Why Do I Always Cry at Church? The Christmas Eve Edition. Day 56, “The Me Project”

I remember the first time I nearly vomit-cried at church. The first of many.

I was sitting at Christmas Eve service at my grandparents’ tiny country church, watching my grandma play the organ in her fancy blue dress she’d had for decades. My grandpa sat next to me, arms crossed, wearing a blue suit he’d had for decades. Yes, they coordinated. Had for decades.

I remember covertly looking at my grandfather’s hand, wrinkled, weathered. Severely weathered. He’d worked outside most of his life, and it showed in his hands. They were still strong, but they were old. I blinked, and looked to the alter, as the pastor spoke of unconditional love and forgiveness and eternal life. I looked at my grandma, her proud posture supporting a poof of white hair, leaning into the keyboard. Her tiny, impossibly narrow feet pumping the pedals on the floor. Organs are complicated. So were my pre-teen feelings, sitting in my fancy dress there in that church.

I was suddenly, severely, aware of my grandparents’ mortality.

They had always been such a stable force, a concrete pillar keeping us up; there constantly when my sister was sick, they carried us through her funeral the year before. I remember sitting on our front porch finally done with the after bits of the death — receptions, visitations, whatever else we had to dress up for to “receive” people, and feeling the first warmth as my grandma teased my grandpa. It was so normal. She was annoyed by him, and he was laughing, and it was lovely.

Together they loved us and laughed with us and spoiled us and scolded us and loved us some more. They were peaceful and warm and good. I knew their small, cozy house with all its quirks and unique and wonderful smells, and it felt like safety.

Sitting on that hard pew, surrounded by singing relatives, I very inconveniently started to understood that they wouldn’t always be with me. These constants were changing. My sister was gone, some day my grandparents would be, too. We were moving toward some sort of end, and I didn’t want it.

My grandpa has since passed. I didn’t want it, but it happened. Thankfully there were many years between my revelation and his death. My grandmother (and my grandmother on the other side of the family) are both still living large and I’m trying to marinate in the time I have with both of them.

Church is, for my family, kind of where it all happens; babies, weddings, funerals, life and death. There are a lot of ghosts. And then there’s the constant message about being loved for simply being you (I know not everyone gets this message from church), and this cracks my heart right in half. I see the people who have gone, I see the people who will someday go. I feel the tenderness and it’s so earnest and soft, it aches. It’s all….just so much.

So. We went to a candlelight service at church tonight. The hymns and the message would have gotten me, but my kids were there, almost lighting themselves on fire. So now there’s the memory of laughter and wincing, mixed in with the rest of them.

Frank and funny, Sarah writes the hard stuff of marriage, parenting, woman-ing. Ravishly, The Belladonna Comedy, Pregnant Chicken, & more. Twitter: @sarahzimzam

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