). There were about thirty people at the house and this house is not big, so there was lots going on.
Suddenly, Anna says to me from across the room, “Grandpa! I see something in this house that was not here before!” And with that, she walks over to an end table beside me where the guest book and brochure from Catherine’s memorial service had been placed on display. The brochure had Catherine’s photo on it.
“Yes, that’s Grandma,” I said. I waited to see what her response would be — and so did her dad, not far away. Several days before, Anna’s mom had explained to her that her grandmother had gone to be with Jesus in Heaven, and that God would surround her with other family members who loved her, and they would take Grandma’s place till we all saw her again. Anna had taken the news seriously but with surprising acceptance. But our journey through this loss has just begun, and today was a new day.
Anna studied the photo for a bit, then turned to her dad and said, “Isn’t today just wonderful?” And then she proceeded to take two flowers that had been attached to one of her aunt’s gift bags and place them carefully on the book stand, just above Catherine’s photo.
It has been a little over three weeks now since my wife Catherine passed, and as you might guess, many, many people who loved her and who love me have reached out and asked how I am doing. It has been difficult to answer with any form of honesty or credulity, not because I am too devastated to form the right response, but rather because of the opposite. How I, and my children, are doing has been a rich composite of many tears but also of unspeakable joy.
It has been characterized by unprecedented vulnerability and unexpected strength. It has been a tender marriage of both unprecedented grief and unfathomable grace. It has been a college graduation without mom here, but with sweet little Anna placing flowers next to her photo and declaring, for all the world to know, that this day, even with its sorrow, is just wonderful.
So my response to my loved ones, if it were a text message, would be simple and concise, amounting to four words: Life is still beautiful.