Looking for Blessings in the Shadow of Mourning

I’ve been ready to cry on and off all day. And it’s a little confusing.

Today is the birthday of one of my mama’s brothers. She had eight brothers and two sisters. Now four of her siblings are still with us on this earth. Uncle Don lives in the deep south, where Mama was raised. I haven’t seen him for probably nine years, separated as we are by over a thousand miles. We don’t talk on the phone. And though I send Christmas cards most years, he never does.

But I’ve always been so fond of him. He is such a sweet man, tall and thin and cheerful. He has such a soothing southern accent and has always been so gentle and kind. And today, I can’t think about him without choking up. And I’m trying to figure out why. I have shed tears often enough for aunts and uncles who have passed on. But he is living, and healthy as far as I know, so this is new territory for me.

I’m guessing it’s another shadow of mourning. Because I can’t picture Uncle Don without also seeing Mom, younger and full of life and smiling and laughing. She so loved her family. She would visit whenever she got the chance, even if it meant sleeping in a leaky tent to get there. And she would call them, before free long distance was ever an option.

But now Mama is gone. One aunt and uncle came to her memorial service, but the others couldn’t. And they are so far away. I wonder if I’ll see them again this side of heaven. And I guess a part of me feels like if I could hug them, I would be hugging Mama again. And I type this through tears I don’t quite understand.

I tried calling Uncle Don to say happy birthday. I thought Mama would like that. But he didn’t answer and didn’t have voice mail set up either. It’s probably just as well because I think I would have burst into tears and he would have wondered what crazy woman was on the phone with him.

Oh, this road of grieving is full of surprises. I’m thankful I’m not walking it alone. I have family and friends who care and who listen. And Jesus is with me, too. And He is the one who said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (NKJV).

I find comfort in His Word and in prayer. I find comfort in spending time with His people and in reading the messages and cards people have sent me. I have comfort in knowing that Mama is with Him now and that I will see her again and for always.

I have comfort in knowing that Mama has loving siblings that miss her here on earth, and others that are keeping her company in Heaven.

And I take comfort in knowing that Jesus, too, wept. And that He never said, “Don’t mourn.” But He did say that I’ll find blessing and comfort when I do.

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We were watching an old Dick Van Dyke Show the other night, when I just started crying. Grieving is like that. It catches you by surprise.

The character Sally was doing a song and dance at a show for inmates at a prison.  She sang Cotton Fields, by Huddie Ledbetter…

     When I was a little bitty baby my Mama would rock me in the cradle, in those old cotton fields back home…

     It doesn’t seem like a tear-jerker. But my mama was raised in Louisiana and her daddy grew cotton. And picking that cotton was one of the last childhood memories to leave her.
     Mom also told a story over and over, about how her own Mama would put the baby of the family (Mama was the third of eleven children) on a big gunny sack that was tied around her waist. And she would pull her baby along near her while she filled the sack with cotton. This was the last story I remember hearing from Mama about her childhood. The story that stuck and held firm through the decay of dementia.
     Years later, when she didn’t tell the story anymore, I’d ask her if she picked cotton when she was young.
     “Oh-h, YES!” she’d answer, with no doubts. Until eventually even that memory melted away.
     Anyway, so there I was watching a sit-com with an upbeat song and dance, crying away. When I calmed down I called my dad to check in with him. He was doing well that night, so I told him about the song and how it made me cry, choking up again as I did.
     Dad said, “Well, she hasn’t picked cotton for many, many years.” And then he added, “I’m sitting here thinking about all the things my sweetheart is enjoying in heaven, and it makes me happy.”
     I don’t want to imply here that my dad isn’t having his own emotional times, because he is. But I caught him in a good hour. And his words soothed my soul.
     It’s okay for those of us left behind to cry. And we will. Often. But what a precious comfort to picture the truth of heaven and the indescribable joys that Mama is relishing there.
     She’s not in those old cotton fields back home. Mama is Home with Jesus.
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