A few weeks ago I was in Pittsburgh speaking about suffering and grace. I shared about the loss of our son, Mack, who died of a blood infection just short of his ninth birthday on New Year’s Eve 2012, and I shared about the grace of our faith that we will be reunited with him.
After the talk, a woman came up to me in tears. Her husband and her mother had both died in the past year. We talked at great length about our losses and learning how to live in this new, unexpected and undesired reality. Her husband’s birthday was coming up, but was also close to the anniversary of his death and she just could not see how to find any joy in life. I shared what Elizabeth and I had learned: you need to celebrate your love.
When someone you love dearly is gone, that gap will never be filled. We will never “get over it,” but we can learn to live with it. One way that we do that is by celebrating our loved one and the memories that we have. At the same time, we are building new memories with our friends and family and, in a very real way, with the one who is no longer with us.
It is an ancient tradition in Judaism to celebrate the anniversary of the passing of a loved one. On the “Jahrzeit” the mourner’s Kaddish is recited at the three times of prayer (evening, morning and afternoon — the day begins at sundown in the Jewish calendar) and often a 24-hour burning candle, the “Jahrzeit candle,” is lit in their memory.
The same is true in many Christian traditions as well, and you can often go into a church or cathedral and find candles lit in memory of loved ones (and often in honor of a saint). Those who do not practice any particular faith also find comfort in the act. The second Sunday each December Compassionate Friends organizes a worldwide candlelighting in memory of all children who have died.
We were taught the joy and value of remembering by the State College and Penn State community. As we drove back from Hershey Medical Center in the middle of the night, Elizabeth and I decided that we would set up a fund to support the Penn State men’s soccer goalkeepers. We wanted to give Mack’s friends a way to remember him for the things he loved most: his family, friends and playing soccer with his buddies.
The Penn State soccer teams then put on a (now annual) soccer clinic for children just two weeks after Mack died. We were not only overwhelmed by the support for the fund, but by the joy the children have at the clinic each year.
Then there is Mack’s Jahrzeit. Oddly enough, New Year’s Eve is now more of a celebration for us than it ever was before. Each year, a group of Mack’s friends join us to run the 5K Resolution Run in State College and then, tired and sweaty, get together for a party to celebrate, not just a new year, but a short life lived to its fullest. There are tears, but there is also joy and laughter and there is love. Celebrate the love.
The 4th annual Mack Brady Match will be held Tuesday, as Penn State men’s soccer opens its Big Ten season against Ohio State at Jeffrey Field.
Elizabeth and Christian Brady are members of the Penn State faculty and have two wonderful children. They are also members of Learning to Live: What’s Your Story? More of their writing can be found at MackBrady.com.
IF YOU GO
What: Mack Brady Match
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Jeffrey Field, University Park