When anniversaries are not celebrations

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

The anniversary of any tragic event - public or private - can be painful. These commemorations remind me of the first anniversary of a tragic day for my family.

When my sister-in-law, Mary, died unexpectedly, it left my family filled with grief and rage. We were shaken to the core, and so were her friends and community.

Fast-forward to a year later.

The family talked on the phone quite a bit with one another that day, just to say "I love you" and to see how everybody was doing. What we all noticed - and this puzzled us - was that there was joy in the family. Real joy. It wasn't a "let's dance in the streets" kind of joy; we still missed Mary a lot. It was more of a quiet, inexplicable joy. We couldn't figure out how this was possible.

But now I think I understand why we felt joy.

One year earlier, we had felt we were standing in front of a giant mountain of grief and rage and confusion, and we didn't know how we were going to climb over it and get on with our lives.

We couldn't imagine how we were going to get through the next 24 hours, much less the next 12 months. She was so loved and valued by her family and in her community. How would her husband go on without his beloved mate? How would her children grow up without their mom to guide them?

Yet 12 months later, here we were, still standing - happy and healthy. We all realized that if we could get through that year with God's help, we could get through anything.

One of the biggest steps forward for me was breaking free from the haunting memories of the day in the hospital emergency room. Mary and I had spent many years together. We'd gone to college together and become moms around the same time. She was always there for me, and I was always there for her. Yet for weeks after her death, my thoughts were filled only with images of those awful hours in the emergency room. I wanted to think about the good times, but it was really hard.

There's a Bible story that helped a lot. It's the one about a man named Lazarus, who had died and whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Back in Lazarus's day, they wrapped dead bodies in cloth, so when Lazarus walked out of the tomb, he was wrapped in strips of cloth. He was surrounded by family and friends, and Jesus commanded the group, "Loose him, and let him go" (see John, chap. 11).

That is exactly what I felt I needed to do, too - loose Mary and let her go.

From all that I was reading in the Bible, I was absolutely sure in my heart of hearts that she was fine and that she was continuing her life - just not here where I could talk with her. I knew that I had to loose her in my memory from those awful emergency-room images.

"Loose her, and let her go" was my battle cry for a while, as I fought to shake the bad memories. And it worked! Don't get me wrong, it still feels strange not to be able to call Mary on the phone or hang out with her. But I have lots of good memories about her, and I feel comfortable talking and laughing about them now, not just focusing on that one bad memory.

So, if you are wrestling with horrific images that you just can't shake, I recommend you take Jesus' command to heart: "Loose [your loved one], and let him [or her] go."

The admission to one's self that man is God's own likeness sets man free to master the infinite idea. This conviction shuts

the door on death, and opens

it wide towards immortality.

Mary Baker Eddy

(founder of the Monitor)

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