The last week of any year is always given over to “Best and Worst” lists of the past year. This year there is a much greater awareness than usual that part of reflection involves grief and sorrow. Many are distraught with the results of the US election or the Brexit vote. Others grieve the fact that so many exceptional and truly unique artists have died this year. All of that belies the fact that suffering is always with us and around us. I can promise you that when we come to December 31, 2017 more celebrities that most of us have never met (but who have nevertheless touched us) will have died, politicians will have made decisions that we disagree with vehemently, and, for many of us, a loved one will no longer be present in this world.
Ever since Mack died on 12/31/2012, New Year’s Eve for us is forever tied to our own, personal loss and grief. Elizabeth and I have written extensively about our own journeys and struggles along the way. We are quite different people and so while we share our faith, we have different perspectives and approaches. I have found Elizabeth’s writing always insightful and encouraging, often to the heart of the matter and always directly to the heart of each of us. I confess that my writing tends to be more theological as I seek to articulate how my faith survives such tragedy and informs and encourages me on this painful journey.
[pullquote]1 Cor. 15:53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.[/pullquote] I don’t know that I have anything new to write for this year’s anniversary, for Mack’s Jahrzeit. What more can be said? We miss him so deeply. We grieve not the life he lived, it was full – of energy, life, joy, fun, love – and fulfilling. We grieve what we were unable to have, all the games not played, goals not stopped, and times to just be together, the time to watch him grow and become ever more his own person. What more can I say than I have already said?
But I keep talking and writing because in so doing we remember and celebrate his life. Thank you for reading because in so doing you are walking with us and we feel your presence and rejoice to know that so many remember Mack with us.
I will close with an essay I shared back in September 2016. When I wrote and posted that piece I had no idea that we would be in Nashville for this year’s New Year’s Eve so we will not be doing our usual “Resolution 5K” and subsequent party with our friends, but we know that they remember and celebrated the love with us. Thank you all.
The following is an essay I wrote for the local paper that appeared in last Sunday’s edition (September 8, 2016). Tuesday was the 4th Annual Mack Brady Memorial Match. Penn State beat Ohio State 4-2.
Learning to Live: Celebrate Your Love
A few weeks ago I was in Pittsburgh speaking about suffering and grace. I shared about the loss of our son Mack, who died of a blood infection just short of his 9th birthday on New Year’s Eve 2012, and I shared about the grace of our faith that we will be reunited with him. After the talk a woman came up to me in tears, her husband and her mother had both died in the last year. We talked at great length about our losses and learning how to live in this new, unexpected and undesired reality. Her husband’s birthday was coming up but was also close to the anniversary of his death and she just could not see how to find any joy in life. I shared what Elizabeth and I had learned: you need to celebrate your love.
When someone you love dearly is gone that gap will never be filled. We will never “get over it,” but we can learn to live with it. One way that we do that is by celebrating our loved one and the memories that we have. At the same time, we are building new memories with our friends and family and, in a very real way, with the one who is no longer with us.
It is an ancient tradition in Judaism to celebrate the anniversary of the passing of a loved one. On the “Jahrzeit” the mourner’s Kaddish is recited at the three times of prayer (evening, morning, and afternoon – the day begins at sundown in the Jewish calendar) and often a 24-hour burning candle, the “Jahrzeit candle,” is lit in their memory. The same is true in many Christian traditions as well and you can often go into a church or cathedral and find candles lit in memory of loved ones (and often in honor of a saint). Those who do not practice any particular faith also find comfort in the act. The second Sunday each December Compassionate Friends organizes a world-wide candle lighting in memory of all children who have died.
We were taught the joy and value of remembering by the State College and Penn State community. As we drove back from Hershey Medical Center in the middle of the night, Elizabeth and I decided that we would set up a fund to support the Penn State Men’s Soccer goalkeepers. We wanted to give Mack’s friends a way to remember him for the things he loved most: his family, friends, and playing soccer with his buddies. The Penn State soccer teams then put on a (now annual) soccer clinic for children just two weeks after Mack died. We were not only overwhelmed by the support for the fund, but by the joy the children have at the clinic each year.
Then there is Mack’s Jahrzeit. Oddly enough New Year’s Eve is now more of a celebration for us than it ever was before. Each year a group of Mack’s friends join us to run the “5k Resolution Run” in State College and then, tired and sweaty, get together for a party to celebrate, not just a new year, but a short life lived to its fullest. There are tears, but there is also joy and laughter and there is love. Celebrate the love.