The row in front of us was empty at church last Sunday. We attend a small church, where news travels fast, so we knew exactly who was missing and why they were missing.
At our church, most people have their own spots. This seating chart is unwritten, of course, but well-known and followed. Our spot is behind a family. The mom and dad, in their fifties, along with their daughter, who is our boys’ Sunday School teacher, sit in front of us. Their son used to sit in that row too, before he went away to college. Their other daughter used to sit with them, before she got married two summers ago; our boys were the ring bearers at that wedding. And her parents used to sit there too, before they finished their days on this earth.
But they weren’t in church last Sunday. The marriage which started two summers ago had resulted in the birth of a granddaughter – the first grandchild in the family. That happened just before midnight on Saturday, and the family was awake into the wee hours of Sunday morning. The birth announcement was made from the pulpit, though by that time everyone knew.
She had been ready for grandchildren for a while. She was glad when it was her turn for nursery duty. The church nursery for the last several years has involved our children, and she would let us know after church how much she enjoyed watching or holding our child and how good that child was. She was an elementary school teacher, and kids were a joy to her. Even the troublesome ones received kind words from her. It would have been nice to congratulate them on the birth of their grandchild. “No matter,” we thought that Sunday morning, “we will see them next week and ask about the baby then.”
Later on Sunday, she said she didn’t feel good, and complaints were one thing you did not hear from her. She went back, as a patient this time, to the same hospital in which her daughter was recovering and her granddaughter was sleeping. She got to be a grandmother for about twenty-five hours.
Tonight was the visitation; the funeral is tomorrow. I have been to funerals before, but this is different from any of those. All the others were at least expected – advanced age, prolonged illness, etc. This came out of nowhere and was over before most people even knew it happened.
I was glad the casket was closed during the visitation. I am not a fan of open caskets. I would rather have my memory of a person be that person’s doing something other than lying in a casket. In this case, my mind pictures the photograph that was displayed at the funeral home – she is sitting next to her husband and holding her grandchild.
God has spared me from major sorrow in my life so far, and for that I am grateful. It will be rough for me to see them in church again – just the dad and the daughter now. The spot where she always sat will be right in front of me. It might be empty on Sunday, or maybe someone else will sit there. But it won’t be right.
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,