When we bought our house more than seven years ago, we had a good feeling about the neighborhood. But it was only when we had lived here for a little while that we realized just how fantastic our next-door neighbors were.
On one side, we have a friendly mom and four daughters – most of whom have babysat for us over the years.
On the other side were John and Loretta, a retired husband and wife who always seemed to have time to chat. We had the most delightful conversations, and Loretta and I would exchange baked goods and recipes. She always had a little treat for our boys at the holidays, often left without a note on our back porch.
During the pandemic, as we stepped away from seeing most people, we still chatted with John and Loretta – from a safe distance and outside, of course. Our conversations continued, along with our usual exchange of items – homemade Irish soda bread from us, a handed-down tent from John when he spotted it at an estate sale and thought of our boys.
Then one Sunday morning in October, as we were watching Mass in our living room, we saw emergency vehicles pull up next door. John had passed away suddenly. We were so sad and worried for Loretta. Over the next weeks, she and I talked more than ever, as we collected her mail for her when she went to stay with her daughter. We kept checking in on her to see how we could support her.
Whenever I spoke with her, Loretta was always most concerned about our family. She wanted to know how our boys were doing with virtual schooling, how I was managing everything while working from home, and how my husband was coping with his mother’s failing health. I always hung up feeling she missed her husband terribly, but that we had talked more about me than her. Still, I had a feeling that was what she wanted.
Then in late December, Loretta passed away too, also unexpectedly. My husband and I were shocked and sad. Losing both John and Loretta in a matter of weeks seemed impossible, and our hearts broke for their children and grandchildren who had experienced so much loss at once.
Even months later, I still expect Loretta to knock on the door or to see John wave to me as he’s working in his yard. Soon their house will probably be sold, and we will have new neighbors and perhaps new friendships. But we will always think of their house as John and Loretta’s home.
A few weeks after Loretta passed away, her daughter stopped by with cookies made from dough that Loretta had made herself. I was so touched. The cookies seemed so wonderfully special, made by someone who is now in heaven – with her beloved husband.
At moments like this, I am so grateful for the assurance God gives us that life conquers death. As we celebrate the Easter season, I often find myself thinking of those we love who have passed on. We pray all of them have found – or will soon find – their way to heaven. We believe we will see those we love again and that the joy they are experiencing in heaven is far beyond the rejoicing we look forward to at Easter.
One of the last times my husband texted John, it was to tell him and Loretta that there was a beautiful double rainbow stretching across the sky. When John didn’t respond to the text, my husband went and knocked on their door to make sure they wouldn’t miss the rainbow.
John and Loretta leaned out their front door to take in the colors stretching across the sky, marveling as we had at the natural beauty that was transforming our little block. There was no rain that evening, but there was a rainbow, and it felt as if God had sent an extraordinary miracle at a time when we all needed a special reminder of his love.
This Easter season, may we experience moments of great joy. And may we also find comfort in the promise of eternal life for ourselves and all those we love.
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