Grief and Remembrance
Open Your Bible
Jeremiah 8:18, Psalm 42:1-11, Genesis 23:1-4, Genesis 23:19, Isaiah 25:8, Psalm 43:1-5, Isaiah 65:19-20
My very first memory is the day I became a sister. As soon as the birth of my baby brother was announced, I kicked open the maternity ward doors with my red Keds, singing, “I’m a Little Teapot” at the top of my lungs. He was the tiniest, sweetest, greatest thing to happen to my two-and-a-half-year-old life.
A few years later, I’d be clever enough to replace the words in another favorite nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” with my own name and reality, singing,
Mary Kaitlin had a little brother,
Had a little brother, had a little brother.
Mary Kaitlin had a little brother
Who lived in her house too.
I taught the song to my classmates, who’d sing it as I paraded through the elementary school carpool line, hand in hand with my little lamb. Some days I still wake up with this tune stuck in my head, rolling over to realize, yet again, the song’s taunting truth: I had a little brother—past tense. He’s gone now.
In the days following my brother’s death, the influx of sympathy cards, corn casseroles, news stories, pastoral visits, written obituaries, and floral arrangements all sang in unison, stuck on the same line: “Had a little brother, had a little brother, had a little brother.”
Death had stolen my song.
During the funeral, I stood in the first church pew, ready to lace up my red Keds, kick open the sanctuary doors, and go claim my little brother. I decided it wasn’t too late for it to all be a big mistake. I was waiting for Grief to admit it had chosen the wrong family, for Tragedy to apologize, and for Sorrow to pack its bags. It all made more sense that way, because my brother was the kind of guy who’d blush at all this attention and giggle at the amount of formality. Or was he? I was already forgetting.
My thoughts are my most unreliable grief companion, with the capacity to be my sweetest advocate or my biggest traitor. Like having a sore muscle, I become afraid to make the next move, knowing that walking through memories has the power to heal, but it also has the power to hurt.
Inside the front door of our childhood home, there’s a piano, the bench cushion worn equally on both sides. Together, my brother and I had written our own rendition of “Heart and Soul”—he on the bass clef, me on the treble. I sit in the same spot now, alone, recalling all of my notes perfectly, the duet only heard in my head. I remember all of his notes too. And I’m reminded that I am still Mary Kaitlin, but I no longer have a little brother who lives in my house too. I feel like the psalmist, pounded by the waves:
“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your billows have swept over me.
The Lord will send his faithful love by day;
his song will be with me in the night—
a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:7–8).
Death can steal our song, but it cannot stop us from singing. And while I hold onto the hope of heaven, I am relieved and comforted by remembering God’s faithfulness to me in all things, right now.
When I hear one of our old songs, sometimes I listen, and other times I don’t. But when I’m feeling brave, I begin to mouth the words of that childhood song about my little brother, and I’m reminded of the true root of my grief: love. And that’s something I’ll never forget.