This Thing Called “Family”

April 25, 2009

So it’s 1:43 a.m. and Lord knows I should be sleeping. All of the windows are open (for the first time this year!) and an incredible, gentle yet slightly cool breeze is drifting in during these nighttime hours. My husband lies sound asleep in bed (sometimes I am truly jealous of his amazing ability to fall asleep in any and every situation). Sounds like the perfect recipe for a goodnight’s sleep. But unfortunately, I lie awake. I toss and turn. I drift in and out of sleep with dreams too strange to truly recollect.

Could it be the Visitation of my husband’s grandfather which we attended to night? Could it be the thought-provoking conversation Mike and I shared before heading to bed about death, our own mortality, losing the ones we love, and the way life can change in the blink of an eye? Or is just the fact that Mike convinced me to loosen the reigns on my “diet” tonight by stopping at Culver’s for one of their coveted “Cookie Custard Sandwiches” which is keeping me awake? Regardless of why I sit here at my computer, writing a blog post while an anxious dog (who now thinks it’s morning, by the way) sits at my feet, I guess I’m glad I am. Because it just so happens I’ve got some stuff to say:

Attending a funeral (or visitation) is always a somewhat interesting experience. Whether the person was one who I was particularly close to or not, I can’t help but feeling an extreme loss, whether it be for myself or for those who were close to the recently passed. In this particular situation, I didn’t get the opportunity to know Grandpa MacLeod very long, perhaps two and a half years at most. However, a one time visit to this man’s house would have been enough to recognize the deep love which was shared among his family. His wife had woken up next to him for 56 years. His eldest son (one of seven) had been born into the family over 50 years ago as well as one of his daughters, who I now have the privilege of calling “Mom”. Even one of his son-in-laws had met him when he was only in sixth grade! And oh, so many grandchildren whose  lives were touched and sweetened by his existence.

Grampa MacLeod enjoying himself at our wedding.

Grampa MacLeod enjoying himself at our wedding.

The people who came to pay their respects were too numerous to count. The kleenex boxes scattered throughout the funeral home were put to good use. Some found it harder than others, but we all felt the hurt. After all, Mr. MacLeod had been a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a grandfather, a friend, a veteran, a neighbor, an elder in a church, a writer…and the list continues.

Standing there next to my husband, I couldn’t help but think back to the funerals of both of my grandfathers, which had happened within six months of each other back in 2006. What a strange feeling to know that a man who had had such an impact on your life was no longer in this world. I would never again feel either of their strong arms around me in a hug only a grandpa could give. I would never again receive a Tootsie Roll from my Grampa Steinbach for the long ride home from his house in Random Lake. I would never again hear the phrase “Don’t bruise the fat” uttered from my Grampa Porinsky’s lips when I gave his stomach a good poke. Neither of my grandpas would be present at my wedding. Neither would hold a great grandchild which I would hopefully one day provide.

Yet what I remember most about those two funerals for me was something I wouldn’t have given up for the world: the extreme, committed, and undying true love that a family shares. I recall stopping over at my mom’s house the morning after her father (my Grampa Porinsky) passed away. When her bloodshot eyes first saw me, she began to cry and said, “Mel, I lost my daddy.” It broke my heart in two. I remember seeing my dad, a man of stone and utter composure weep at both burials, for he truly had lost two fathers in one year. I remember watching both of my grandmothers and only beginning to imagine the loss and loneliness that must begin to settle over someone in their position. My heart ached for all of them.

That’s when I first realized the hardest part of saying goodbye to a loved one is not necessarily the hurt and sadness I feel, but rather seeing those I love around me grieve. After all, I know my own thoughts, my own pain, my own weakness and I know that I will heal. Yet the feelings of those I love are of my control. There is nothing I can say to fill the hole that the loved one leaves behind. There is no embrace I can offer which is strong enough to mend the brokenhearted. There are not enough flowers in the world to brighten the life of a person suffering due to the loss of one loved. Yet this is the very reason God created families. To offer the comfort which can never truly be given, to be the shoulder to cry on, the hand to hold, the embrace to fall into. And it is times such as these, that I am reminded that family can include any and all of those who offer this comfort, this strength, this love. My mother-in-law saw her best friend from high school tonight for the first time in over thirty years. She was reunited with her cousin whom she hasn’t seen on a regular basis since elementary school. And me! Three years ago, I did not even know this “Clan MacLeod” existed…I had never met my husband, nor his family. Yet there I stood, attempting to sooth the hurts of those I now call family. And in a strange way, I thank God for this opportunity, for this experience, for this hardship. What a wonderful blessing to be connected with such wonderful people in our lives who are family, without even being of the same blood.

What an incredible mixture of emotions one can feel at a Christian funeral. On the one hand, there is extreme sadness for the loss of a wonderful life, the end of new memories, the void left. While on the other, what a joyous moment, knowing that the person you were blessed to know is now no longer in pain and has been taken home. Death is not a natural thing: it was never part of the ultimate plan when the Creator brought us into this world. It is not normal for a heart to be so fully connected to another and then separated so abruptly. Yet we hold tight to the hope of our eternal home where there will be no more death, no more crying, no more pain. This promise of everlasting life is the true comfort at times like these, the faith that does not disappoint. It is in these times when God reminds that life is fragile, ever-changing, and at times unkind. We grieve, but not as the world grieves. We feel loss and sadness. But we feel this for ourselves, not for the one who has gone ahead and is waiting for us in the place God has prepared for us.

So while I await my call to my heavenly home, I will be forever grateful for the love of my family: both those who I share the same blood with and those I don’t. And I will continue to pray for the MacLeod’s–my heart aches for all of them– and look forward to getting to know Mr. MacLeod better in the life after this.


Gramma and Grampa MacLeod at our wedding before the ceremony in November 2008.

2 Responses to “This Thing Called “Family””

  1. "Mom" said

    WOW, that was beautiful. Thank you for all your love and prayers in this difficult time. You are right, family does make it easier.

  2. Jennifer Appleton said

    This is absolutely beautiful!

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