Ecclesiastes 3:1-2: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die…”
Most of us needn’t look far to find examples of this truth in our lives and relationships, and unfortunately, a stark reminder of these variable seasons hit my family last week, when my 77-year-old mother-in-law, Joan, died on June 1.
Although she had suffered for years with severe rheumatoid arthritis, other health problems and the various physical indignities and limitations resulting from those illnesses, her precipitous decline over the last week of her life caught us all a little off guard. We have been left to mourn her loss and sort out our emotions, along with her belongings, even as we are healing from the passing of her husband, my late father-in-law, just one year earlier.
But before our very eyes, the lessons of Ecclesiastes play themselves out: a nest of robins, lovingly nurtured by dedicated parents on the patio outside our back door, has evolved from a circle of eggs to fledgling birds that only today literally flew the coop.
My niece, Holly, is expecting her first baby–my parents’ first great-grandchild-to-be–next autumn. And a nephew, Schuyler, marked his high school graduation this past weekend, immediately on the heels of his grandmother’s death, just as our eldest son collected his own high school diploma four days prior to his grandfather’s passing last May.
While we’d love to be able to halt the sorrows, the conflicted feelings of “Did we do enough?” and “What will we do without them,” we simply cannot–nor can we keep the celebrations from unfolding, those happy moments of graduations, births and family get-togethers, no matter their origins or timing.
The ups and downs, the highs and lows, appear to arrive hand-in-hand, leaving us little choice but to trudge through the valleys en route to the hills, where better times await us before we must descend once again, inevitably, to the periods of pain and trial.
So with the pain of my mother-in-law’s death still incredibly fresh, our family pressed forward with a plan we had hatched a few months earlier, when her physical absence was still something we could only imagine: We participated, along with another branch of the family that shares in our recent loss, in the Worthington Color Dash.
It’s not often we can rally nine members of our family to gather for any reason, but there we were, all of us set to run (or, in my case, proceed at a slow jog) and become unrecognizable over the 3.1-mile course by way of clouds of colored cornstarch thrown in our faces and at our backs. It felt slightly irreverent to revel in the silliness of the occasion so soon after saying our goodbyes to Joan, and yet we knew she would have enjoyed the spectacle.
After the race, when my two sons spontaneously danced in the street with two brothers from another local family and were caught on video prancing along to “Gangnam Style,” we laughed until we cried–and, later, we cried some more, missing our mother, mother-in-law and grandma, ruing the years of fun and family times her illnesses had caused her to miss, but remaining glad in our hearts that she was finally free of her suffering and once again reunited with her husband, parents and siblings.
We take heed that we are to cherish each day, along with the loved ones and friends who still surround us here with their presence, their support, their quirks and their gifts.
This past week has driven home for us, once again, that laughter is unavoidably intermingled with tears, and neither tears nor laughter is ever wrong….or completely unwelcome.
A few verses further into Ecclesiastes 3, the writer continues his litany of yings and yangs: “…a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
And if that time to dance happens to be to “Gangnam Style” in a downtown parking lot a few days after shedding sorrowful tears for a loved grandma, I don’t think even Solomon would disapprove.