Last Tuesday, August 16th, my youngest brother, Ken, would have been 62 years old if he was still living… Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Ken died on February 29th, 2020 in a hospital in Peoria, Il. It was the week before the real Covid lockdown started and so Doug and I, the only remaining members of our nuclear family growing up, were there to be with him at the end.
It was a difficult decision to make – to discontinue treatment and not forestall the inevitable. Doug and I also thought it was a kinder way for Ken to end his earthly existence and enter God’s presence in heaven.
When I think of our years growing up, I remember the Easters, Thanksgivings and especially the Christmases with extended family. They were magical times. Now, less than 22 years into the 21st century, things have changed. All four of our grandparents, both parents, several cousins and now our youngest brother have all passed away. The world has changed… My perspective on aging has changed… our grandchildren are growing up so my role as a grandfather is constantly changing… and as Janet and I celebrate our 49th anniversary on the 24th, our commitment to love, loyalty and steadfastness are stronger than ever. To say nothing of being semi-retired and the changes that has brought to our lives.
So many things have changed that I never really thought of as a younger person. I guess I envisioned a world without my grandparents but it was difficult to imagine a life without parents. It was unthinkable to process the loss of a sibling, much less our youngest brother.
Of course, each year I recall the birthdays of those family members who are no longer with us. As the years progress, the memories stay sharp but the pain of loss isn’t as great as it was in the beginning. However, as the passing of each generation occurs, it becomes much clearer that eventually death will touch my generation – and somehow that makes it much more real. Now that has happened. In fact, it happened two years ago and this is the third birthday without me calling Ken to wish him a Happy Birthday.
However, for some reason, this year affected me more deeply than his birthdays the past two years. At first I wondered why, but I think that it is because about a month ago, Doug and I finally got together and spread Ken’s ashes. We had a simple, private time – just the two of us. I said a prayer, we recalled some of our family times in the past and there was an emptiness that was palpable – that Doug and I are the only ones left. We also stopped by to visit the graves of our parents and other family members who are buried in the same cemetery. That made the entire occasion more real to both of us. The finality of spreading Ken’s earthly remains drove the point home even more vividly.
There is something about visiting a family plot in a cemetery that really grounds me. I have noticed that since I was a young boy visiting the graves of relatives, including a great grandmother and a great aunt. In another family cemetery on Chicago’s south side, I used to sit and think about what life was like for two or three generations ahead of where I was in life. – there are 18 family plots in that place.
Thankfully, most of these relatives were God centered people who claimed Jesus as Lord and Savior. So while their earthly lives are over, they are living their eternal lives with God in heaven. I get great solace from that – but their birthdays still pass through my mind each year – as well as their dates of death. The years stack up, don’t they?
Biblically, birthdays stop when someone passes away. To the best of my knowledge there are no references to heavenly birthdays in the Scripture. Celebrating a deceased person’s birthday is a way for us to feel close to the person and to remember the gift that we had of their life when they were alive here on earth. We celebrate the day that God gave them life. So we stop aging when we physically die.
Our verse for tonight is from the psalms. The psalmist tells us the good news of eternal life, where time doesn’t have any real meaning. After all, eternity is forever – without an end… Psalm 16:11, reminds us of the joy of being in the presence of God. We are told, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
My encouragement tonight is to continue to celebrate the birthdays of dearly departed loved ones while recognizing that aging stops when physical life ceases. My prayer is that we will annually remember those people who have impacted our lives and the blessings that we have enjoyed during their time here on earth. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…