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3 Signs of Comfort in the Midst of Grief

A reminder that not everything is chaos these days. Hope and God’s love still present themselves.

Rick Hamlin with his mom and siblings

My 93-year-old mom died earlier this year. She made a swift exit, as she would have wished. The answer to my prayer for “a direct flight.” But such exits can leave those of us left on the tarmac stunned. Maybe that’s why I find such comfort in three things that have happened since.

First off: at the funeral I chose to sing “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music, a song Mom had first played me when I was a kid sitting next to her on the piano bench. After the service, my older sister’s trainer from the gym—a woman I’d never met before—came up to me and said, “You know, last night, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking of the movie The Sound of Music. It just came to me. Now I know why.”

Second coincidence—if you want to call it that: A couple of weeks ago I got a text from my younger sister Diane. She and her husband Mike have lived in an old Spanish-colonial house down in Long Beach, California, for a long while. It’s been a happy place for us to gather as a family, filled with fond memories.

Diane was a big tennis player like Mom. In fact, the two of us used to hit balls with Mom, two against one, always laughing whenever Mom would say, missing a shot, “That one was just too good.” Because we knew that Mom would be sure to hit the next shot in some place impossible for us to get. Too good indeed.

Mom and Dad used to play mixed doubles on Sundays with friends from church, Stan and Doris. Just to give you a sense of geography, this would have been 25 miles from Long Beach, inland, closer to the hills. Imagine my surprise when through a series of connections, Diane discovered that the house where Stan was born back in the 1920s was the house where she lives now.

Can you imagine what Mom would have thought of that?

Lastly, our extended family was looking forward to gathering this September in Maryland for the wedding of our younger son, Tim, and his fiancée Henley. Like so many celebrations these days, it had to be postponed because of the pandemic. It’s scheduled for next year in the small town where Henley grew up. We can tell ourselves, that’s okay. We can wait. But there is some mourning in that too.

Then a couple of days ago I got an email from my friend Lynn who lives up in Massachusetts. I hadn’t heard from her in a while or seen her since her second wedding almost two years ago. That was an occasion of much celebration because Lynn had been a widow for over 15 years, doing an extraordinary job of raising her four kids, now young adults. I nurtured a deep affection for them because their father, Charley, had been one of my best buddies in college, a fellow singer in our a cappella group.

Tragically Charley died of ALS back in 2001. Lynn was a wonderful caregiver for Charley. Frankly, I was in awe of her. I hadn’t attended her and Charley’s wedding because I was living in California at the time. But I remembered it had been in a small town in Maryland. Where exactly was it? I had to ask. 

Turns out it was at the same small church where our son Tim will be married.

It’s very hard to make any plans these days or nurture high expectations. Who would have thought we’d be where we are right now? All the more reason to look for those reassuring signs that not everything is chaos. There is hope, there is love and there is God’s abiding presence in places we might least expect.

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