As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Hey, this is me noticing that your mom’s bday is next week and acknowledging that can come with some stuff. Plus it’s getting darker and darker out. And colder. And advent is looming. Just saying hey, I love you lady.
This is the text I received last week from a friend of mine. On November 23, Mom would have been 60.
Last night another friend called me. She was also Mom’s friend, her age falling between ours. We took a trip to the East Coast together two years before Mom died to see her dragon boat team compete in the Breast Cancer Survivors national festival. She said, “I just wanted to say that I’m thinking about you as tomorrow is her birthday. It will always be her birthday. I’m remembering her with you.”
There is something comforting in that thought: even though Mom is not here any longer, it continues to be her birthday. There is still an annual reminder that God brought her into this world.
Here’s what I would like to say to friends who call and send messages around Mom’s birthday or the anniversary of her death: thank you. You don’t know how much these messages mean. I don’t want to remember alone. I am comforted as you remind me that you remember with me.
I think of how reticent I am to give these messages to others during what I’ll call “grief milestones:” birthdays, the day a loved one died, holidays. I so often don’t send that email or make that phone call or speak those words because I worry about saying the wrong thing. It’s been my fear as long as I can remember. Over a decade ago, my mother reminded me to call a dear friend who had lost her mother the previous year. “What do I say?” I asked Mom. “Just say, ‘I know it’s the anniversary of your mother’s death and I wanted to let you know I was thinking of you.’” I found the phrase awkward—isn’t an anniversary supposed to be a pleasant thing? The whole act of trying to provide comfort was deeply uncomfortable to me. And yet I called and left a message stumbling through my rehearsed line, grateful that my friend had not picked up the phone. I don’t know how she felt about the phrase either. But I’m confident she was willing to overlook the awkwardness.
I’m confident of this because time and time again I’ve felt the comfort of someone remembering with me. When people are able to put aside the platitudes and risk feeling awkward for the sake of remembering alongside me, I don’t remember the discomfort: I remember the travel companion.
Advent is looming, as my friend said. I wonder how that would read as a church sign. Advent looms over us. This season of joy, of anticipation, of celebration, of confusion, of longing, of missing, it looms as we approach the longest night of the year. It looms as we wrestle with the consumerism of our culture. It looms as we sing about peace on earth and feel there is so little of it. It looms as we think about everything we have to get done. It looms as we think about those we miss. It looms as we think about everything we have to get done to distract us from the pain of missing those we miss.
We don’t often think of Advent as looming. But here is a time of darkness, preceding the Redeemer’s birth into a dark and cold night. We approach with all the joy and comfort of anticipating a baby, with gifts and candlelight, warm drinks, and sparkly things. And yet God’s entrance into the world came with the shame of ‘illegitimate’ pregnancy, a birth far from home, delivery in a dirty barn, the couple unprepared and isolated. Shortly after, the holy family flees from a tyrant’s edict of infanticide, a story that reminiscent of a previous attack on their people, and they become refugees in a foreign land. This is a dark story in a dark time.
In the midst of this deep darkness there are some uncomfortable visitors: fear-inducing angels with good news, dirty shepherds looking for a king, magi with their awkward, impractical gifts. There are prophecies of a soul-pierced mother when the baby is brought to the temple. There are reminders that, in the midst of joy and darkness, hope and pain, they are not alone, that they are remembered, that God remembers them.
Advent is a time of looking forward, as well as a time of remembering. Many of us cannot approach the holidays without looking back.
Our faith is one of collective remembering. Remember the Sabbath day. Remember that the Lord delivered you from Egypt. Take, eat and remember and believe. Remember your baptism. Remember the poor. I remember you in my prayers. These are things the Spirit calls us to remember through Scripture, liturgy, and tradition. We remember as individuals and we remember collectively. There is comfort and hope in remembering together.
Today, to remember Mom on her birthday, I sit down with my toddler and show him pictures of my mother. He is still learning to speak in sentence fragments, but is able to recognize Grandma after a bit. He can see from pictures of us together the love we shared, and who she is to me.
Soon he will peel stickers daily from his Advent devotional. We will read to him about this special baby and see him in crèches at home and at church, and he will not yet understand but will know by the way we talk what this story means to us. We remember with him, and we pass on our remembering.