By Kristeen A. Bruun
By the rivers of Babylon I sat and wept…
How could I sing the song of the Lord in a foreign land?
Paraphrase of Psalm 137:1, 4
A few days ago, I got a Christmas card back in the mail marked, “Return to Sender – Unable to Forward.” With a sense of foreboding, I called a mutual friend of my friend Rosemary. My foreboding played out into reality: sometime in November, Rosemary had died. My landscape was forever changed.
Rosemary had been part of the landscape of my life for over thirty years. We met in a Wisconsin congregation. Although she was older than I was, Rosemary looked to the future and supported innovation. She saw me through several struggles to update and create new methods of ministry. When I received a scholarship to graduate school and moved on to another phase of my life, Rosemary was one of the people who did not let go of our relationship.
We wrote letters several times a year. She told me what was going on with her family and heard about mine. She never forgot my birthday. For Christmas every year, Rosemary mailed me a tin of homemade cookies. Her cookies defined the Christmas season for me. It wasn’t until I read her obituary that I found out that she sent cookies to dozens of friends and family members.
Whenever I went to visit, Rosemary’s name was on my “must see” list. The last time we got together, I planned to take her to lunch. No way! She insisted on taking me to lunch at the restaurant where she had waitressed for 20 years, retiring at the age of 85.
About four years ago, Rosemary had a stroke. She struggled with the resulting physical challenges, although she also wrote, “I now have plenty of time to talk with Jesus.” The cookies were now beyond her capabilities, but I still got the birthday and Christmas cards with assurances that she thought of me and prayed for me every day.
She’s not the first of my loved ones to go on ahead. I have, of course, experienced numerous losses by now. When I ask myself why Rosemary’s passing alters my landscape so profoundly, I realize that it’s not only the gap left by Rosemary. I can, by now, recite a litany of loss, and sometimes I do, naming people who have died and people who have left me in other ways. Every time that I add a name to the list, I have to redo the map of my relationships, cross out a name in my address book, take a deep breath and move on.
When a friend dies, the landscape alters forever. By next year, when Advent and Christmas come around again, the map of my landscape will have shifted into place and I will no longer feel so shattered. I know that Rosemary now has “plenty of time to talk with Jesus.” Her cookies now appear on the heavenly banquet table. Furthermore, I am confident that she is saving me a place and I look forward to continuing our conversations when I join her there.