I recently read an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that caused me to chuckle and ponder. It’s about a WWII sailor, Ed B. Thornley, who wrote a set of six letters home to his family about being an eyewitness to post-war nuclear weapons tests.
Thornley was assigned to the USS Rockingham and, from aboard the ship, watched the unfolding of Operation Crossroads, which included two tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.
The letters became known as “The Bikini Letters,” named after the place of their origin, not their content (not to worry, this is a G-rated column). Ed’s daughter, Linda, discovered the letters after his death in 2004, but only recently opened them to discover their treasure.
I chuckled because the sailor’s letters included references to his hometown, and his job at AT Ladish Co. Inc. in Cudahy, as well as St. Francis High School. I live in Cudahy, I pass the Ladish company daily, and St. Francis High School is a couple of blocks from my house. Of course, the Journal Sentinel is a local paper, but reading about something so close to home – literally – is just plain fun.
There’s a bit of a serious side to the story for me, too. Linda Thornley discovered the letters after his death eight years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that she read them. She was grieving so deeply for her dad that she just couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Earlier this year, an article about a Navy petty officer’s letters home from Iwo Jima inspired Linda to share her father’s letters with her local paper, the Las Vegas Review Journal. The Review published the letters, and news of their publication reached my desktop via the Internet.
I had to ponder Linda’s reaction to discovering her father’s letters, not out of criticism, but rather out of comparison. My father died 35 years ago, and I’ve still not gone through all of the belongings that were passed on to me. Reading about Linda’s uncovering of buried treasures from her dad made me wonder what buried treasures I might have from my own.
Even more than that, Linda’s story was a wake-up call for me, and I hope for you. Grief over the loss of a loved one is not to be taken lightly. We need time to work through all of the steps to the grieving process, and can’t move from one step to the next until our hearts are ready. Sometimes, we have to go back and forth between steps before moving on. That’s natural and necessary.
Our Lord showed us how to grieve when he allowed himself to weep at the death of his friend, Lazarus.
When Jesus saw Lazarus’ sister weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.”
When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” (Joh 11:33-43)
Jesus wept, and the Jews could see how much he loved Lazarus. Weeping is good, acknowledging our pain is good, expressing our loss is good. Jesus did that, and we also should do it.
But, notice what Jesus did after he expressed his grief: he moved forward, giving assurance of God’s glory, and requesting the removal of the stone that sealed the tomb. Then … he brought Lazarus back to life.
Of course, we can’t physically raise people from the dead as Jesus could, but we can “raise from the dead” their memories and all that they’ve meant to us. First, we must acknowledge God’s glory, giving thanks for the life he created and asking his grace to recover from our grief.
Then, we should roll the stone away from the tomb and allow their spirit to come alive in us – in the way we remember and pray for them, in the way we ask them to remember and pray for us, and in the way we put to use all that they taught us by their words, deeds and examples. We can dare to look at the letters they’ve left behind – either actually or figuratively – and appreciate the buried treasures within them.
(Fenelon, a mother of four, and her husband, Mark, are members of St. Anthony Church, Milwaukee. Visit her website: www.margefenelon.com.)