Fellowship of the Table on the Road

Last Tuesday morning, I left my children with my parents in Virginia and started driving northwest. We had gotten word that my grandmother, whom I call Meme, was nearing the end of her life, and I wanted to see her one last time. I drove for over ten hours, stopping only for a few very quick bathroom and refueling breaks, straight to the house where she has spent the past year or so, a wonderful end-of-life care home facility (that is more of a “home” than a “facility”), where I joined my aunt and cousins, who had been with her for several days.

The plan was for me to spend the night and then drive back to Virginia the next day. However, it became very evident that instead of me going back to Virginia, my parents and children needed to come to Michigan. The end was very close.

For the next several days, with my uncles joining us, we camped out in the living room of the Serenity House of Commerce Township. We each took turns going in to sit bedside with Meme, reading passages from the Bible to her, singing hymns, and just talking. By the time I arrived, she was already sleeping, and she never really woke up. However, when I left that first night, I went into tell her one last time that I love her and that I would be back the next day, and she opened her eyes ever so slightly and said “I love you” back. Those were the last words my Meme said to me, and they were among the last words she said, period.

Pure gift.

The hospice nurse predicted 24 to 48 hours. My parents left Virginia Thursday morning with my kids and drove up, arriving around 10:00 PM. My dad was the last of her seven children to make it to the house, and she died about 12 hours after he arrived. We all believe she was waiting for him.

Over the next several days, more and more family arrived from Massachusetts, Washington, South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, Virginia, and, of course, Michigan. We took over a Holiday Inn Express & Suites, and there, in the common area of the hotel, the Fellowship of the Table began. Over the next several days, not only did we plan and hold a funeral and reception for Meme, we also had a birthday party for my niece, who turned eight over the weekend, as well as a retirement party for my uncle, whose last day of work was the day Meme died.

For several days, in the lobby of a Holiday Inn, the fellowship of the table continued. We brought in food and beverages and enjoyed hours and hours of conversation, card games (pinochle is a family tradition), and much, much laughter. Everyone contributed something, from bags of carrot sticks to dates and nuts, cake, wine, pizza, beer, and potato chips. For my niece’s birthday party, there were butterfly decorations and mylar balloons from the Dollar Tree near the hotel and a chocolate cake from the grocery store down the road. For my uncle’s impromptu retirement party, it was another small grocery store cake that we had “Congrats Brian” written on, along with a card we all signed.

The point was not how good the food was, how beautiful the decor, or how ideal the circumstances. The ambiance was the people.

The point was not how good the food was, how beautiful the decor, or how ideal the circumstances. The ambiance was the people. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and grandkids, brothers and sisters, all gathered to celebrate life.

We need to do that more.

We need to stop waiting for the right time, the clean house, the perfect menu, and the planned-out guest list.

We need to seize the moment and gather around a table together. I love a good menu, I love setting a beautiful table, I love thinking through who to invite.

But some of the best times of fellowship are the ones nobody planned.

Paper plates, a store-bought cake, a hodgepodge of snacks and take-out containers can be the makings of some of the best meals, if the goal of the meal is to gather and connect.

Paper plates, a store-bought cake, a hodgepodge of snacks and take-out containers can be the makings of some of the best meals, if the goal of the meal is to gather and connect.

If you’re reticent to invite people to gather around your table because your house is not “company ready” or you don’t have time to prepare a beautiful meal or set a gorgeous table, let my family’s recent experience inspire you.

It doesn’t matter.

Just gather. The people will be the ambiance.

 

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