My middle daughter slathered melted butter on layer after layer of paper-thin phyllo dough for the baklava. Her arms moved methodically back and forth. Every six layers, she sprinkled cinnamon, sugar, and walnuts over the pastry like stardust. Meanwhile, my oldest daughter chopped bell peppers at the island next to her sister. I added the peppers to skewers with big chunks of marinated beef and onions for the kebabs. My youngest daughter laid out the homemade hummus, pita crackers, lahmajoon pizzas, and other appetizers on charcuterie boards. The kitchen was filled with a cornucopia of smells, flavors, and colors colliding as we prepped for the Heaveniversary party together.
This year marked seven years since my husband Ericlee graduated to heaven. Some might call September 9 his death day, but we decided to make it a day to remember the gift of heaven and celebrate his legacy. We’ve made it our tradition to host a dinner party where we tell stories and gather around good food. Every year I invite a different mix of family and friends. In some cases, this is the only time of year we see some of my late husband’s friends because our lives have moved in different directions.
This year — more than other years — my daughters took ownership of planning the party. We decided together to serve up Armenian food because my husband’s grandma was originally from Armenia. We talked through the guest list because they wanted to hear a diversity of stories from their dad’s childhood, school days, and adult life. My oldest put together a slideshow of pictures, and my youngest wrote and rehearsed a song for weeks to share at the gathering. It turned into a whole family affair.
Then, all at once, the doorbell rang, and family and friends started to pour in through the door. I realized I was actually looking forward to our time together instead of dreading a day that might otherwise be filled with sadness.
After our bellies were full, we gathered in our living room for a time of storytelling. One by one, friends and family began to unfold memories of my late husband Ericlee and his legacy of faith, courage, wellness, compassion, and generosity.
His best friend told a story about the time they shared a full Thanksgiving meal in my husband’s dorm, and then he insisted on sharing the leftovers with the homeless in their city. Another high school friend shared about how my husband always asked the hard questions and checked in about her relationship with God. A friend talked about how he was an encouraging coach and helped her get to the finish line of a half marathon.
My daughters were two, five, and eight when their daddy went to heaven. These stories — some of them repeated year after year — serve as their memory. The stories draw us close to Ericlee and help keep his legacy alive.
Remembrance is an important theme throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, the Israelites remember God’s faithfulness at many key crossroads. Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, there is a call to remember the words and deeds of God. Deuteronomy 16:1-8 describes the Festival of Passover. The exodus and deliverance of Israel by God from Egypt is central to this remembering.
Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples and other Jews throughout the New Testament. He also introduced what we now call communion as a remembrance of His life, death, and resurrection.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Luke 22:19-20 (ESV)
The Passover meal and communion were a time of gathering together around the table, sharing a meal, and taking time to remember God’s steadfast love, mercy, and sacrifice.
My friend Marcy specializes in trauma therapy and explains that telling our stories can bring physiological healing. As we share and remember, unprocessed trauma is dislodged from our brains. God designed our bodies to heal through the act of sharing stories.
Toward the end of our sharing time at the Heaveniversary party, my brother retold a story of Ericlee’s final days. He described how Ericlee’s face would light up in a smile whenever he was coherent. Cancer and pain ravaged his body, but it could not steal his joy. Many of us wiped away tears at the reminder that joy and pain often are intricately woven together. We do not want to forget God’s faithfulness to us through the grief.
The psalmist reminds us, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story — those he redeemed from the hand of the foe” (Psalm 107:2).
These words are an invitation to tell our stories. The Israelites continued to tell the story of how God restored them from captivity. Jesus told stories that would shape our understanding of His Father’s kingdom. And we are called to tell our stories today. Our stories can be like arrows pointing our children and those around us to God’s glory.
Friend, have you lost a loved one this year? Are you navigating grief? Make some space to remember. You could host a Heaveniversary party like ours or carve out some time at an upcoming gathering to tell stories about your loved ones. As we retell the stories and remember God’s goodness together, healing enters in.