Every four years, Gabriel’s birthday (November 27th) falls on Thanksgiving. 2008 is one of those years. It is also our first Thanksgiving without him, thus our celebration will be small and simple. In years past I made a widely anticipated apple pie; it was Gabe’s birthday dessert of choice. Not this year. This year, we’ll have pecan pie, vegan chocolate pie, farina pudding with lingonberry red currant syrup and maybe pumpkin pie—other people’s favorites, all but one topped with freshly whipped cream.
In addition to the traditional expressions of gratitude, we’ll give special thanks for Gabe. For 23 years with him and for the blessed assurance of reunion, expressed here in our family headstone, which was set this week:
Not only am I thankful for the past and the future, I’ve found reason to be thankful in the painful present. For example, when Gabe died in California earlier this year, we quickly had to make arrangements for his burial 3000 miles away. Over the phone, I asked the NJ funeral director to find a cemetery somewhere at the Jersey Shore. Being from North Jersey, he said, “I’m only familiar with two cemeteries … in West Long Branch.” Because we had lived in neighboring Long Branch, I sensed God’s provision in this statement. We quickly decided that Gabe would be buried on “Cemetery Hill” at Glenwood Cemetery, where we had spent many a winter day sledding its gentle slope. It’s a place ripe with memories of both happiness and sorrow, death and life.
Only plots of four were available on the hill and only one headstone is allowed to mark each plot. Interesting thing this monument we chose. The bold assumptions it makes didn’t occur to me until after our names were chiseled out at great expense. It speaks with finality of death (the kitchen cabinet cross looks fleeting in comparison). It also assumes that Jeff and I will remain faithful to our marriage vows throughout our lives. This is no small statement in these times and in our particular circumstance. It assumes further that neither of us will remarry after the other one dies, or if the survivor does remarry, that the primary vow will be honored in death. The blank space at the right expresses a fragile faith that our second son will, long after we are gone, be laid to rest with a family of his own. (Such faith will be made firm when someone else’s name is safely etched there instead.) The epitaph communicates our one sustaining hope:
Jesus said… “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” John 11:25
It’s odd as a 40ish woman to know where my body will one day lie. It’s oddly reassuring to witness the granite reality that the end of sorrow is at hand. In the meantime, I’ll continue taking the advice of a wise friend, who counseled me to appreciate the beauty I see around me. There’s plenty of it.
On November 27, 2008, after our Thanksgiving turkey is safely in the oven, we’ll take time to give thanks at Gabe’s grave site. You’re welcome to join us. We’ll say a few words. Pray. Cry. Perhaps dig up a grandfather’s lovingly crafted cross. And then we’ll fold our gratitude and our grief into the story that ends with crowns being cast at the feet of Jesus. I pray you’ll be there for that celebration as well. Happy Thanksgiving, 2008~
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” (1 Peter 5:4, KJV)
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21: 1-6a, KJV)