My grandmother made quilts. Lots of them. One for every family member and God only knows how many others for the people that were part of her life. So when I had the task of preparing something for her funeral yesterday, it was her quilts that provided what good symbols provide–a tangible way to express a deep emotion that often eludes mere words. Here is the poem:
There was another thing present at her funeral that had been made with her hands. Sock monkeys. She created these sock dolls, each with its own personality, for grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Except for me. I don’t have a sock monkey from my grandmother. My mother and I were talking about this and she thinks that she didn’t learn to do these until after I had moved on from the “doll” stage (I’m the oldest grandchild). After the funeral, I had to get back on a plane right away and head for Minneapolis where I was scheduled to do a worship workshop for a large crowd the next day. I got there late that night and was hosted in the episcopal residence guest quarters. I walked into my bedroom for the night and guess who was sitting there waiting for me? “Willhemina,” the sock monkey. So I tucked her under my chin when I went to bed and realized that when you bury your grandmother, you are never past the stage to hang onto a doll–to hang onto another tangible symbol as a way to mourn the blessings and regrets of complex family relationships.
Thank God for symbols. How else could we access the depth of our souls in such an expedient, and healing, way. Every time you use a symbol in worship (especially the “ordinary” ones of life), there exists surprising possibilities for connection in ways you may never know.