Each time the doorbell bellowed it's rendition of "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here," another family member entered through the front door of my sister's home with joyful greetings and warm, embraces. Mother's 90th birthday celebration began with a constant flow of recalling memories triggered by each guest's arrival. After long absences, family gatherings are fun and exciting being brought back together as naturally as the pull of the magnetic field of a strong magnet. After adjusting to seeing the changes in the physical appearances of what use to be small children, maturing adolescents and adults whose faces reveal the passing of time, there is catching up on current events and reminiscing.
For weeks before the scheduled event, there is such sweet anticipation and excitement bringing memories of previous gatherings flooding my mind; the Memories of story telling, laughter and great food. Being of Pennsylvania Dutch/German heritage, I especially look forward to the consumption of great food which is always one of the main focuses of every family get together. The recipes from this region, along with each family's individual secret ingredients, have a savory sweet taste compared to the Midwest variety of buffet selections.
The time spent sharing personal moments individually with every guest, is like the pleasure of eating the frosting first then consuming the cake. The time arrives to gather the family into a group in the dining room, light the candles, and sing "Happy Birthday" to our Mother (grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin or friend.) There is a glow and the sweet sense of the bonded family uniting together, like random notes that blend beautifully and become the melodious happy birthday tune. As soon as the birthday candles are blown out, cheers and applause ensue and the cake is cut, distributed and devoured.
I was reminded of the childhood practice of receiving my cake and consuming the sweet frosting first. An analogy flashed through my mind. The everlasting value of the family bond is like the cake that satisfies long after the frosting is consumed. For it is the cake that offers the real nourishment, the combination of many different ingredients (i.e., personalities) mixing together that creates the lasting fulfillment and the purer sweetness of being a family.
The sweet memories will live on, but it occurs to me that without experiencing the taste of bitterness we cannot fully appreciate the pleasure of sweet. Life offers both; and this event has stimulated a somewhat bitter taste that will linger. There are those obvious reminders of the many "empty chairs" at family gatherings that bring momentary sadness. The heartache of losing loved ones is ever-present and needs to be acknowledged, shared, cherished, and then tucked away. Not forgotten, not denied, but temporarily put aside to allow the heart to heal for awhile. This is a process we must learn to master.
When those we love are no longer by our side the pain of loss will reoccur. It doesn't ever go away; we learn to manage it. As believers, our loved ones gone from this life are experiencing life anew in their eternal heavenly home. Think of them walking with God and receiving all His promises. But, for those of us left behind, there will always be an emptiness that is especially present at family gatherings. We will be aware of the proverbial "empty chair" and accept the realization that the bitter and the sweet will intersect at every turn in this life. It will teach us wisdom and give us strength to get through each day until we will be reunited on heaven's shores. What a day that will be!
by Jane Barrick