When the expected call came, it was still a shock: “Pete has just passed away,” my father-in-law told me. Pete, my husband’s brother, my children’s uncle, the father of their only cousins, dead of cancer at forty-two.
My husband was able to travel the 4000 miles across continents to comfort his parents and say his final farewells, but to the five of us left in South America it seemed unreal. This man whom we saw only for a few weeks every three years was in heaven. The Bible says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” (Psalm 116:15) but for us it is separation. How could we grieve? How could we assimilate the facts? How could we experience closure?
One night as I lay awake praying, the Lord gave me an idea to help us all grasp what had happened since we could not be at the visitation and funeral and some of my children are young and do not really understand death.
The day of the funeral in Iowa, I told my kids, ages five to thirteen, that we would be having a memorial service for Uncle Pete before our lunch and asked them to think of the things they remembered about him to tell the rest of us.
When they came to the lunch table they saw I had placed an unlit candle at each of their places and a lit one in the center. Their curiosity was aroused. I explained that the lit candle represented Uncle Pete. After each one told the things they remembered about him, they could light their candle from Uncle Pete’s.
Their memories were not many or deep — a backyard barbecue, splashing down a waterslide, helping with yard work, a Fourth of July picnic, going out for pizza. When everyone’s candle was lit, I blew out Pete’s candle and told the kids, ‘We don’t have Uncle Pete with us any more, but we still have our memories of him, just like our candles are still lit.”
We read a few verses and I explained that even though Pete is not here, he still lives in heaven. Jesus said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25) We sang a hymn about heaven and each of us prayed for one of the people who will miss him most: Pete’s widow and children, Grandma and Grandpa, Dad. Their eyes were moist when we finished. We concluded with another hymn of praise and trust and then I served lunch.
During the meal the kids watched their candles and talked about whose flame was the biggest and who, therefore, had the most memories of Uncle Pete.
Death is a part of life, but a part our culture tries to deny. As Christian parents I think it is important to help our children face the
pain rather than deny it, to say good-bye, and to begin to understand the hope of heaven. I pray my children started to learn these things from this simple ceremony and that, if death comes to your family, yours will benefit from it, too.
“Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)