Alan was looking forward to coming home. He had spent his 21st birthday a couple months earlier as a member of the United States army fighting in Vietnam. It was March of 1969, and he was just two weeks from his homecoming. Alan, as he often did, mailed a letter and a picture or two to his mom, Bernice, back home. In the next few weeks, Bernice was hosting a baby shower for her younger cousin Karen, preparing to welcome her son home, and also getting ready for the confirmation of one of her daughters as well! Much anticipation was in the air for this family!
A week or so later, on what was the fourth weekend of March, extended family gathered together for Karen’s baby shower. Bernice shared letters and pictures from Alan, as all wanted to know as much as they could about his well-being. They smiled at his latest letter and pictures, spoke of his impending return home, and went on with the business of opening gifts and sharing cake. It was a joyous day. But just 24 hours later, this family would be rocked by a knock on the door from a couple of servicemen. Alan had already been gone even as his family sat reading his letter the day before.
In the weeks to come, Alan’s younger sister Debbie would celebrate her confirmation – on the morning of her brother’s Memorial Service. And by the middle of May, Karen would give birth to her only child – Jeffrey. This family found itself cycling between the joy of new life, the light of faith, and the darkness of deep grief.
In the years since, I have been honored to preside over the Memorial Services of both Alan’s sister Debbie and his father Len. I have also had the great joy of officiating the wedding of his niece Sara. These are the people whom he missed so dearly and longed to see again, and those whom he never had the joy of welcoming into this world. Yet, at a level none of us can comprehend, Alan’s love and spirit lives in each of these monumental family moments. For God’s heart desires Life, Grace and Love – and thus there is light slicing through every cloud of darkness, and there is the blessing of new life standing face to face with every death. Such it was that April in 1969, as Debbie stood before an entire congregation that upheld her in blessing mere hours before they gathered again around her family in love and support to say goodbye to Alan. Such it was that May in 1969, when Karen gazed lovingly into the eyes of her newborn child just a few weeks after attending Alan’s gut-wrenching funeral. A community’s love shone through the shroud of grief, and new life screamed into the world in the wake of a devastating loss.
This is the cycle of life in which we live. These moments that make up this never-ending cycle are in their own way holy occurrences, because with God life is divine, and therefore darkness and death can not be the final word. So, on this particular Memorial Day, I spent a few minutes thinking of my cousin Alan. We never actually met on this earth, but our souls have cycled ever so close on many occasions. Thank you, O Lord, for holy moments shared as family, and for the intricate pattern you weave each of us into in this beautiful web of life. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)