The calendar is an amazing thing. From antiquity, when time was measured by the cycles of the moon, until the present, when years are measured to the fraction of a second, humans have wanted a system that allows them to organize time, plan for the future, and remember the past.
I spent some time this morning working on calendar dates several months in advance, but also remembering years in the past: my calendar tells me that today is the 20th anniversary of my daughter Bethany’s death.
Twenty years. It’s amazing how sharp memories can be, even after two decades — and how full the heart can be in reflecting on all the things we’ve missed over these years. Bethany would have turned 28 on March 9 — you can imagine how many significant events typically occur during those years. To this day, when attending weddings, I can’t stay in the same room when the bride and her father have the first dance.
But there’s more to memory and imagination than being maudlin. A lot of joy was packed into the almost eight years of Bethany’s life on earth, and though her death changed other lives forever, life has continued and brought other unexpected joys with it.
My son Samuel was born two years after Bethany’s death, and brings joy of his own. He knows Bethany only from stories and pictures, and yet he remembers, too. For a project in Latin class this year, he used clay to create a memorial inscription for his sister “Bethaniae.” He patterned it after those of early Christians in the Roman empire, which typically expressed the hope of a reunion in Jesus. His teacher liked it so much that she kept it, but not before I took a picture, knowing I’d want to use it today.
I continue to be amazed at others who remember this day, and who send kind words year after year. For a time after Bethany’s death, I became fixated on heaven, realizing that if my religious tradition didn’t already include some sort of life beyond death, I would have created one on my own. I couldn’t bear the thought that Bethany’s light had gone out of the universe.
I have no idea if the New Testament’s metaphorical images of heaven are anything like what we can really expect after death, but I know this: every memory of Bethany and every person who remembers is testimony to a life and a light that will not be extinguished.
[For more memories and lessons learned, see this post from Bethany’s mom.]
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.