After the parents die
We can see the stories of the Bible in our time. The Samaritan, the prodigal son and the generous widow are as alive today as back then. So let me tell you about Laurie. We met her at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia, a beautiful small stone church. Each fall, church members escaped the city and went on a retreat to a wooded conference center in the quiet of the Shenandoah Valley.
The first evening, by the fireplace, we closed a brief time of worship by softly singing “Amazing Grace” to guitar accompaniment. I looked over and saw Laurie in a rocking chair holding her 6 year-old son, Matthew, and rocking back and forth in tears. She was in her mid 30s, a highly successful woman who worked for the American Psychiatric Association.
Laurie was a single mother. Her husband walked away not long before we met, and then within a few weeks both of Laurie’s parents died. Neither had been ill, so their deaths were unexpected and heartbreaking. At the death of her second parent, her father, Laurie returned again to the upstate New York town in which she grew up, and this time, following the service, went with her brother and sister to the family home to look through the family keepsakes.
When it comes to sharing treasures, there are a couple of ways in which it can be done. Siblings can argue and grab what they think they deserve. In other families, there is conversation about what each adult child would most like — the sofa, the dining room table, the family silverware.
But Laurie and her sister and brother chose something that came from the heart of Christ, for it was Jesus who said, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.”
As the three sat together on the living room floor leaning up against the chairs and the sofa, like when they were kids playing there on the carpet, they began sharing memories of their parents and about some of the things in the home that they cherished.
Quietly, her sister got up and went to their mother’s dresser and brought pieces of mother’s jewelry to Laurie. “I want you to have these,” she said. Then to her brother, Laurie said, “I remember you sitting in this chair by the table and lamp as you read in the evenings. I want them to be yours.” They each found things in the home that they thought would bring happiness to the other person.
And when hearing this story, I realized that I have never seen Jesus’ words of “loving others as you would like to be loved” more alive.