Advent, My Brother, and Advent Calendars

Dec 14, 2020

If Don had to die
I’m glad it was in Advent
When Grief and Hope Dance

My brother died a week ago. Don was my big brother by six years. His death was a surprise but not a shock. He had escaped death on multiple occasions with heart issues. Every time a family member’s name showed up on my phone, I held my breath. And then a sigh of relief followed when the conversation was about other things. But this time the phone call brought the unwanted news. Don was in a wheelchair at the hospital waiting to be picked up to go home after a one-day stay. The nurses found him unresponsive. The next couple of hours held little chance of recovery. The gift of those hours was the gathering of eight family members in the hospital room and a relative who was a priest. It is rare that families get to assemble in the hospital during CoVid, but they did. With prayers and anointing, they released Don into God’s hands and comforted each other. With a phone placed next to my mouth and Don’s ear, I spoke love and goodbyes to him. I am both sorrowful and grateful. We were siblings but we also had a hard-won, easy friendship. We have no unfinished business.

Two friends and I started writing daily haiku a few weeks ago. Haiku are the tiny, 17-syllable poems, like the one at the top of the blog. They are a wonderful way to corral thoughts, memories, and emotions and to investigate the world. I have written six or seven about my brother—some serious, some silly. Haiku-writing, daily reading of Advent meditations, and the Advent calendar drawing keep me grounded in the paradoxes of the season. Grief and hope really do dance arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand. Scripture readings about sorrow, longing, and despair are juxtaposed with ones about hope, expectation, and promise. Psalm 30: 10-11 (NIV) is just one example: 10 Hear, LORD, and be merciful to me; LORD, be my help. 11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. 

I have two Advent calendars this year, one with the names of people, the other with words from #AdventWord. When I enter my calendar worlds, I burrow into prayer and stillness. The people-calendar reminds me of my place in a large and loving, if scattered, community. I am one of many pieces in this colorful patchwork of friends, family, and even strangers. The words on the #AdventWord calendar remind me of who I want to be and the vision I have of a God-infused world. I love the ebb and flow between words and silence I experience when I doodle/pray on the calendars.

The time between the first phone call and the call confirming Don’s death is vivid in my mind. I walked outside and sat on the hood of the car in our jungle-y property. It was winter-dark and quiet. I wanted to walk, so I edged through the vines and ferns to the road. The neighborhood has no street lights. As I turned the dark corner not more than fifty feet from where I had been sitting, I was met with an exaltation of light and color. Almost every house on the street had Christmas lights—two blocks of them. I tend to be pretty cranky about Christmas lights before December 20, but not that night. The shimmer and glitz and glare were like a proclamation, an announcement—“Glory to God in the highest and Peace to God’s people on earth.” I was not alone on the flip-flop journey of gratitude and grief. Millions of other people were on it, too. This was unexpected, this gift of light on the night I became the last person alive in my family-of-origin. I was alone, but not alone, and smiling.