November, for all its autumnal beauty, has been a tumultuous month in our house. The month began, November 1, with a date night at our favorite restaurant where we spoke with a childhood friend of mine who had recently been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer, after successfully fighting breast cancer at the same time as me. Five days later she entered the local hospice house, and by Friday, she was gone. The same week my husband, who wears a pacemaker for electrical problems, learned at his six-month checkup that he potentially had blockages and would need a nuclear stress test to determine the extent of the problem. Additionally, mild discomfort I had been feeling across my pelvis and lower back ramped up to sharp, stabbing pains. My doctor scheduled an MRI.
Edward’s stress test revealed no blockages, just an anomaly perhaps. My MRI showed no malignancy, but diagnosed arthritis. While my classmate was ultimately healed, delivered from her pain and sickness, Edward and I felt we had both been granted a reprieve. Her husband and children, already in grief with her diagnosis, now continue on without her – her hope, her light, her joy in living. Other family and friends are also heartbroken in this season of Thanksgiving.
November 3 was All Saint’s Sunday, the day we celebrate the lives of those who have left us to join the Church Triumphant that “great cloud of witnesses,” as well as those who labor on in our time, and those saints yet to come. Another friend observed her first birthday in retirement on November 3, but also helped lay to rest her two-month-old granddaughter who passed away October 30. That precious light of her life is momentarily eclipsed, and the party that we usually make with cake, candles, laughing beloved faces, hugs and happy choruses, was a tearful, painful gathering.
I did not know this baby, but I remember her mama as a sweet little girl, well-behaved, happy, smiling and laughing with her older sister, both daughters of one of my first colleagues and mentors, a sixth-grade English and Social Studies teacher. This grandmother, and the other, whose birthday coincides with a grandchild’s funeral, have broken hearts, but they are clinging to hope that someday they will again embrace this beautiful baby, look into her eyes, and celebrate her eternal life. They are both people of faith. They know what it means to be filled with joy, even as tears of grief course down their cheeks and they taste salt and ache with sorrow.
Life is hard, the saying goes, and oh, so pitifully short, whether two months or fifty-four years, or less, or more. But life is also full of choices, and we have the choice to acknowledge the difficulties of life, while nourishing our hope, pursuing joy, sharing peace and seeking light. We may gather at birthday parties or memorial services, share a table with extended family and friends or sit quietly by ourselves as leaves, and tears, fall. Wherever you find yourself in this ever-shortening season, as darkness seems to grow and lengthen, I wish you joy, hope, peace, and light that, sometimes, only gratitude and thanksgiving can bring.