Christmas isn’t supposed to be a time for being preoccupied with death. It is, for a Christian, time to celebrate the beginning of real life, for Christ’s coming means the beginning of the new order, God’s Kingdom set in motion, his kingdom of love and light.
But for me this Christmas time was a journey for death’s sake. In mid-December I boarded a plane bound for Spokane, the nearest point to the farm where I grew up, and, if the truth were told, the place where home abounds. Those hills will always fill me with peace and joy, and if I close my eyes, I am there.
Death had come to my 92-year-old uncle, my favorite uncle. As a child he babysat me, laughed with me, and I basked in his presence. Later, though we met scarcely once a year, there was no distance between us. Face to face, even a few words made the day whole. The last time I saw him, it was at another funeral service, and we sat at a table with our arms around each other’s shoulders. I have the picture to prove it.
We cousins and children met to say good by to Uncle Archie. We said good by in hugs, tears, eyes glued to the pictures of him in his combine. We said good by in saying, “Remember when?” and "Please tell me again how you held his hand and he squeezed it and then took his last breath." We said good by when we shared lunch at the church and playing switching chairs so we could sit by everyone. We said good by as we wound our way from the church to the cemetery that overlooked the Snake River. We stood by Uncle Archie in his box and listened to his boys (men over 60 now) saying he never became angry with them. We heard his nephew declare, “He was my second father.”
By this time we were less than a dozen cousins, sons, and spouses. We stood in the weak sunshine and wet grass that chilled our toes, loath to leave. We stretched the day when we, as a group, decided we must visit our grandpa and grandma, Archie’s parents. We knew they were somewhere near the trees at the top of the hill, so all of us spread out and walked over the area, hunting from stone to stone. My brother was the one who found them. We stood around their graves and said a few words of remembrance, the closing of a circle of the day.
To spend a day with dear men and women of the same DNA and experiences, and most of all, of the same hearts towards the Savior-to-come: so important it was unspeakable. Hearts were full, love spoke from eye to eye, ties strengthened beyond breaking.