Two funerals and a wedding

It’s no wonder they died 10 weeks apart. They were married 76 years, with eight children and 22 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren as a visible sign of their life-giving love. When we gathered the second time to mourn our new loss, so soon after the first, it felt surreal. I sat in the same pew as before, nestled among my sister and dad and mom, singing heartily and listening intently and praying fervently. “I’m an orphan now,” my mom said. It’s the eventual end of us all, death, but still, how very perplexing.

Sandwiched between the two funerals of my beloved grandparents was the wedding of my dear roommate, Mara. I’d watched the months of excited preparation, I’d seen her try on her dress, I heard updates of countless details falling into place, seemingly miraculously. The joyful anticipation was a balm to my mourning heart.

Death and new life. The earthly end of a fruitful, storied marriage, and the promising beginning of another. The beauty of it all hangs heavy in my heart. I marvel at the intricate way God authors life, both mine and those of all around me. And what strikes me most profoundly is this: there is an immense power in openness to life.

It’s easy to see that powerful disposition in the way my grandparents lived their lives, and especially now that their legacy continues. As we sat through each funeral Mass, at the very church I frequented each Sunday growing up, I looked across to the dozen or more pews filled with Balkams. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and a new generation just barely beginning. From what I’ve pieced together from stories over the years, I know that the past holds plenty of pain, but plenty of joy and redemption, too. To watch the friendship among my mom and her seven siblings now is entirely edifying. Grandmom and Granddad, with all their faults and virtues, failings and triumphs, were open to life. And that deeply, deeply matters.

That same glow of this openness to life shined brightly at Mara and Michael’s wedding. Family and friends from near and far gathered excitedly and reverently to witness the joining of the happy couple. I’d never cried so much at the sight of a bride as I when watched Mara glide confidently down the aisle to her beloved groom. As they said their vows and the Mass proceeded, I was in awe of the way that Jesus was so clearly at the center of it all. And at the reception, this holy joy overflowed as we feasted and toasted and danced for hours. Mara and Michael showed such attentiveness to their guests, hardly stopping to eat as they visited tables and hugged friends and posed for picture after picture.

These two couples, from different generations, with radically different stories, have both opened my eyes more and more to the beauty of a love that is open to life. Whether through decades of marriage or a few years of dating, they’ve testified to the goodness of welcoming, of practicing hospitality, of celebrating God’s surprises, letting their love for each other grow and spill over, blessing all of us who surround them. Whether tearfully in a wooden pew, or late at night on the dance floor, their love has brought me life. And that love, from our Maker himself, is one that will always triumph over death.




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