Below is the reflection I shared at Joseph’s memorial service last week at St. Andrew’s (with a few tiny revisions).
Joseph Michael F.K.. A name that was held in hope for a long time. Before we knew we would be living in Egypt. Before we knew we would have a son. Even before we decided to start a family, we had chosen this name. Joseph—a family name, Justin’s grandfather and cousin; Joanna, the feminine form, his aunt and sister. Our Joseph would be the fourth generation to bear this name. Michael—my father’s name. Each of our last names so that there would be no confusion that we were his parents. Joseph Michael F.K. A big name for a little boy, but one filled with meaning for us.
I love that Joseph is the Biblical dreamer. Joseph in Genesis with his dreams of grandeur. Joseph in Matthew with his dreams to reassure him and protect his family, particularly the infant Jesus. And then, when it became clear that our son would be born in Egypt, we loved that this name had so much significance here. Both Josephs, both dreamers, spent time here in Egypt.
Many of you know that this pregnancy was not an easy one. We learned fairly early that our first child would be a son when some early tests were recommended after an unusual scan. We would have been happy with a boy or a girl, but as soon as we learned that we would have a son, we dreamed of raising a little boy. We dreamed of him playing at the lake with his cousins, Rocco & Jeffrey. We dreamed of what he would look like, whose features he would have. What would he love to do? These day dreams carried me through the long days of bed rest and filled me with hope in spite of the frustrations that came with things not going perfectly well. I rested and I dreamed, in hope that I would carry this child to term.
As we know all to well, though, not all dreams come true. Joseph, our little dreamer, was held for all of his brief life. We were able to kiss him and tell him we loved him. He had Justin’s chin and the beginnings of blonde hair. His tiny little feet and hands held long fingers and long toes. Everything about his tiny body seemed perfect. But something wasn’t right, something happened to make him come so early that his life could not be sustained. Early that morning, as we held our tiny son, we knew that our dreams of this son would die along with him.
We don’t know why it happened. Our doctors assure us that it was nothing that we did. We just had bad luck. And, for the most part, it’s awful. We’ve cried more tears than I knew were possible to cry. I wish that I still carried this child inside of me, that he could be healthy, that whatever went wrong wouldn’t have. And yet, in spite of our grief, we have felt support come from all over the globe. You all have been a source of comfort and hope for us, in being here tonight, in your hugs, messages, visits, food, and flowers.
Although I feel that so many dreams have been crushed–dreams of an easy pregnancy, dreams of a healthy baby, dreams of raising this son—I have felt God’s presence in the midst of our grief. We cling to Christ’s promise of resurrection. We cling to the promise of a communion of saints. We lean on our friends—on all of you—to remind us that we are not alone in this journey. To remind us that we, and Joseph, are loved. By friends and family around the world. And by a God who loves us all more than we can begin to imagine.
A little over a week after Joseph died, I read this quote in a daily devotion I receive. A young Jewish woman, dying in a camp in the arms of her sister, said to her, “No pit is so deep that God is not deeper still.” The God in whom we take comfort in the throws of grief is one who stops at nothing to catch us when we fall. Who promises to walk with us through the dark valleys of the shadow of death. Who hears our cries and can handle our questions, questions like the ones asked in Psalm 13, one of my favorite psalms and one I have turned to again in these past weeks. My faith has carried me in my grief, and I trust in the promise proclaimed in Revelation, that “the home of God is among mortals,” that “God will dwell with them as their God,” that “they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them,” wiping every tear from their eyes. I trust in the promise proclaimed for Joseph and for all of us that there will be a day when “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” I trust in the promise of a God who says, over and over again, “do not be afraid” and “see I am making all things new.”
After Joseph’s dream, Matthew reports that it all took place to fulfill what had been spoken and that the name of the child would be “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” This dreamer, this Joseph, the one who must have held the sleeping Christ child, God-with-us, looked down with love, as so many parents have, at the tiny child in his arms. Surely he dreamed of what this child would grow up to do. Knowing that this one was the one he and his people had been waiting for so long. Little did he know that this child would grow up to suffer and to die, so that we could have life.
It is this child, grown up, the one who lived and died and rose, Christ in whose promise I cling in these days darkened by grief. It is in Christ that I now place my hope for Joseph–that in Christ he lives, a member of the great circle of saints, experiencing God’s dream for a world where there is no more pain and suffering, where tears are wiped from eyes and where death is no more. While most dreams for our son will not be, this is the one, God’s dream for God’s kingdom come, that brings us comfort, that refills the hope that was sucked from us as we held our dying son in our arms. As we commend our son to God, we dream of God’s kingdom come, for Joseph, for us, and for all of God’s people of every time and place.