Grief and Going Back to my Roots

The two things in today’s title wouldn’t seem to be related, but they have been linked in my mind since I received the news last Wednesday night no one wants to receive. My heart aches as I write these words, but I need to get them out. I need to tell this story.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have much in the way of roots. Yes, we would go and visit my grandparents every year. I guess, in a way, those could be called roots. But my family didn’t live in one house very long. We were nomads. There was always a better job that came along or a better opportunity in the computer world, and we moved to where it was. I’ve even coined a term for it. I was a “computer brat” during my childhood. Looking back on it now, I appreciate the opportunity to have seen different places, but I still wish I had roots. It’s confusing, I know.

The closest I came to having roots as a child was the time I spent in South Carolina. Because of that time, I decided to go back there for my college years which turned into staying there for my young single and young married days. I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking this, but there was a point when I told myself that my roots were in South Carolina. Relationships that I treasured. People who I considered to be family. In fact, I tell people today I am from South Carolina though I wasn’t born there. That’s how deep the roots go.

Today, grief connects with my roots in a poignant way. Last week, I received word that my college dad had passed away. In shock, I sat on my bed with tears pouring down my face. I know death is a part of life, and I know we, who are believers, are supposed to look forward to our eternal home with Jesus. But, part of me thought my college parents would be there forever. I guess it’s just the way we think about the people who are closest to us.

As my husband and I waited over the next day to hear when the funeral would be, he told me I needed to go. Knowing that I had been there in person to honor and remember this special person would help my grief in the days and weeks to come. I agreed with him, and that’s when the pieces started falling into place. I had the offer of a place to stay, and my husband rented a car for me since he would need mine to move our son back to college. God had a point and a purpose for me going which I would soon realize.

I headed out Friday morning on the 300+ mile drive. I was sad and still a little overwhelmed as I drove east, but then I started playing Christian music, and God and I started talking. There were no distractions and no people saying I should grieve a certain way. Just me and my Lord and Savior. I cried during that drive, and I laughed and sang at the top of my lungs as I remembered thirty-three years of friendship. I was going back to my roots as I was about to start the next phase of my life, and I knew I needed to think and pray during this alone time with God. I arrived safely that night and spent time catching up with my girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in seven years.

The next day was the service. Before my friend and I went to the church, we took a tour of places from my childhood and saw the church where I was married twenty-four years ago. It was good to see places that were part of my roots and get to take pictures of them. I felt like I had gone back in time.

Then, we went back to her place and got ready for the service. We went to the church early so I could see and talk with my college mom and other members of the family. It was so good to see everyone, share memories, and love on each other. It had been seven years since I had seen most of them. I also saw people who I hadn’t seen in twenty-seven years. It was cool to see them look at me, see the light of recognition dawn in their eyes, and remember who I was. I saw I was remembered, and that touched my heart so much.

It was a good service too. I laughed as much as I cried. His sons, nephews, and others sang; we sang; and they told stories. It represented him perfectly–his love for music, family and friends, and his Lord and Savior. So many memories–singing in Christmas and Easter productions when I was in college (He was the part-time music director of our church), Sunday lunches and dinners with the family, Sunday evening services at the lake in the summer, birthday parties, weddings. The life of a family, and I was part of it. His life was a life well-lived for our Lord and Savior.

I came back home yesterday because–life does go on. My heart was heavy with grief, but it was full of reassurance too. David shared my faith, and I know I will see him again. I know where he is now. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him, but he will also live on in all of us. We will grieve, but many people will not understand after the first couple of weeks. In those moments, I hope we will all remember Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”

I want to finish with this quote by C.S. Lewis. “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.” This is how I feel about everyone in my second family. I am different for having known David and for knowing all of them.

Thank you for letting me share about a wonderful man as I took a journey back to my roots.

God bless you!

In Memory of David Anthony Mitchell, Sr.

My Neighborhood

I can tell you right now that I have failed with all the author of 100 Days to Brave put in her devotion today. I have not loved my neighbor as Jesus says to in Mark 12:31. “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” This devotion talks about how we can take this verse to mean more people than just the people in our immediate neighborhood, and I do think I do a better job with that one, but, in my immediate neighborhood, no.

Why? I am not trying to make excuses, but let me explain the particulars of my living situation. Ever since we decided to homeschool and get by with just one income, we’ve lived in places that would be considered non-permanent–apartments, town homes and rental homes. And we’ve lived an itinerant lifestyle–going from place to place for the jobs. Being a naturally private person and not being sure how long I would be in a place has made me hesitant to make attachments in our neighborhoods.

Now, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been pleasant when we’ve crossed someone’s path. It doesn’t mean we haven’t taken care of the places where we’ve lived. (Yes, renters are judged because it is assumed they won’t stay long enough to care about their neighborhoods.) I’ve had conversations with my neighbors about the weather, about their pets, and about how nice it is we have a pool for the hot summers here. Topics that are more surface topics than anything else.

But, I haven’t let very many of them in. And I think I’ve finally figured out why. It’s because of my “moving from place to place” lifestyle. It’s what I experienced as a child, and it’s what I’ve had to deal with as an adult. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate all the places I’ve seen. I appreciate the opportunities my husband has had to have good jobs in different places. The opportunity to see so many different places in this vast country of mine. Having roots has almost become a lost ideal for the generation coming up behind me. With relocation being relatively easy nowadays, it makes sense to follow the jobs, right? It makes sense to live in a town other than the one you grew up in (if you grew up in just one town), right?

But, why do I still long for roots? How do I get to know my neighbors and plant roots when it is  likely I won’t be in one place for a long time? Is buying a home the only way to put roots down in a neighborhood? Some people would say it is and would stare at you in judgment if you didn’t.

Society has changed though, and I think we, as Christians, me especially, have to do a better job of being present in our neighborhoods even if our neighborhood is an apartment complex. Like the author says, “You can be brave enough to see those people around you, rather than just passing by. You can be brave enough to serve them and love them, and God will use you, friend. You will be living out your mission as a light in this dark world.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

I can and should be brave enough to get to know my neighbors even if they only live near me for six months or a year. I can be brave enough to be God’s light and share my reason and my hope with my neighbors even if I only know them for a short time. Who knows? By being God’s light here, I might end up spending eternity with them, and isn’t that what really matters?

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!