I KNOW THE MOMENT my heart busted during the funeral yesterday of an elderly lady I never met.
By “busted,” I mean a physical change in my chest.
It felt like a surge of blood, adrenalin, or something hot rushing into every artery, vein, and vessel of my chest. Instantly, my chest felt heavy and pushed out.
With it gushed a wave of emotion so strong that I feared I would let a sob slip out.
It has happened once before—as I listened to a song of faith while sitting in church beside my dad, who was fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
It was embarrassing. But authentic.
The surge at the funeral didn’t happen:
- During the music, though I enjoyed it. Friends of mine did the singing.
- When the minister told stories of the lady’s hard life, and of her love for her grandkids.
- When the minister read Bible passages about healing, and a quote about patience, unresolved problems, and unanswered questions. That’s when it became clear to me that the lady died before making peace with her children.
I don’t know that this is the case. But that’s the industrial strength feeling I got.
I knew that the lady’s daughter had endured a lifetime of difficulties with her mother. The daughter is a friend of mine. A sweet and tender-hearted soul.
Clearly, it seemed to me, all of the lady’s children had similar stories of brokenness.
I reached the conclusion somewhere during the one-hour service that we were burying a lady who was hard to love.
The pastor quoted her kids as saying she lived by a set of rules.
The journalist in me thought of a follow up question: Whose rules?
Here’s when my heart broke and I feared I’d let loose a sob.
The pastor read a fictional letter—as though the lady was writing from heaven.
In this letter, the lady said to her grown children words I presume she had not said in life.
- I’m sorry for anything I did that hurt you.
- You are wonderful; all of you are my favorites.
- I love you.
Oh my goodness.
The pastor had to speak these words for a dead woman?
I wasn’t feeling for the dead lady, sorry to admit. Frankly, I got the sense that this was a woman best avoided.
I’m not even sure I was hurting this extra hurt for my friend and her siblings, all of whom wept as the pastor read the fictional letter.
I was hurting for myself and for some people close to me.
I know a mother like this.
She fills her space like a black hole, sucking the joy out of everything nearby.
This could have been her funeral.
Over the years, I have marveled at this woman’s grown children.
They treat her like the mother they wish they had, instead of the mother they got.
That’s where it all leads today.
I love a scholar friend’s definition of grace, Dr. Roger Hahn, a Bible prof at Nazarene Theological Seminary. He was teaching a Bible study session in church and he kept using the word. So I interrupted him and asked him to define it.
His definition went something like this:
Grace is God accepting us where we are, but unwilling to leave us there.
When it comes to grown kids with a sourpuss of a parent, grace is accepting that sourpuss, but treating her as though lemonade is on the menu.
And when the sourpuss leaves a sourpuss, grace is accepting the history of it, and stepping into a future world where people are kind to one another.
As Paul put it in a goodbye sermon to folks he said would never see him alive again:
“I am putting you in the care of God and the message about his grace. It is able to give you strength, and it will give you the blessings God has for all his holy people.”
Acts 20:32 NCV
PS. My friend read this blog post last night and gave me her blessing to run it. She said it made her cry. I figured it would. But I also figured it might help some other grown up kids. One more thing: my friend passed along this advice that she says saved her sanity, “Some people are like an abstract painting…much easier to love from a distance.”
I was at a loss yesterday to figure out how our friend was able to become such a loving soul. Sorrow is almost always present at funerals but her Grace was so glaring I felt overwhelmed by it. Amazed at how crappy situations can turn people into marvelous human beings.
Stephen M. Miller
It is odd. Mean parents can produce kind kids. It’s like flipping a coin. I’ve seen that up close, in my extended family. I wonder about the science–the psychology–behind that. Perhaps that would help me better understand the God part of the puzzle.
Beautiful writing Stephen…Thank you!
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks, Wayne. I wrote that while I was feeling it. That makes all the difference.