Monthly Archives: February 2012

My Brother’s Wedding Ring

My brother and sister-in-law got married just less than a year-and-a-half ago.  It was a perfect day.  We were at the beach, the weather was spectacular, my sister-in-law looked beautiful in her wedding gown, and my brother was exceedingly handsome in his dress blues.  Maybe best of all, our families and friends rejoiced that a long-awaited day had come.  There was no drama, everyone had a fantastic time, and each of the ring-bearers had four legs.

What could better?  It was, surely, a perfect day.

I cried pretty much through the whole ceremony.  Perfect days don’t come along very often, and I was rejoicing right along with everyone else.  And among all the perfect moments, there was one that took my breath away.  After they had exchanged rings, Travis and Jessica walked a few steps to a table prepared for a sand ceremony.  Jessica took a vase of orange sand, and Travis took one with blue sand, and they poured them together into one vase, symbolizing the way their lives were now inseparable.  It was a lovely part of the ceremony, and the pastor talked about Travis traveling to the sands of Iraq and Jessica staying here, until they would meet on the sands of Okinawa after his deployment. 

Right in the middle of that, I focused in on my brother’s hand and saw his wedding ring for the first time.  Wow.  I wasn’t prepared for the jolt of that.  My brother was a husband.  The one I helped dress up as the Incredible Hulk and Luke Skywalker for Halloween, the one who burned his hand on the oven door, the one who raced his friend Ethan to each continent, the one who became my grown-up friend when we were roommates – my brother – was a husband!  It was strange and wonderful and all caught up in seeing his ring.

When we were growing up, our dad, our grandfathers, and one of our uncles never wore a wedding band.  They worked with machines that might use a ring to rip their fingers off, so it was best not to wear one.  I guess because of that, I didn’t pay much attention to wedding rings.  In the difficult years after our parents’ divorce, I didn’t want to pay much attention to wedding rings.  Somehow all of that is caught up, and healed, in seeing my brother’s wedding ring, too.  It was no small thing to get married.  It is no small thing to build a marriage that blends the best of their families and gently sets aside the other parts.  I’m so thankful he’s chosen to wear his ring.

At Christmas time, someone posted a picture of my brother on Facebook.  There was the ring again!  Every time I see it I remember that moment on the beach, during the wedding.  I remember how much I love my sister-in-law.  I remember how very proud I am of the man my brother is and of the commitments he’s made.  At least on the inside, I smile and shake my head at the wonder of this life.  All of that from a tiny piece of gold!  I hope I never get over it.


Filed under Family

Bowed to the Ground

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  –C.S. Lewis

Last May 13th, I rode to the hospital in an ambulance with my grandfather, frightened by how frail he had looked as they loaded him in the back, and wondering if it might be his last day with us.  It turned out to be what we knew as the beginning of a long end, and he passed away last August 13th after three grueling months of fighting and then about 30 seconds of letting go.

Exactly two weeks after Papa’s death, a precious friend got married and left for her new home a few states away.  She is one of those friends who knows all of me and my story and still loves me, and trusts me to love all of her and her story, too.  We walked alongside each other in ministry that was usually not easy.  We prayed and rejoiced as God brought her a husband after His own heart, a new family, and a new ministry.

But then, both my grandfather and my friend were gone.  Through the whole summer, I had known the losses were coming.  I had shaken my head at how the joy and sorrow of life are mixed and inseparable as Papa moved toward Heaven and my friend moved toward her marriage.  I had wept with my family in the moments surrounding Papa’s death.  I danced and laughed and cried with my friends as we celebrated at the wedding.  But then, they were both gone.

What happens to walking alongside, being Sam, when the ones I was walking alongside go where I can’t follow?  Maybe not surprisingly, I found some answers from Sam himself.  Along the way to Mordor, Frodo appears to have been killed.  Sam comes upon Frodo’s body, and is undone.

“Don’t leave me here alone!  It’s your Sam calling.  Don’t go where I can’t follow…

“Then anger surged over him, and he ran about his master’s body in a rage, stabbing the air, and smiting the stones, and shouting challenges…

“And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.”

When I first went back to read that passage, I was undone.  It so echoes what happened in my heart last summer and in these last six months.  Fear and panic:  I don’t know how to live in a world with no Papa in it.  I’ve never not been a granddaughter.  I say Papa is in Heaven.  Is it really true?  Is Heaven real?  Is Jesus?  Did I miss my friend’s heart before she left?  Can we really still be knit together across states?  Will we just drift apart?  I can’t do this ministry alone.   Anger, too:  Why did You make Papa suffer so long?  I asked You, others asked You, to shorten his suffering and You wouldn’t!  And despair and emptiness, a dark numbness, that made the fall months in some ways a disorienting fog.  Actually, I didn’t even realize how thick the fog was until it began to lift in January.  I found myself like Sam again:

“When at last the blackness passed, Sam looked up and shadows were about him; but for how many minutes or hours the world had gone dragging on he could not tell.  He was still in the same place, and still his master lay beside him dead.  The mountains had not crumbled nor the earth fallen into ruin.

“’What shall I do, what shall I do?’ he said.  ‘Did I come all this way with him for nothing?’”

There was the question piercing through the fog.  Did I come all this way with (them) for nothing?  Does loving God and people really mean anything?  Is it worth the long ache of grief?  What shall I do?

Today I find myself still in the same place, vaguely aware that the world has gone dragging on, no mountains crumbled or earth fallen away.  Tears have come with these questions, and with the answers a gentle Lord whispers.  “Yes, it means everything.  Yes, I’m real.  Yes, it’s worth it.  Keep being Sam.”



Filed under Being Sam, Family

Missing Papa

My grandfather, David Cold

Six months ago this morning, my grandfather, whom I called Papa, took about five short, halting breaths, and then left his cancer-stricken body for Heaven.  The strong, kind, generous man was gone, and we stood around his body, stunned and spent from walking beside him as he fought right to the last breath.  A few minutes later, my step-father called us all outside, to see a beautiful full moon setting over the lake.  “Papa would have loved that,” we said, and then we laughed a little as we realized that Papa died about the time he would have been getting up for coffee.  He got up for much better than coffee that day.

I’ve been putting off this post for weeks, overwhelmed with too much to say and not enough words.  This week, I hope you’ll hang in here with me as I try to wrestle my love for Papa and grief at his passing into words that fit.  For today, this half-anniversary day, here are the thank you’s I read at Papa’s funeral.  For today they’re the only words I have.

Thank you, Papa…

  • for teaching me to bait my own hook.
  • for really believing I could be an astronaut.
  • for giving me a tool set for my birthday, and engraving my initials on each piece.
  • for helping me having a home that I love.
  • for taking me to RV driver’s ed, and teaching me the difference between the gray tank and the black tank.
  • for loving Nana.
  • for buying me bottles of Mr. Pibb when I came to visit at Cold’s Machinery.
  • for letting us hang onto you in the Gulf while you found sand dollars with your toes, and then letting us dive down to get them.
  • for the way you would just barely stick your tongue out when you were thinking…and how some of us picked that up without ever realizing it.
  • for delighting in me…for delighting in all of us.
  • for having lifelong friendships with the McGowans, the Fudges, the Howzes, and so many others.
  • for being there – at ball games, graduations, school openings, weddings, dance recitals, and promotions to Captain.
  • for dozens of breakfasts at the Breakfast Nook, Perkins, Richard’s, Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans, and Nancy’s…and for being kind of disappointed that IHOP was so far away on Dale Mabry.
  • for loving children, dogs, this country, and your in-laws, a combination not always seen.
  • for loving us first.  We loved you back, and we will keep on loving, just like you taught us.

Papa was a gift to my family.  I miss him terribly.


Filed under Family