I used to think joy was a synonym fo happiness. Oh, I would have used it for extreme happiness, not just everyday cheerfulness. But it would be lined up somewhere in degrees of happiness. But joy is far more than happiness. Experience in God’s kingdom teaches us this more than His Word, though it is confirmed there.
In December of 1997 my 93-year-old mother lay dying in the hospital. I might have been guilty in prior years of thinking that the passing of someone over 90 would not bring forth strong grief as, after all, she/he would have lived a good long life. I was totally wrong.
All ten of Mamma’s children and nine chosen ones, as well as 33 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren expressed ourselves differently, but each was heart-broken at the thought of losing Mamma, Momsey, Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, “Miss Eula,” or whoever she might be to us. We couldn’t imagine ever finding full happiness again without this dear lady whose cozy bedroom had become a sanctuary for all of us. There we knew we’d find loving support, challenge to keep our chin up, boosts to our faith, spurs to fulfilling our dreams, or simply a refreshing catching of the breath. It was the place where we could lean over a game of Scrabble and lose our other concerns in whether or not we could brilliantly use our “Q”, or use it at all for that matter!
It seemed natural to sing around Mamma’s hospital bed. Gradually she slipped too far away for us to communicate in any other way. She’d always enjoyed her children being around her and so we sang, some of the boys strumming guitars. Those who had other obligations during the day would join us each night to sing even though for days there had been no response from the still figure in the bed. We sang all her favorite hymns, and, with Christmas approaching, felt compelled to sing carols too. It was apparent that Mamma wouldn’t be with us at the big Christmas tree this year. In fact, some of her last words had been that she wouldn’t be sitting in her big blue chair. “But,” she’d whispered, “I’ll see you.”
It was a struggle, even a battle, for me to sing Joy To The World beside Momsey’s silent form and to the accompaniment of her struggled breathing. But I was determined, we all were, to do it for Momsey. When one of us dropped out of the singing, others took up the slack. Nurses, who had ignored hospital rules to let us overcrowd Momsey’s room, told us with moist eyes how much our faith and–yes, joy–meant to them as we sang Momsey to heaven, her flight to perfect peace occurring in the wee hours of December 12, 1997.
For over a year I could not sing any of the Christmas carols without needing one of Momsey’s handkerchiefs. But I knew how much Momsey loved Jesus and loved Christmas, how she loved seeing the little ones sitting around the tree singing Away in a Manger. I knew how she’d always beamed as her youngest sons Stan and Charlie took turns emceeing, throwing in a line about how Santa had been delayed by a heavy snow but maybe he could still come. I knew how she enjoyed the incredible awe in the children’s faces when a real live Santa Claus actually came in our big front door, a pack on his back. It would have been a tremendous sorrow to her if she knew she’d laid a shadow forever over our Christmas spirit. So I kept singing. We all did.
And the joy of the Lord came to us even in the midst of grief. In the valley of the shadow He was always there.
Now years later I can sing more joyfully than ever. For there are even more memories–memories of Mamma’s sweet concern for us to the very last, of her dreams for each little great-grandchild, of her love of life. I remember vividly my husband’s tenderness throughout that dreadful-sweet time and my children’s thoughtfulness. William pulled on his dad’s boots and went out in a cold dawn to help his cousins dig Mamma’s grave in our family cemetery. They all wanted her place of rest to be personally and perfectly right. Julie reminded me: “Grandmother’s happy now and not hurting anymore. She’s singing with the angels. And you’re just going to have to learn how to make those good green beans she always cooked.”
So, yes, joy does spring up in the midst of sorrow. I know that is true.