To Malaika, love Susan
To Elijah, love Christopher
Susan died April 14, 2013 at the age of 51. Christopher died August 25, 2011 at the age of 10. Yet there were gifts from them under the tree this Christmas. And in the tree was a note from heaven that read:
“Merry Christmas from Heaven”
I love you all dearly,
Now don’t shed a tear,
I’m spending my Christmas
With Jesus this year
Does Malaika (age 3) understand that Susan, whom she has never met and will never meet this side of heaven, has given her a hand-me-down music player and a nice hat and socks that she never had the opportunity to use? Does Elijah understand the significance of the play mat with the roads on it, the mat that Christopher used to construct elaborate roads and tracks for his cars and trucks? Probably not. Yet the value of these gifts is priceless.
Those who have gone before us leave us so much, the physical things being the least important yet often the most valued as they are the only things we can concretely grasp. In Christopher’s home there are pictures of Christopher everywhere, there are cups with his name on them, there are gift bags from years past addressed to him; but most importantly, his presence is always evident in the hearts of his family. Stories of Christopher are recounted regularly, sometimes with laughter, sometimes with tears. This is a beautiful thing. He continues to live in the lives of those who loved him because his family is healthy enough and comfortable enough to keep him in the present while knowing fully that he is physically gone.
This year I really valued the gifts that I received from heaven. My cousin Susan suffered from a debilitating condition called Rett syndrome so what I knew of Susan was her smile and her dark eyes. My nephew Christopher spent 8 of his 10 years in West Africa so my time with him was intermittent and limited. Yet the loss of these 2 precious children of God has had an enormous impact on me.
At Susan’s funeral, I was impacted in ways that I still don’t fully comprehend. My struggle with “the ways of God” was bigger than I had initially thought. Why does God allow such suffering in a life? Yet listening to her sisters speak about her and listening to the deeply touching songs about being children of God affected me deeply. Susan’s life was significant! She didn’t achieve her way through life; she didn’t have that ability. But here is what was said:
I believe there are angels in heaven and I also believe God gives us gifts on earth. Susan was a very special gift from God given to our family. She taught us so much in her 51 years of life about love, endurance, patience, compassion… Her infectious smile will surely be a welcome addition to Heaven.
Early on, she helped me recognize the sanctity and uncertainty of life.
Susan opened our eyes to the sheer improbability of existence, the nobility of the human spirit and our own individual capacities to experience joy as well as sadness.
We will remember her as a very special person with an indomitable spirit, infectious smile and the clear, attentive gaze of a child- and we will miss her.
Sister 3 (about their mother, my aunt):
Watching my mom snuggle with Susan, care for her, comfort her and say good-bye to her, my understanding of a parent’s unwavering love evolved. It was so apparent that a mother’s love is forever, no matter what the circumstances.
When I see my children singing and dancing to the kids music player that came from Susan, I am reminded of the message that Susan’s life so strongly conveyed to me at her funeral: Come to God as a child and stop trying so hard! (Matthew 19:14) Susan’s life was an example of a life lived in simple innocence, before God; a life that had an improbable impact on so many. Receiving a gift to Malaika from Susan under the tree brought all of this back to me.
When I see my children playing with Christopher’s play mat I am reminded of the fragility of life and how suddenly everything can change. And I take a breath and give thanks for these 2 who consume so much of my energy yet offer back more joy than I could ever articulate!
Gifts from heaven are lasting.
Thank you Susan and Christopher for your beautiful lives and your beautiful gifts.