Grace and the Button-box

buttonbox 350pxI was having afternoon tea in the garden with my friend and her delightful grand-daughters.  They had been ransacking  grandma’s button-box, and were festooned in button treasures which had been patiently threaded onto hat elastic.

“Nana Beth helped us,” confided Miss Three.

“What a nice Nana,” I said.

“Yes, and did you know that we have two Nanas?” announced Miss Five.  “We have Nana Beth and Nana Sue.”

“How lovely,” I said. “Tell me all about them.”

“Well,” began Miss Three, “Nana Beth plays with us and we make things…”

“And Nana Sue takes us to the movies, and we have popcorn and icecream,” Miss Five finished.

“You are lucky to have two Nanas.  When I was growing up, I only had one.”

“Why?” they asked me, their eyes round.

“One of my grandmas died before I was born,” I replied, anxiously trying to frame a tactful answer to the “why?” I was sure would come next.  I was to be surprised.

“What was she like?”  

I paused, remembering.

“She picked me up when I fell down, and she sat me on the edge of her kitchen table, and she washed the sore spots on my knees, and put bandaids on them.  Then she gave me a sweetie and a cuddle and I went out to play.”

It was time for pink cakes, and the moment passed.  Later, reflecting on a lovely day, I considered the wisdom of little ones.
When we think of those whom death has taken from us, especially in the early stages of our grieving, we often ask why.  It is a big question, and it takes us deep into the core of our loss and pain.  Why this person? Why now? Why must I be called to face this sorrow?  Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there so much suffering ?   Why do we have to die?

The “why” questions open, one out of the other, as we grieve, and we sit with them - because we must.  Human beings, alone of creation, know our mortality, and mourn it. Our pain at the loss of those who have loved us, and whom we love, is as deep and real as the love itself.

Our “why” questions eventually lead us to the even more painful question:  What sort of God allows this to happen? And sometimes in our anger, and grief, in the mess of unresolved conversations, unforgiveness, unfulfilled wishes, missed opportunities and our own powerlessness, we cage our hearts in despair.  

We demand answers of mystery, and turn away when they are met with silence.

But we are also created to remember.  The little girls’ question shows us another way to walk with grief.  When we ask “What were they like?”  we remember the little daily moments of grace, picking them up like buttons from the box.
A private joke; touch; years of shared work; companionable conversations and silences; the ever-ready tea-pot; a walk along a beach; games and play; triumph and loss; sitting together in church;  the smile that was just for us.

The whole gift of their lives unfolds for us in these memories, and the love that sustains them.  We contemplate the mystery of Love, which is, in the end, the only answer worth having.  

Sometimes the little girls’ question may bring us painful memories, of failure and falling down, of love and life broken and denied. But even here there is grace.  Even the memory of sinfulness is redeemable.

 Like that long - ago little girl, we must just sit lamenting, somehow hoping that our grandmother God will find us even here, carry us home,  heal our sore places, and restore us in time to joy.

The night before he died,  Jesus broke bread, and shared a cup of wine, and asked his friends to remember.  And they did.  They came together, just as he said, and did what he had asked.  And they knew that he was with them, as he promised.  They told stories about him, and remembered what he was like, and the life that he shared with them.   

And in the grace that flows from this, so we too can remember that he said that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the month of November, which begins with the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, let us remember those we have loved who have died, the easy ones and the hard ones.  Perhaps you can take them to Mass with you, and imagine them all sitting with you at the Lord’s  table.  In prayer this month, take up Jesus’ invitation  to bring your burdens of grief, forgiveness, and questioning  to  him, and remember his promise that those who mourn are blessed, because they will be comforted.


by Margaret Mary Flynn
Year of Grace Coordinator
Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst

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