Tetelestai: “The Masterpiece Is Finished”
by Amy Catlin Wozniak
It’s there on the closet door.
Black and smudgy against the white enamel. An inky fingerprint.
I’m deep cleaning Ryan’s room as I always do before the holidays. Vacuuming corners and washing woodwork and walls when the jolt of seeing it sends me spiraling.
Grief grabs me by the throat.
“Why,” I cry. Just as I did that day on that dusty trail when my husband, Michael, Ryan’s dad, and I found Ryan’s lifeless body. That single moment shattering our lives and embedding shards so deep into the scars that they can still make us bleed with a memory.
As I trace the jagged edges of that fingerprint with my own, the tears stream. I don’t have the heart to wash it away. Even though we’ve seen seven holiday seasons since he died, it still feels too painfully soon to let more of him go.
I look over at the chair where Ryan used to sit and play his guitar. I close my eyes wishing I could hear him playing his instrument of choice—the bass, the electric—both right there, poised and ready, in case he could somehow step back in and pick up where he left us… I’d even be happy to hear him play his Ukelele, though I can admit too much of that twangy sound used to make me cringe.
But all I hear is Burl belting out Have a Holly Jolly Christmas… “Stop,” I yell at the Alexa. The holidays—life—would be a lot jollier if Ryan was still here.
As we slowly step into the season, my mind races with how we should embrace the joy of Christmas when there will always be a ribbon of sadness twisting through our celebrations. An empty seat we long to be filled — if just one more time.
I walk over to his bookshelf and begin dusting when I see something hanging down in between the shelves. I pull on it and release it from where it’s been hiding. It’s an ink drawing. Ry was a gifted artist in ink and chalk. I unfurl it and hold it up, noticing how close it is to being finished. There are just a few blank spaces. You can tell it’s a Ryan Wozniak original, the details are all there… it’s even signed.
Looking at it, I can’t help but wonder if he ran out of ink, or ran out of patience. Or did he just ran out of time?
It’s just another of the things he left here.
Standing there holding that black and white drawing, my mind latches onto another opposite phrase.
“It is finished,” (John 19:30), or in Greek, tetelestai, the last words of Jesus on the cross. Hope slices into the walls around my heart.
In New Testament times when an artist would complete a work, during the unveiling he would shout, “tetelestai.” A declaration that they finished their masterpiece.
Yes, we’re tiptoeing into the joyous season. The beginning. Christ’s Birth. But before He took his first human breath, the ending was in place. The ending of his life, yes, but also the end of death, as we know it. When Jesus said “It is finished,” he meant, “I successfully completed the work I came to do.”
Although Ryan didn’t finish that piece, and sometimes, if I am being honest, I feel like he didn’t finish his life here, I’m reminded he’s not finished. He’s just ahead of us on our chase to meet Jesus in the flesh.
We lost him, but he gained Heaven.
I smile at the thought of him fully alive. My mind reaches back to those first few months after he died when his room still smelled like him. Even now, surrounded by his things, his books, his Bible, his Bongos, I can almost sense him in the room. I look back over at that fingerprint and smile, feeling the tension trickle out of me, knowing I could walk over and scrub it away because Ryan’s fingerprints are all over our lives.
They are in his artwork, so vibrant and still here, the music he made, the writing he did.
Planted on the very souls of those who love him. They grow more deeply rooted each year in an untold number of hearts and lives touched by the gifts we give in his name at Christmas.
I’m filled with gratitude for that faded fingerprint. For now, I’m beyond my grief, past all the uncertainty, and on the other side of all the whys, I have about Ryan’s death. Standing securely on certitude, I’m now prepared to step into another holiday season. Ready to invite others to fix their faith on The Christmas Gift. To welcome them to plant their hope right next to mine, on the birth and truth of the One who came down from heaven on Christmas Eve to embed His fingerprints into the lives of poor lost souls with no hope.
Saving me—and offering me the promise that I will see Ryan’s smile again.
Feeling better, I tell the Alexa to resume. Joy To The World fills the air, and I close my eyes and listen to the words…
The Lord has come—
The masterpiece is finished.
Amy Catlin Wozniak was raised in Nebraska-Go Huskers-and now resides in Northeast Ohio. There she shares her life with her soulmate, four children, two grandsons, and a Great Pyrenees named Scarlett O’Hara, who has absolutely no problem living up to her name sake.
She loses all track of time when she’s hiking, reading, or writing. Her passion is sharing stories that reflect God’s hope.