Will the Circle Be Unbroken

A year before my Mamaw died, I had a dream about her passing.  In it my great, great grandmother (that was Cherokee so the story goes) came to me.  She was lovely, tall (actually very tall in real life) and dressed in beautiful gray silk from head to toe.  She had dove gray moccasins on her feet of the softest, most supple leather I had ever seen and they were exquisitely stitched.  Long white hair flowed down her back.  She began singing in a strong contralto and dancing a tribal dance; the "Coming Home Dance" for Mamaw.  I knew in my heart that a great, timeless wheel had been set in motion and I watched, simultaneously sad and awestruck at the thing I was able to witness as my great, great grandmother went about the business of the ritual.  She was so sure of her footing.  She had obviously done the dance many times before but I could see how important it was to start it again.  I awoke crying and called Mamaw immediately to hear her voice and make sure she was alright.  I didn't tell her about the dream until two weeks ago.  She loved the dream and couldn't wait to see those shoes.  She always did love moccasins. 

Grief is a mighty process.  It is big- overwhelming at times, unpredictable, time intensive, gut wrenching, indiscriminate, and renders me helpless and vulnerable to it's whims.  I am unprepared for the depth of emotion in any given moment that is triggered by random things.  I know that it will get better with time.  I have buried more loved ones that I care to recount.  I know everything that my faith tells me about rejoicing her homecoming to Heaven.  But I am still victim to this profound sadness.  This one has been the worst.  I feel especially powerless to it all.

This is the second grandmother that I have buried in the last year and I am amazed at the way a family is transformed by the death of it's matriarch.  When my paternal grandmother died last year, our family was rallied in unexpected ways by her passing.  Relationships became more important than they had been.  A sense of responsibility came where there hadn't been one before.  Siblings were united by that responsibility to carry on the values that were instilled.  It feels like it is happening again with the passing of my maternal grandmother.  Past hurts become more inconsequential and healing begins in the terrible wake of heartbreak and grief.  Death is such an intimate ordeal.  One that can certainly isolate all of us as we try to cope alone with our own private sadness.  The knitting up of my family has been a huge blessing in these times. 

There is an old gospel song that my family has always loved, Will the Circle be Unbroken.  It seems it was sung at family reunions forever and when we gather to pray over a meal at large gatherings, we hold hands and the first couple of lines in the chorus are inevitably sung while we wait on the last kiddos to come straggling in to the circle.  The lyrics of that song are especially poignant right now.  It would be easy to be sad and alone in this grief.  Far less difficult than reaching across the great chasm of hurts and disappointments to start healing, certainly.  But that is not who we were raised to be and sometimes that is all you have to stand on.  My Mamaw's love and legacy are so completely woven into all of us that I don't know how to even discern one from the other.  She would have none of any isolation business.  None of it.  She would reach out, pull us close, hold us tight, and tell us how much she loved us.  Then she would cook us biscuits and gravy. 

When I was seeing a craneosacral therapist years ago, there was one particular session where she laid her hand in the middle of my back, stopped, and drew her breath.  She was very still for awhile and spoke some minutes later, "You have a large circle of ancestors that have gone on, Jennifer.  Those women are all around you every minute.  How lucky you are to be surrounded by such love."    I don't know that she was a medium or any spiritual communicator (other than the amazing healer I always knew her to be), but I know that the faith and love that runs through my and my families' veins- that saturates our very selves- is powerful.  Powerful enough to speak through me, more powerful than this unbearable grief, more powerful than death that separates us physically, and certainly powerful enough to sustain our family.  Though my beloved Mamaws are gone, the circle remains unbroken.  They join my ancestors that continue to watch over us all.  The legacy of love binds us tighter together.

Will the Circle be Unbroken

I was standing by my window
On a cold and cloudy day
When I saw that hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by
There's a better home awaiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

Well I told the undertaker
Undertaker please drive slow
For the body that you are hauling
Lord, I hate to see her go


Well I followed close behind her
Tried to hold up and be brave
But I could not hide my sorrow
When they laid her in her grave


Went back home, Lord, oh so lonesome
Since my mother she was gone
All my brothers, sisters crying
What a home so sad and 'lone


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  1. Jennifer this was awesome the hair is standing on my arms...I too know the pain of loss and it can seem so great. However with the love of our family and savior the pain is eventually turned into joy knowing they have made their journey and that they have received there final healing. I loved your Mamaw as my own and it was a joy to have know her and your Papaw.
    Love ya Girl Tim

  2. Thanks, Tim. She loved you like her own, too. You all have been a huge comfort and support for us. Love you all!