It’s the holiday season. Thanksgiving transitions to Christmas. Love begins to manifest in gift-giving as evidenced by my neighbors’ gifts upon my porch. I am grateful for my neighbors and, yes, I love them. Not for what they give, but because they’re part of my life. Life is much more meaningful when we’re in the day-to-day together.
Yet, returning from Thanksgiving, I had time to reflect on those I’ve known that I won’t be seeing or hearing from this year. Maybe it’s just that my social circles have expanded but 2018 has been such a year of loss.
Fallen leaves. Not all from my tree, but, nevertheless, connected like aspens. And, if not from the root system itself, from the heart. I could list each person by name, but their names may not be as meaningful to you as they are to me.
The first notification I received of the passing of someone in my sphere was Thomas S. Monson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Whether or not you are a member of this particular Church, if you are involved in family history and genealogy, I hope you would recognize the sacrifices made by a century+ of leaders and members to collect records worldwide so that we may enjoy the plethora of information today in pursuit of our family trees. I had the privilege to stop by the Conference Center on a break from the Family History Library to pay my respects. It was a solemn experience.
The next passing occurred 3 days later on January 5th. He was one of my genealogy students from over a decade ago but he and his wife stayed in touch with me. I had reconnected with them during the previous Fall when my son and I brought them some of our family’s signature cupcakes, made by my son of course. My former student invited us to dinner after the holidays to “talk genealogy.” It never happened. His health began to decline soon after. I saw him once more at the local temple. With his memory failing, I was happy that he remembered my name. He gave me a hug and his hearing aid squeaked. We all laughed. It was a noise out of place in this quiet and reverent space. His funeral was insightful. The stories were inspiring. This humble man went about doing good, but no one knew the extent of his kindness and generosity. Quiet acts recounted, gathered at his funeral. History. Personal history. Family history. Community history. History. I recently sat down with his widow and she shared even more stories. The sacred kind. The kind that lift, bless, and testify that there is a God and, like Mother Teresa said, that demonstrated that we can be a pencil in God’s hands.
It seemed that the pattern of departures continued and each week I would hear of another that transitioned to the after life. It was enough for me to consider not answering my phone or engaging with social media.
Spring, then Summer
There was a reprieve in the Spring and early summer. There was still loss, just not as personal. The concept of death once again was placed in the abstract. It happens, just not today. But I had a nagging feeling.
Shortly upon my return from a summer trip, I was contacted by a woman I had met earlier in the year. I planned to write a story about her father and their family that was to be published in October. It was such a delight to meet them and learn about this family’s passion for aviation. Her note informed me that her father had unexpectedly passed away and asked if I would be willing to forward the photos I took for possible use at his memorial service. Upon review of the folder’s contents, I recognized how often this man avoided the camera. And, I, not to be intrusive, photographed the process, not the people. I did film the entire take down of the balloon, approximately 9 minutes. It’s not the best footage, but it was his last take down in this life. I am grateful to have met him. I have a photo that was taken of all of us, 3 generations plus me, in which I was invited to be included and almost declined. I’m so glad I didn’t. When I look at this photo, it brings me joy!
Probably the most difficult passing was of a family member who struggled with an infection that went undiagnosed. Three specialists. No answers. No treatment. She was still in the process of addressing her condition when she was found unconscious. She never awoke from her coma. Ironically, or a life lesson wrapped in tragedy, she died on the very day that in previous months I noted to myself to contact her. It was the day my schedule would “open up” and I would have the time. My comfort is in learning the stories of her final weeks, the quality of her friendships, and the desires of her heart. But, I missed something, or rather, I missed someone.
Last year, about this time, I failed to hear from a distant cousin I met through my genealogical research and who lived on the ancestral farm. I noticed. I waited thinking life may have caused delays. I never heard. Christmas day passed. New Year’s day came. As I looked through our cards I realized once again that we didn’t hear from him. I decided to call. I’m glad I did.
I discovered during the course of our conversation that his wife’s health required greater assistance. The move was a major life change. As he continued, he reminisced about life on the farm and how much he loved it! I had the pleasure of listening (and taking a few notes for the family history). A few weeks later I received a call. I answered. I anticipated my cousin’s voice in reply but it was his widow. He had passed. On the farm. Just like he wanted. And, the family lost another great storyteller of the past.
As genealogists and family historians we are accustomed to seeking out our dead, yet let us not forget the living for time is finite. It seems it’s human nature to fail to reach out when life is too good, or too distracting, or more often, too challenging. When it’s challenging it is usually a matter of survival, or at least a matter of a more concentrated focus. Life happens to everyone, but this season I am reminded to be aware of those I do not hear from and those whom I do not see.
Last Monday night I had the opportunity to hear Paul Cardall perform at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center to welcome in the #LightTheWorld campaign. A heart transplant recipient, Paul shared his testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how he knows that all of us will be resurrected. For those who have lost loved ones, it can feel that any such promise cannot be fulfilled soon enough. This time of year can seem unbearable. #LightTheWorld is a reminder to reach out. Yes, let us not forget the living for time is finite for each of us.
© 2018. Lynn Broderick, a.k.a., the Single Leaf. All Rights Reserved