The mourning dove is one of my favorite birds for its soft beauty and soothing voice, along with the sad twinge that resonates with me deeply. I’ve always associated the mourning dove with my grandparents’ house, though never mourning itself. Until this week, that is. My grandmother, Lucille Muffoletto, passed away this week, and I’d like to think that this week the mourning doves’ song is for her.
Pop always called Grandma his “Little Bird,” and he sang to her as she passed away. Grandma was always known for her beautiful voice, like that of a song bird. Her joy overflowed in song to the people around her, especially her family, who all centered around her. She found great love and comfort and peace and joy in Pop, who loved her dearly through more than 61 years in marriage, 8 children, 15 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren. Though Grandma often forgot the names of her children or conversations that happened only 2 minutes ago as her memory faded, she easily recalled song lyrics. One particular moment of beauty took place as many of us were caring for her – carrying, bathing, and dressing her. With a sweet smile on her face, she began to sing with my Uncle Mike as she often had in the past.
Yet as Grandma’s time neared, it became increasingly clear that she found even greater love and peace and joy and hope in Jesus. Indeed, Grandma is Jesus’ “Little Bird.” In Matthew 10:29-32, Jesus says,
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.
Even as her memory faded, from deep within her soul, below the surface of memory or outward appearance, Grandma continued to acknowledge Jesus. Her belief in Jesus was not merely religious. She firmly kept her relationship with Jesus.
I’m reminded of Noah’s dove in Genesis 8 – in a sense the first true mourning dove. This dove saw the world destroyed and witnessed incredible loss. And yet this dove also encountered an olive branch of hope. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. That olive branch overshadowed the incredible loss and pain that preceded it. In the same way, our world is full of things to mourn over – pain, suffering, injustice, and death. Yet all of these things can be overshadowed by Jesus, whose miracles, death, and resurrection are not only our olive branch of hope, but the very events through which our sadness will be turned to joy. Grandma was certainly aware of this truth. Even as she acknowledged that her “body [was] falling apart” and she faced death, Grandma had a deep peace because Jesus, her “best friend,” will give her life after death.
I’m incredibly thankful when my loved ones who pass away know God. Yes, I am deeply sad and miss them. But more than that, I have joy and hope in the promise that I will one day see them again in heaven with Jesus. That’s why most of the funerals I’ve gone to have truly felt more like joyous celebrations than somber, tear-filled affairs. Like the song of the mourning dove, there’s a twinge of sadness, but the melody is primarily one of beauty and hope. I’ll even go so far as to say that I enjoy funerals because that’s where the rubber meets the road of our lives and faith. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, the reality is that in the end, we all meet the same fate in death. In that moment, the only thing that separates us is the status of our relationship with God – not money or power or influence or legacy, the things we typically like to build over the course of our lives. The deaths of loved ones bring sharply into focus the things that truly matter and the questions that most need answers. I’m thankful that Grandma, even and especially in her last days, was a compelling witness to the truth that is found in Jesus.
Interestingly, in the past few months when I visited Grandma, I saw many Cardinals, with their bright plumage and cheery song. I take that as a symbol of Grandma’s glorious and restored body and soul that she now has in heaven with Jesus. I miss you Grandma, and I’ll see you soon.