“And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall be always
with the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)
“Your mother and her sisters know where my best dress, the black one, is hanging in the closet. I told them that’s what I’ll wear in my coffin. Nothing else. No jewelry, and I hope they won’t put makeup on me.”
“Oh, Baba, don’t talk about coffins and death. It’s so…[I wanted to say morbid, but I couldn’t think of the word] sad.” I was eleven at the time. I had a hard time speaking her language, and she couldn’t speak in mine well at all.
“Sad? For you sad, maybe. But for me a wonderful experience, a reunion. You cannot imagine or understand what it was like to leave parents, sister and friends when I was only a girl of fifteen. Even my dog that I loved so much I missed so greatly. Then to leave for a land I only knew as a name—AmerEEka! All that happened so long ago. Of course I used to dream of returning, and I fantasized about what I would be like when I came to them again. I would have so much money. I’d be dressed in bright pretty clothes. I would bring them each a present that would please them. I’d make their lives much happier, and they would love me for it. None of that ever came about. I never returned. Instead, I married, raised a family and even have you as a present.
“But I never forgot them. I prayed for them every day of my life. I would wonder what they looked like as they aged. We used to write to each other, but that stopped when my parents died. So they are alive in my heart, in my prayers, and more than that, in heaven.
“And in heaven they all look the way they did when I went far away from them. Of course, that’s silly. They grew old, probably they developed the sicknesses, weaknesses and infirmities that come with old age; but not so in my mental photograph of them. In my memory, and I think also in heaven, they stay forever young.
“So for you, child, talking of death and dying is—how did you say it—sad? Of course it’s sad. You have a lifetime ahead of you. Death is just a negative word, something that happens to other people, and sometimes to your pet. At your age you feel immortal. Whatever your problems are, dying is not among them.
“But for me, try to understand, most of my loved ones are now on the other side of death’s doors. Your grandfather whom you loved and who loved you dearly is there. Two of my sons, one killed in the war, who had no funeral, are buried deep in my heart. I yearn so to see him. I want to ask him how he died, what he was thinking of as life left his body, and if he had passed in peace. More, my mother and father are on the other side. What happened to them after we separated? How long did they miss me? How soon did they get over not having me living with them? And I never forgot my childhood friends. I would like to find out what they did with their lives. Did they remain in our village always? Did the Great War change their attitude to God and the world? How did they survive, if indeed they had?
“You see, you and I are already going on separate pathways through life, even though we are here together and we love one another. Your journey is only beginning. You don’t know where it will lead you, but you are eager to make the trip just to find out. Mine is coming to an end. It will lead upward—already it’s ascending. Maybe that’s why old people take so long to get anywhere. You don’t know what I’m talking about, but that’s no matter. One day long in the future that you cannot begin to imagine, you’ll understand it all.”
That time is now. I’ve arrived at the age when my dear grandmother told me something like the above. And I’m beginning to get her message.