After the wedding, I trekked to South Bend, Indiana by way of Chicago to be with my family. Emotions ran high the whole time we were all together, so that was stressful.
It may sound cliche but you never can quite understand what its like to lose a family member to suicide unless you've experienced it. For the most part, I'm proud of my family. We're not all that close in general, but we came together and were there for one another when it mattered most. Even though I'm not that close to my family, the love I have for them is strong. There's something about our shared experiences of one another (in addition to our shared genetics) that we just kind of "get" each other. I wasn't close to my Aunt Kelly, in fact I cannot recall the last time we spoke. It may very well have been ten years. But God put us in this family together for some reason. And I loved her.
I was asked to be the closing speaker at Aunt Kelly's Memorial. To my knowledge, she didn't practice any religion, although she was baptized as a baby. My family asked me because there would be no minister and they wanted to hear something from scripture. Death is one of those things that forces people to think about God. Here's what I said:
For those of you who don't know me, I'm Brittany, Aunt Kelly's youngest niece. As the youngest niece, I feel like I have a special connection to Aunt Kelly- we are both the baby girls of our family. This is why anyone will tell you that we were both my late grandfather's favorites. It could also mean that we are my grandmother's least favorites because we think the rules don't apply to us.
Every position in a family has with it a set of responsibilities toward the whole. For us as the babies, we are here to remind our older siblings and cousins not to take life too seriously. We are here to keep some of that child-like joy; to be a breath of fresh air when things are too serious or difficult.
Ultimately we're all here- babies, oldest, and even the forgotten ones in the middle- for a reason. When God made us, when He formed Adam and Eve and when He knit each of us in our mother's womb at our conception, He made us for a purpose. That purpose of course is to love Him and to be in a relationship with Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Throughout the course of human history and hundreds of thousands of times in my life and yours, we have broken that once perfect relationship by sin- those times when we turn away from God and rely only on ourselves. When we sin against a perfectly loving and infinite God, there is nothing we can do to rebuild that relationship. Thank God that isn't the end of the story.
The gap of sin is too wide for us to bridge on our own, so God stepped down out of Heaven to bridge it for us. He took on human flesh and became a vulnerable baby to heal that broken relationship, all so that we could spend eternity in everlasting paradise with Him. He bore the weight of those sins when He hung on the cross. But this love cannot be one sided. The very definition of love requires reciprocation. Jesus, through the cross, shows us that suffering isn't something to fear, instead it is the path to our salvation.
Jesus invites us to cast our burdens on Him. He invites us to embrace the crosses in our own lives. He doesn't promise that our lives will always be perfect or rosy or happy, but He does promise that, if we allow it, He will walk with us, even carry us when necessary.
I know that Aunt Kelly suffered. She was the life of the party, but deep down she fought her battles. None of us may ever really know how hard she fought. I think the hardest thing about her death for my family are the "what ifs." What if I could have done something more to show her how loved she was? What if I would have been there? The "what ifs" can eat us up or they can inspire us to tell our family how much we love them, show them how much they mean to us. That is what Aunt Kelly would have wanted.
For me, the hardest thing to fathom is how lonely the decision must have felt. I cannot begin to understand the way she came to make that decision, but now matter how lonely she felt, I can say with 100% confidence that she was never truly alone. God doesn't make mistakes, and He doesn't leave His children, especially not His baby girl, my Aunt Kelly.
As I've been praying this week, I keep coming back to this verse from the Gospel of Saint Matthew. I hope that in those last moments, she could have been comforted by these words from Jesus Himself:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light."
I pray that each of us can come to know the saving power of God this Christmas. As we grieve the loss of Aunt Kelly and celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us ask Him how He wants us to respond. Let us love each other the way He loves us. And let us pray that Aunt Kelly will soon see her Savior face to face in paradise, where suffering is no more.