Tom returned to Maryland just before Thanksgiving. We packed most of the kids’ clothes, as well as some favorite toys for our trip to Ohio. We enjoyed the holiday with our families, and then Tom and I traveled back to Maryland again to clean out the house and work with the movers. Our house, which had been on the market for nearly 8 months, had finally sold, would close just as we were starting payments on our new home. This was an unexpected relief, which lightened the moving process considerably.
During this packing time, we enjoyed time with many of the friends that had become family during our 10 years in Maryland. It was then that I began to realize the magnitude of this transition. I had been so focused on Tom’s job transition that I hadn’t really considered how much I would miss these folks…we’d enjoyed barbecues and Bible Studies together, shared stories about teething and diaper rash, assisted each other with dry walling, painting, and rides to the airport, watched each other’s kids when budgets wouldn’t allow for babysitters…As any mom knows, finding friends like these is rather like building a house of cards. Suddenly, I wondered how I would ever find such a support system once we settled into our Ohio life.
The movers arrived in Ohio on December 2 (my birthday!) It was unseasonably warm and sunny that day, making the process blissfully smooth. We had great fun setting up the rooms and finding the right place for our favorite things. The kids, delighted that the dining room, foyer, and kitchen were all connected, had great fun running laps about the place while Tom and I unpacked. During the commotion, our phone rang. Tom and I looked at each other, both of us wondering who might be calling us. “Hi,” the voice said when I answered. “Look out your window!” I glanced over my shoulder to see my “back door” neighbor waving from her kitchen window. “I’ve got some dinner for you…meet me at the fence!”
We were home.
In the weeks that followed, we really began to settle in. Annie attended her new preschool, and I found a story time for Bill at the library. Tom continued to enjoy his new job, and we were all thankful to be closer to our extended family. We enjoyed our first Christmas in the new house, made even more special because of all of the aunts, uncles and cousins who came to visit. We rang in the New Year, certain that 1999 was full of promise, and thankful that this stressful time was done.
The winter seemed to pass quickly, though we enjoyed a couple of heavy Ohio snows (a new experience for our children!) One afternoon in early March, I buckled the kids into the van after nap time; I had several errands to accomplish before starting dinner. It was a crisp day, but melting snow banks promised the season’s change. The afternoons were stretching their way toward spring, offering a bit more sunlight and warmth. We enjoyed this as we traveled through town, mailing letters, stopping at the hardware store, returning library books.
“We have one more stop to make, and then we’ll head home,” I told the kids.
“Where are we going?” Annie wanted to know.
“We’re stopping off at Grammie’s friend’s house, honey. Mrs. Garvin’s brother died, and I want to tell her I’m sorry, and give her a hug.”
“Oh.” Annie pondered this for a moment, uncharacteristically quiet. Then, she asked, “Did he go to heaven?”
There it was again…that same issue that had been on her little mind last fall! I thought we had resolved it, but apparently not. I took a deep breath. “Well, Annie, I’d like to think he is. I didn’t know him, but I know that God must have loved him very much.”
“So,” Annie continued, “How’d he get there?”
“Well,” I attempted, “Our bodies don’t need to go to heaven…” My voice trailed off as we entered the neighborhood where my parents’ friends lived. I turned into the driveway and parked the car. I promised her that we would talk more about this in just a moment. I ran in, gave Mrs. Garvin a hug, and chatted with her a bit. In about 10 minutes, we were headed for home.
“Was she sad?” Annie wanted to know.
“Yes, honey. She was sad. She misses her brother.”
“I know how we get there, Mom.”
“What, Annie?” My mind had shifted to getting home to thaw the chicken for dinner and put the wet clothes in the dryer.
“I know how we get to heaven,” she insisted.
“Oh, Mom,” she replied, “Jesus comes, and he puts us on his shoulders, and then he takes us there.”
I didn’t know then how precious her statement would be to me or what comfort it would provide. On March 20, 1999, just two weeks after this mini-van conversation, our whole life changed.