Oftentimes, when we lose a loved one, we go through periods of anger, frustration and grief. Time heals, but nothing can really replace her physical presence and vibrancy she brought to life, this side of heaven. But I am a firm believer God puts people and/or objects along our path at the right time when we need them most.
words + photographs MORGAN COPELAND
For me, my object came four days before Christmas 2021. Christmas was going to be emotional and different already because in mid-August, we lost my Aunt Merrian to cancer. She battled the horrible disease for two years, but on a Thursday afternoon, our Savior called her home. Aunt Mary was notorious for sending cards in the mail for every occasion you could imagine: birthdays, holidays, graduations. She was thoughtful like that. When cancer became the diagnosis and she spent hours a week receiving chemotherapy, she never missed an opportunity to send a card. When my birthday rolled around last year, Aunt Mary was in the heat of her chemo rounds. I never expected a card or a gift because her life was hectic at the time. She delivered me my gift one afternoon and said the card would be in the mail soon. My birthday passed, but no card was ever in my mailbox. I thought it had been forgotten amidst the doctors’ appointments, work obligations and chemo. It did not dawn on me until Aunt Mary passed away I never received a last birthday card, one I could cherish forever.
Fast forward from her passing in August 2021 to December. Four days before Christmas and nine months after my birthday, my card arrived in the mail. Aunt Mary had mailed it before my birthday, but with a mix-up in the address, it was returned to sender and then later forwarded to my parents’ residence. I opened the card with tears streaming down my face. On a tough day, that card was my saving grace. I will always refer to it as my letter from heaven.
In the stillness of that December afternoon, I was reminded Aunt Mary is with me every minute of every day. Not physically, but spiritually. I see little reminders of her almost daily. My favorite is when the sun sets and makes a burnt orange sky. I cannot help but think of her fierce, red hair. Oh how we miss her quirkiness and flare she added to our lives.
I come from a large family. My Aunt Mary was one of nine kids, and with that she had 16 nieces and nephews and a handful of great-nieces and -nephews. My sisters and I were close with Mary growing up. She was, to sum it up, one of our biggest cheerleaders. She never missed a chance to tell us how proud she was of each of us. Or tell any friend, or even stranger, how smart we were and how proud of us she was. Along with sending cards, her favorite hobby was standing behind a camera, catching life’s biggest accomplishments, as well as small, mundane, ordinary activities. Her flash could blind you, but I would give anything to be blinded by that flash again. Just one more picture with her behind the camera.
LEFT Morgan, Aunt Mary, and Morgan’s sisters, Kayla (maroon) and Lakin (pink). MIDDLE Aunt Mary in the hospital showing off a picture with her brother, Marc RIGHT The letter from heaven.
Our greatest lesson out of grief, loss and death is to relish every moment. From the small, mundane ones to the big, extravagant ones, we appreciate them all. Moments quickly turn into memories in the blink of an eye. With the loss of our Aunt Mary, I have vowed to be the biggest cheerleader for my family and friends. Nothing compares to knowing people are cheering you on in life, celebrating your successes and championing you through each season of life. In a world full of hate, conflict and fear — be the light. Be someone’s cheerleader and blessing for the day. Take the picture, smile and be blinded by the flash. Keep the cards sent from your loved ones. One day, the material moments become priceless memories. I am thankful for the 23 years of life I shared with my aunt. Although nothing hurts quite like death and loss, I remind myself of the homecoming we are going to have in heaven one of these days. Until then, I’ll read my letter from heaven to get me through the hardest of moments, and I will tell every valued person in my life how proud I am of them. Because everyone deserves a friend and a cheerleader. MC
Morgan Copeland is a Nixa native who has a passion for sharing the love the Lord has shown her and the and wisdom He has taught her. She is an assistant volleyball coach at College of the Ozarks and co-director of Tamales Volleyball Club. She is pursuing a master’s degree at Missouri State University.
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