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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Marking the Anniversary No One Chooses: What are the Living to Do?


Image by Keila Maria from Pixabay

Although I had silenced the ringer when the church service began, I felt the phone vibrate.

Under the cover of a vibrant hymn that had the congregation on its feet, I pulled the mobile from my pocket and found the words I’d hoped would never come.


“I’m so sorry to tell you that Mama went home to paradise at 10:30 last night. She was very peaceful.”


And then an emoji of a heart, broken.


Death’s chariot had swung low not for my mama this time, but for that of my young friend Maggie. Her mother had been my closest friend and partner in ministry to women for over 30 years. I had been at Cindy’s hospice bedside in New England a few days prior, returning home to fast and pray and wait. I’d asked Maggie to tell her mama that I was walking with her to the gates of the Kingdom in the only way I could.

Now the walk —and the wait—was over.

Anniversaries marking a birth, wedding, or reunion are cause for celebration. But what of the anniversary of the loss of a loved one, mine or yours? How are the living to mark the annual reoccurrence of a date branded in pain? A trip around the sun with more darkness than light?

A journey overshadowed by grief, salted with tears.


The Psalmist was intimately acquainted with death—his sons, his best friend, his own life hanging on the precipice of a mad king’s jealous rage. Yet out of his lived experience, David would pen the immortal words that would be of comfort across the centuries.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”

We can walk our loved ones to the entrance of that valley, but we cannot go further. It’s a journey each must take on one’s own. A valley can only exist when surrounded by high places. As we watch and wait and pray, the traveler enters the lowlands – what one bereaved spouse called the Shadowlands.


There is no way out but through. The Chronicler knew this, too.

“We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon. . .” I Chronicles 9:15
My shadow went before me on my morning walk

Whatever gets between sun and earth casts a shadow. Light may surround the mourner, but in a space the size of a human body lies shade and sorrow. How can that which has no substance contain such pain?


Yet the person of faith knows whose Shadow looms largest.

“Guard me as you would guard your own eyes.  Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 17:8) 

Our eyes are guarded, covered, without sight of what cannot yet be seen. Those we mourn are the ones now with vision, their eyes opened to eternal realities.

This life is only a shadow of the one that lies just ahead (Heb. 8: 5), the old system here but a dim preview of the good things to come (Heb. 10:1). Shadow is not substance. 

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 1 Corinthians 13:12
Recreation of the battle of Hafrsfjord, 872.

As I walked alongside our fjord this morning, I saw Viking longboats traversing the waters. It was only a commemorative sign transparent in the sunlight, though. The battle waged in 872 to unite Norway is long since over, victory won. The warriors are gone, the boats but a shadow on the sea.

When we lose a loved one, the anniversary of their death becomes a neo-natal day marking rebirth into eternal life. The brand it places on the mourners may be searing or soft but will always remain tender to the touch.

So how best to honor them? Perhaps in the same way your beloved lived his or her life.

  • Walk or run in a race to raise funds for the disease that took them, that others might live.

  • Share their words, written or spoken, to extend their influence after death.

  • Volunteer for an organization that supports those living with too little.

  • Reach out to the family they loved to reassure them their son or daughter or spouse has not been forgotten.

This is the week that followers of Jesus Christ call Holy, an anniversary filled with remembrance. A dark valley stretches between Friday —the day of his death——and Sunday when the Church universal, his family, celebrates His Resurrection. We leap that chasm so quickly, passing from death to life, his blood on our doorposts.


Some of our beloveds have exited this life ahead of us, outrunning us in the quick race home.


Our exodus is yet to come.


Until then, we mark the days – tough and tender as they may be – as we await our own rebirth into new life.

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised . . . Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength.” 1 Corinthians 15: 13, 43



-       Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2024


And now, in her own words. . .


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