Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15:54b-55
Beware the Ides of April
Though Ides looks plural, it is, in fact, singular and means the middle of a given month. According to the ancient Roman calendar, the Ides fell on the 15th of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th of the other months.
I’m not superstitious, and I realize I’m taking liberties with one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s often-quoted lines. Still, I’ve become wary of the middle of April, those days between the 10th and 20th, because they are dotted with significant anniversaries of loss, both personal and national:
- Waco Massacre – April 19, 1993
- Oklahoma City Bombing – April 19, 1995
- Ray, my dearly-loved husband, passed away from a heart attack on April 19, 1997, at the age of 39.
- Columbine – April 20, 1999
- VA Tech Shooting – April 16, 2007
- Marcia, a dear sister-in-law, died on April 12, 2014, after a fall at her farm.
- Mom was diagnosed with pneumonia on April 17, 2019, and spent the next 24 days in the hospital. There were several times we thought we’d lose her.
- Mom fell and broke her hip on April 20, 2021, Dad’s 90th birthday. She went Home ten days later.
A Melancholy Month
When the calendar page turns to the fourth month, a thin layer of melancholy settles over my soul, much like pine pollen coats the Georgia landscape. I’ll admit I had to look up the specific dates of the national tragedies, though I knew they all occurred in April. Not so with the personal losses. Those dates and their attendant memories are etched into my mind.
Ray’s death forever divided my life into two pieces, before and after. Each year I intentionally revisit our last days together, when I had no idea how few there were, and the first days without him, when I wondered how I’d ever go on.
This year, I’m doing the same with memories of Mom. Last April, medical appointments filled the calendar as I desperately sought help for Mom, whose health was precarious and becoming more so each day. Yet I didn’t realize I had less than a month left in this life with the one who had been my chief cheerleader and devoted prayer warrior my whole life. Unlike Ray’s final days, which were filled with typical family and work activities, Mom’s were plagued with pain and confusion, making the memories even more heartbreaking.
Purposely observing the passing of Ray and Mom, my two most ardent supporters, touches tender scars and re-opens the wounds. But it is a price I’m willing to pay as I honor the memory of these dear ones, gratefully recalling the love and blessings they poured into my life.
Despite the undercurrent of loss that runs through April reminiscences, my mood seldom remains somber for long. The beauty of springtime bursting forth all around me won’t allow it to.
I revel daily in the signs of new life, as leaves emerge on formerly bare branches, flowering shrubs look resplendent in their colorful array of blossoms, and perennials push their way out of the soil for another season of growth. And I delight in the increased activity around my bird feeders as my feathered friends form couples and begin raising their young.
Everywhere I look, I see reminders of resurrection hope.
Just as I intentionally think back about Ray’s (and now Mom’s) final days, each year as Easter approaches, I ponder Jesus’ last week. On Palm Sunday, we remember His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but over the next five days, the chants of adoration would be replaced by those of, “Crucify Him!” (John 12:12-13; John 19:15)
In His final week, our beloved Savior, the Spotless Lamb of God, would wash His disciples’ feet, be betrayed with a kiss, abandoned by His closest friends, arrested, beaten, mocked, and crucified. Writing those words, contemplating all it cost Him to save me, brings tears to my eyes as quickly as thoughts of losing Ray and Mom – tears of sorrow for my sins and all He endured on my behalf.
Grieving with Hope
But death doesn’t get the final say. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees He’ll have the last word.
Though it is right to mourn our sins with sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10), we can rejoice knowing His atoning sacrifice removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). They no longer define us because our identity is hidden in Christ, and we are robed in His righteousness.
Furthermore, Jesus’ victory over death enables us to grieve the passing of our loved ones with the hope of knowing the separation, though painful, is only temporary (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Jesus’ journey through the streets of Jerusalem, heralded by hosannas and palm branches, is but a shadow of His promised return. On that day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. The dwelling place of God will be with His people, and He will wipe away every tear. Death, mourning, and pain will be no more, for the former things will have passed away (Revelation 21:3-4).
Thank You, Lord, for the hope we have in You. Because You took our punishment upon Yourself and then rose in victory over death, we have the assurance our sins are pardoned, and we too will be resurrected to eternal life in Your presence. May we be ever mindful of this truth to comfort our hearts while we tarry in this world where the effects of sin and brokenness remain.