By Melissa Mulloy
I cannot state this emphatically enough—I love Easter. But that was not always true.
When I was a little girl, my family hosted two Lutheran college students from a nearby state one Easter weekend. They were part of a choir that would be performing at my church. I loved our church—a small, shiny white building with a steeple on top and bells that rang out a beautiful melody.
I was shy, though, and not overly thrilled with having two strange college kids in our house. Nonetheless, I woke up early on Sunday morning, excited to see what Easter chocolate treasures awaited. Instead I found only the two young men—no mom, no dad, no Easter basket. The night before, my mom awoke with intense pain and was rushed to the hospital. She had a ruptured ulcer and would be in the hospital for a bit. The two students were tasked with getting me to Sunday worship. I was so scared—about my mom, about these strangers, about everything. And I was suffering from self-pity over the lack of chocolate.
Fast forward to the Easter when I was 12. My mom was in the hospital again. A few weeks earlier, she had come down with the flu. My dad had just lost his job, we had no health insurance, and my family was uncertain how to survive on my mom’s barely above minimum wage income. My mom did not want to spend any money to see a doctor. But she did spend money on a new Easter dress for me. Bright blue, it arrived in the mail from JC Penney’s. I loved it and modeled it for my mom as she lay in bed burning up with fever.
A few days later, her distress became unbearable and she finally went to the doctor. The doctor admitted her to the hospital immediately and within hours she was in intensive care. A life-long heavy smoker, she had developed pneumonia and could no longer breathe on her own. When I finally got to see her, she had already been intubated and, while sometimes conscious, she couldn’t speak with the breathing tube down her throat.
My siblings, all much older than me, came back home and we hunkered down in the hospital family room. Some nights, I couldn’t bring myself to leave and would sleep on the hospital’s family room couch. That’s where I woke up on Easter morning. On the coffee table in front of me was a really big Easter basket that my dad had purchased from the local Walgreen’s. Since Easter baskets did not fall under my dad’s job duties, I knew it was bad.
Two weeks later, my mom died. I had gone home the night before. Early in the morning, my oldest sister woke me up and told me we needed to get to the hospital right away. Mom was gone before we arrived. The hospital chaplain prayed with us and read the twenty-third Psalm. I still have a love-hate relationship with that Psalm. I left, went home, and got ready to go to church by myself. Church wasn’t one of my dad’s duties either. But, since I attended parochial school there, that was where my friends were. I glommed on to my best friend, told her what happened, and then refused to talk to anyone else. She played defense for me, blocking anyone who tried to ask me about my mom. The best part was she didn’t make me talk. She just held my hand throughout the service. So many adults said so many foolish things to me, things about God’s plans, and better places, but not my twelve-year old friend. She totally got it. The following week, I wore my new Easter dress to the funeral and my class sang my mom’s favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior.”
The next six years were a mess. I was a mess. I moved from home to home, sometimes with blood family, sometimes with foster family, each with different beliefs, different rules, different schools. I rebelled in every way imaginable including becoming an avowed atheist. I asked the now-cliche question, how could God let this happen? I wanted nothing to do with such a god.
By age 18, I had become a heavy smoker. Late that summer, though, I started to throw up every time I tried to light up. I just seemed to throw up all the time. I took a pregnancy test.
The following May, my firstborn arrived, and my life took a whole new turn. I was no longer a smoker, no longer a drug user, and, holy cow, I went back to church. In the years between my mother’s death and his birth, I had grown to hate every holiday, but especially Easter. My mom had a way of making every holiday magical and I just couldn’t celebrate any of them without her. But now, I wanted to make them magical for my own family. So, it was time to put on my big girl pants and embrace the holidays again.
Since I reclaimed the holidays—for me and my family—Easter has become my very favorite. I love everything about it.
Easter is the one day of the year when I actually set a pretty dinner table, linens and all. If fortune smiles on me, all of our kids and grandkids are here along with a collection of friends who don’t have family to celebrate with. It is utter and beautiful chaos.
Easter only comes after forty days of quiet and contemplation. We have to ride the roller coaster of Holy Week first, the jubilant parade of Palm Sunday, the solemnity of Maundy Thursday, the pain of Good Friday. But, on Easter morning, the sun rises again. It does indeed. I have witnessed resurrection too many times and in too many ways to not believe it’s true.
Easter 2020. It will not be easy this year, but I am happy to celebrate it safely at home with a loving, caring husband. I will miss our kids, our grandkids, our extended family and friends. I will miss the utter and beautiful chaos. Still, I will set a pretty dinner table. Because resurrection is real and Easter always arrives.