Letter #687: Death at Christmas

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Dear death,

Few things in life are certain. You are one none of us can avoid. It’s simply a matter of how long each of us gets before your impending end to life on earth.

This week has been a week filled with you. Several dear friends of mine lost loved ones as well as my own Grandma Rother. According to Hollywood and our unrealistic expectations, Christmas is supposed to be filled with carols and cookies, family and friends, not the details and decisions that come with death. Reality is that life keeps happening whether it’s the week of Christmas or not.

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The last family photo with Grandma…Christmas 2015! We were also celebrating her 88th birthday!

Regardless, we can all agree that Christmas is a magnifying glass. Right or wrong, the sweet moments shine all the brighter and sorrow seems to be felt a little deeper. Whether it’s death that happened this week, this year or 20 years ago, people all around us are feeling the emptiness of a seat at their holiday table. Celebrate big this Christmas, but also don’t miss reaching out to those around you who just need a moment to grieve.

A week ago I received a phone call that my Grandma had passed. Death is never easy, but she had lived a beautiful life. Naomi Rother was the mother of 9, grandmother of 29 and I’ve lost count on her great-grandmother number! Wife, mom, grandma, great-grandma, friend and so much more, she had 89 years of a life well lived. It was her time. Alzheimer’s had gotten the best of her in her latter years, but through it her smile remained!

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A few days ago we had the opportunity to celebrate her life. I’m not the most emotional, but as I sat surrounded by a hundred of my aunts, uncles and cousins (yes, when you have 9 kids the result is 115 and counting immediate family members!) emotion flowed from every direction. Whether it is somebody’s time to go or not, watching the men you’ve grown up looking up to your whole life grieve the loss of their mom is a moving moment. Thankful for the legacy my grandparents created to make family a priority. To this day, the entire family still gets together a couple times a year…all 115+.

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Grandpa and Grandma with their NINE kids! My dad is the oldest (top left) rocking that Indiana t-shirt…he probably lived during the actual Hoosier days!

I was also reminded of the power one life can have. At this particular funeral, the family remained seated while the rest of the church filed one by one to the front to pay one last respect to my Grandma in her casket. The way my seat was positioned, I had the chance to meet eyes with every person present as they departed the church. As I watched people of all ages, some who knew my Grandma and others who know her kids, pass by, all I could think about was ‘the power of one.’ Death is the ultimate end we will all face, but life is a gift we’re all given. We get to daily choose how we position ourselves. I won’t be at my own funeral to know what it’s like, but I sure want to live my daily in a way where I steward the life I’ve been given to positively impact those around me. Death is coming for us all, but life has the ability to ripple through other’s lives well beyond a person’s time here.

Death is certain, but so is life. We can’t number our days, but we can know the God who does. We can’t determine our circumstances, but we can trust the God who does and find hope through Christ despite them. We can’t know the day of our departure, but we can live with purpose and in a way that impacts the people around us long after we’re gone. Death is coming, but when there is genuine surrender to Christ, life after death is eternal. That’s the life I was reminded that I want to long for even more than this life here on earth.

So while Christmas magnifies the sweet and the sorrow, I pray it would also magnify the Savior we all need. The Savior that brings eternal perspective to the sorrow. Merry Christmas can be true this season no matter the circumstances. For this, I am thankful!

Lindsay

Letter #659: The Death of Grandma

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Dear death,

You have a funny way of bringing people together. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the lives of everyone affected, people gather. We are fasciniating creatures. We will halt everything for you. Our aspirations, careers, financial gain, time with people. It doesn’t matter what it is, people stop.

Yet when our loved ones are living, we never seem to be so quick to show up. Major events such as weddings are like pulling teeth, so just an out of the blue phone call to those family members who tend to repeat themselves and who’s ROI on the time spent won’t amount to much probably isn’t happening.

The times we can actually spend with people we often selfishly give up, but when life ends everyone flocks to pay homage. There’s nothing wrong with attending funerals and being present for loved ones. In fact, I believe it brings great closure. But may we also be quick to learn from times of sorrow and invest our time into things that matter.

That being said, a little over a month ago I received a phone call that my Grandma died. Although she was 91, she was healthy, maybe more so than me in some ways, and living at home completely taking care of herself. She lived a LONG life, a full life, but you were still unexpected.

Because of the crazy winter weather, I had the chance to be in Oklahoma longer than I would’ve been otherwise. It was neat to see the Lord’s hand even in the timing of snow allowing me to have extra family time.

Three and a half years ago I started this blog. Let me warn you: Beware. Once you put your writing in public, people expect you to become the family author. Before I was even asked, I’d been chosen to not only write, but also give Grandma’s eulogy. Hello pressure!

Speaking in front of hundreds isn’t necessarily scary to me, but doing it in the midst of emotion as a dead body lies 15 feet away from you”…..exactly. Hello pressure.

Because of extra Oklahoma time, I was able to sit and listen to her three kids and their spouses to gather information about Grandma’s life I never would’ve known otherwise. I felt like an investigative reporter. Gather every fact possible, then begin crafting the actual article.

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I refused to be boring. Nobody likes boring. So I wrote it just like I’d write anything else, laced with jokes and sarcasm”…probably as much for me to make it through as for the audience! I spoke the same way I would at kamp“…LOUD, passion-filled and prayerfully truth-centered.

I longed to give a strong delivery of this eulogy. To honor my Grandma, but also to hopefully display the hope we have in the Gospel in the midst of death. I had unleashed an army to pray for my emotional stability Wednesday night at 7:20, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more confident or steady when speaking”…at least in a venue entailing death. Sure, I read my notes a little more than I would’ve liked, but mostly so I didn’t catch eyes with a family member who’d lost it resulting in me doing the same! My brother-in-law videotaped the whole thing and 45 seconds in, you can hear my voice steady. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, but I felt the power in that moment!

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90th Birthday Celebration! What an honor and privilege it was to call this lady Grandma Brueggen. Thankful for the legacy she has left us with although she is gone.

You truly do have a strange way of bringing people together. The best part is that you have no power over us when a person’s faith has been put in Christ. So often we want to mourn during you and Grandma you sure will be missed, but in reality, when a relationship with Jesus is involved you are the best thing that can happen to us! I think our silly human selves might have a few things backward”…let’s invest our time well while people are alive and tell everyone we can about Jesus so death truly can be a celebration of people going home.

Thankful this is not home,

Apparently a eulogy writer