Everything in a cemetery isn't dead -- a tribute to my sister-in-law

I found the dead tree in the middle of the cemetery strangely appropriate.

Everything is dead in a cemetery.

Flowers that were once alive wither within hours.

Some of the flowers there were never alive, yet they fade and drop as well--twice dead, perhaps?

But no, one needs to be alive to die.


We come to commemorate my sister-in-law's life. It's her birthday.  It seems cruel to list her birthday on a marker right next to the date of her death, but death is cruel.

"What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14).

We bring a bright balloon that proclaims HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to tie around the  grave marker.

I wonder if such celebratory language is disrespectful in such a dismal place.

I'm certainly not feeling the exclamation point stamped in gold on the balloon. Instead, I feel a pang of regret for the last birthday we could have celebrated together. But she was busy, and we were getting ready to leave on a mission trip, so we hugged over the phone and made promises of how we'd celebrate when we got home.

We never dreamed that we would return in two weeks, and she would be gone.

 "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow" (James 4:13-14).

I threw the gift in the trash.

She doesn't need the necklace and earrings anymore. She's wearing a spotless robe that needs no accessories.

"I know you're not here," my mother-in-law says, "but I want to sing to you any way." Her warbly voice makes it almost all the way through the traditional refrain before it cracks, and she kneels down to tie the balloon.

And then she loses her balance. More of a slow roll than a fall, and we know she'll not be hurt, but in the tumble, the happy birthday balloon sees its chance and escapes. Focused on her, not it, we don't see it drift away toward the clouds until it's too high to jump for.

As it escapes the bond that tethered it to earth and slowly makes its way to the sky, there's a certain rightness about it.

And I realize that we've got it all wrong. Tying the balloon to the grave marker flies in the face of the fact that Kay is not here.

The balloon remembered what we had lost sight of --

Not everything in a cemetery is dead.

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies" (John 11:25).

"Why do you look for the living among the dead? (S)he is not here; (s)he has risen!"

 "When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:54-58).

". . .  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:26).

Happy Birthday, Kay. We'll celebrate when we get home. 

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