Monday Morning – April 21, 2008
We’ve hit the extremes this week – the two ends of the joy and pain spectrum. A memorial service for a twenty-nine year old we remember as a four-year-old. And then, for the first time, we entertained all seven, that’s right, seven grandchildren all at the same time.
It was the first gathering of the full compliment of cousins. All present and accounted for. The oldest is five. Our living room resembled something of a child-care center; all manner of toys and open satchels filled with diaper paraphernalia and accoutrements for clean-up and skin care scattered here and there with the ritual opening of every door and drawer in the house and just as we were leaving for church, a crash on the kitchen tile. Some of the china in the buffet hit the floor, and then made a quick trip into the trash bin. Thankfully no one was hurt in the incident. We managed to file into the worship center at a reasonable time; all together. Somehow the fellowship means that much more with your family gathered from faraway places all in a row. Even with broken china back home.
Maybe there’s no better reward for parenthood than to see your grandchildren who are also cousins discovering one another in laughter and play. Some may call it chaos – we call it joy. The people who design and fund the local parks, with big lawns and climbing trees and injury proof slides and ladders and climbing rocks are to be commended for their efforts. “Look at me, Grandpa!” This is a great phrase.
But then a weekend of joy also knew pain. A faded photo of our two daughters made an appearance. They both are now busy moms. Then they were pre-school. In the picture, they are sitting on the hearth of a mountain home fireplace with two boys the same age. These are the two sons of a couple who are among our most cherished friends. One of them, Matthew, too soon after his twenty-eighth birthday left us – just a little more than a week ago. We thought it was a nasty virus. Or some irascible intestinal bug. Pneumonia is generally survivable. But Matthew’s condition only worsened with each passing hour. Just two days after the test results came in, acute myeloid leukemia, Matthew was gone.
I’d be hard pressed to name a more loving, affirming, caring mom and dad. Nick and Colleen ached as they stood by the bedside in the intensive care unit as a first rate medical team battled, as did Matthew, for his life. In the tears and the holding, a peace surrounded them like a shield, as did a legion of friends who knew them as we did. They chose a mountain community to raise their boys; in the clear air under the shadow of Tahquitz Peak and found a collection of fellow believers there who built a church that over the years has been a lighthouse on the mountain. All of them gathered in the waiting room, hoping, praying, reminiscing, story-telling, a gloomy cloud hanging overhead until a burst of laughter at one of Matthew’s pranks that came to mind. And then the news.
“Matthew’s gone home.” It was Friday afternoon.
The mountain church was not built for the crowd that gathered to remember and to stand with the Sandens in their grief. Someone prepared a slide show – reminiscences of mountain lakes and hikes and families gathered in living rooms and dressed for special occasions and a song that captured the mixture of grief and hope and thanks. Sniffles filled the room. And the pastor who had known Matthew and his brother Mike for just about his entire life walked us through the Scriptures that Nick and Colleen cling to as a lifeline. We grabbed hold, too.
I don’t know why the release of balloons has such power to trigger emotion. But that’s what did it for me. The whole crowd gathered in the parking lot a mile high in the tall pine trees and the deep blue sky and the grand collection of cousins, many now adults along with the children all held balloons as Pastor Tim explained the meaning of this little symbolic exercise. Brother Michael was the first to let his go. I heard him say as he looked skyward, “I love you, Matt” and up went his balloons. That’s when the tears rolled down my face. The others followed and released all twenty-nine of them.
* * * * * * *
It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. And as parents, maybe the reason we look at our children the way we do is because there are no guarantees. Each one is a promise. And each one is a risk, too.
Steven Curtis Chapman puts it this way in his incredible song, “With Hope” –
This is not at all how
We thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you’ve gone away…
And as I contemplate those seven little lives in the living room, up and down the stairs, each with their own personality, the high energy, the wide open eyes and the daily discovery and the curiosity about a wide wonderful world I also know is filled “with dangers, toils and snares.” And risks. Risks the Sandens now know all too well.
So we learn to pray. We hold on to each other. We celebrate the accomplishments and milestones with enthusiasm.
And then we learn to let go – as Michael released his love for his older brother on up to the heavens.
And the tears spring from the pain. And then bring healing, too.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2008