Last week two families who are important to me lost people who are important to them. Mrs. N was the mother of my parents' friend and JM was my uncle's best friend. To look at these two people they couldn't be more different but in truth, the distance between them is not so great.
Mrs. N was the quintessential lady. She was the picture of grace and elegance. I can't ever remember seeing her without her lipstick on, hair neatly arranged and her outfit tastefully accessorized. But that stuff is just surface, just window dressings, her true beauty came from her generous heart and loving nature.
Mrs. N was a mother, grandmother, great grandmother and friend. She was a long time member of the church I grew up in; she attended there with her son, daughter-in-law and their three beautiful daughters. She was their Nana but she became Nana to us all. When I think of her all of my memories are of her smiling and loving on someone, whether she was cuddling a newborn, catching up with an old friend or giving one of her granddaughters a quick hug, she was always smiling. She loved boundlessly.
Now, like I said, on the surface JM couldn't be more different from Mrs. N ... on the surface.
JM was rough around the edges, a little scary looking at first glance and a brick of a man. He wasn't tall but he was huge and he could come across as an intimidating individual ... until he smiled. Its been years since I've seen JM but I remember him well from so many summers, at the campground, with my extended family. He was always up for tossing us kids around the pool, joking around with whoever was nearby and telling stories, usually about the teenage misadventures he had with my uncle.
JM was my uncle's buddy. They met when they were five years old and from that moment on they loved each other as brothers. I didn't know JM very well but it speaks volumes to me that my uncle loved him as he did. I do remember that he had the greatest laugh that came from his heart and danced in his eyes and that he was always so full of life and love.
That's where these two strangers are the same, in their love.
Mrs. N's heart was always open and she loved her people without conditions or limits. She loved, even when life got messy. She loved through joy and sorrow, hope and disappointment. She loved fiercely, generously, endlessly. She loved.
JM also loved deeply, sacrificially. He loved with courage, with protection, with hope. When things got messy, he loved. He loved enough. He loved enough to look past the situation to see the person, he loved enough to set aside his desires for the greater good, he loved enough to let go of what he held dear to keep hold of those he held dear. He loved enough.
As I write this hundreds and hundreds of people are gathering to celebrate Mrs. N's life and love. There will be songs sung, eulogies given and precious memories shared. The church will be filled with friends, flowers and joy mixed with tears. She lived a full life and there is much to celebrate.
But JM will receive no such send off. The path his life took in recent years has made it impossible for him to be celebrated in the same way. For the safety of those he loved most, there will be no mass send off, no over flowing church, no tribute to a love well lived. Instead, JM's people are left to grieve independently, to remember in solitude. What a contrast to the man I remember, the laughing, loving, life of of the party.
So, today I say a prayer for the families, fill my heart with sweet memories and whisper the names of two people who have set the bar high and lived excellent examples of love. These two people from very different worlds but still, so very much the same.
I'd like to think that they know each other now, that they've met in heaven. I'm sure Mrs. N has told JM all about her beautiful family. I'm sure that JM is entertaining Mrs. N with his stories and his mischievous laugh. And I am sure they both have carried all the love we've given to them, that they have clothed themselves in it, that they hold it close for it is a promise that we will see them again someday.
To Mrs. N.
You are remembered.
To love another person is to see the face of God.