I had a sweet friend at work write me a note this morning that said people often describe grief as an emotion on its own. But her experience has been that it’s a myriad of emotions – fear, sadness, gratefulness and love all intensified, which is can of course be draining. I love that. I mean, I hate it. And I love it. Which was her point.
I think her definition is in line with what I’ve been saying about this whole experience. It’s easy to look at the big picture – My mom has brain cancer that will end her life – and simply lament and despair. You can stop there and just say, this really sucks. And it does. That part is true. But if you don’t zoom in from the big picture and look under the surface, you’ll miss the beauty that is sprinkled within. Those gifts God gives you as you walk through a tragedy or trial that tell you he’s still there. Still loving you. Still carrying you. I don’t want to miss a single one of them. That’s why I’ve written during this process. Sure, I’m sharing it with you and happy to do so. But these posts are for me and for my family – to remind ourselves when we forget.
Ellie and I spent 8 days with Mom and Dad in early June which I wrote about here. I knew time with Mom was short, but I had a church planting trip planned to Portland the following week. After a quick 3 nights at home, James and I left on the trip. Mom continued to decline while we were gone, but I didn’t get the dreaded call. Upon our return from Portland, one more sleep in my bed, and then we took our girls to camp at Eagle Lake. This is the highlight of their summer, and I had been praying they wouldn’t miss it. I received word from Texas that Mom had stopped being able to both eat and drink over that weekend. So, I made the decision to fly back to Texas on Monday morning, not telling my girls that I wouldn’t be there to pick them up. I wanted them to enjoy their camp experience.
That week – the week of June 26th – was such a weird one. I saw Mom and was a little stunned at the change in the one week since I’d seen her last. What struck me most is that her smile was gone. She was still in there – she’d look right at you when you spoke to her. But she slept a lot, and there were no signs of recognition or response. Many of her friends came to visit her that week, also wanting to say their goodbyes. For me, I was juxtaposing stalking my girls’ camp website for photos with watching my mom leave this earth. Hanging out with my sister who I hadn’t seen since December with making our notification lists and planning Mom’s funeral details so we were ready. Crying on the phone with my girls when they realized why I wasn’t there to pick them up with some sweet and even fun moments with Dad that week including dinner and a movie and going out on his boat.
As we entered the weekend and then the week of July 3rd and approached day six, seven and eight of her not having eaten or drunk any food or water, the feelings get really complex. I didn’t want her to go at all – not at all. I’d choose a miraculous healing over her departing to heaven in a heartbeat. But it appeared that she was headed towards heaven while also hanging on in this horrible less and less responsive state. So, I also found myself asking God to take her. Dad’s 70th birthday on July 7th was looming, and I was so hoping we wouldn’t say goodbye to her on that day or be in the middle of planning her funeral. It felt a little bit like being tied on a train track and being able to watch the train come from miles away. By the last day or two she really wasn’t even opening her eyes at all. There was a nightly ritual where we all three essentially said goodbye to her – not knowing if we’d find her breathing the next morning. On her last day with us – Monday July 3rd, my aunt Pen and I were in the house with mom by ourselves. I had been wanting to get my guitar out and sing to Mom for a while but just hadn’t done it. I asked if Aunt Pen wanted to go sing to Mom with me. Worship was one of Mom’s very favorite things. So, we did. It was sweet and precious, and it makes me happy knowing those songs were among the last sounds she heard on this earth. She breathed her last late that night, and we were all able be in the room with her minutes after she was gone. That alone was a mercy God gave us. James and the kids arrived that evening. James was able to be there with me that night while our kids slept peacefully. Another mercy. The timing of her passing allowed us to get the visitation and funeral scheduled for July 5th and 6th – avoiding Dad’s birthday on the 7th. Another mercy.
The 4th of July was such a weird day for us. It’s like it wasn’t even a holiday. We were up until 3am handling all the things that happen when someone passes away at home, and then Jenn, Dad and I had an appointment at the funeral home at 10am. We got the visitation and funeral scheduled, I finished Mom’s slideshow tribute, got the funeral program finished and scheduled for printing, and we called or texted all the people on our notification list with the details. Jennie’s husband and four boys arrived that evening, and I have some vague recollection of watching some fireworks on TV that evening. A couple of people called that day and asked how I was doing. My basic answer was, “I don’t know. I’m busy.” There was just too much to do to really process that day. One sweet thing that happened that day is that Dad wanted us to go ahead and take Mom’s jewelry that we had designated to me and to Jenn a few years ago. This might seem quick to some, but it meant that we were all decked out in her jewelry the rest of the week – special to us, and I think special to Dad, too.
We got all 12 of us (Dad, Jenn, myself and our families) ready for the visitation Wednesday evening the 5th. The turnout was amazing. We had over 100 people come, and it felt like a bit of a family reunion under very sad circumstances. There were so many flowers – which she loved. And our kids did great during the two hours. The funeral itself was on Thursday morning at 11. The full recording of the service can be found here, and at time of publishing has been viewed (at least in part) over 1,200 times. We live streamed the service as so many were out of town, and there were still over 150 in the room. In case there was any doubt, Mom was well loved. We were really pleased with how the funeral went. It was focused on her and her life, and anyone who was there or watched it would have a good understanding of who Mom was and the legacy she left behind. We thought the combination of sweet and funny reflected her so well. Another mercy.
The graveside service was also nice, although blazing hot. James spoke for a few minutes, and then I read the following lyrics from a song my friend Julie shared with me, and then we sang Amazing Grace before they moved her casket into its resting place. This is “Always Good” by Andrew Petersen:
You remember how Mary was grieving, how you wept when she fell at your feet
If it’s true that you know what I’m feeling, could it be that you’re weeping with me?
Arise, my God, and save me, there’s nowhere else to go
You’re always good, always good,
Somehow this sorrow is shaping my heart like it should
You’re always good, always good.
It’s so hard to know what you’re doing, so why won’t you tell it all plain?
But you said you’d come back on the third day, Peter missed it again and again
So maybe the answer surrounds us, and we don’t have eyes to see
You’re always good, always good
This heartache is moving me closer than joy ever could
You’re always good.
My God, my God be near me
There’s nowhere else to go
And Lord if you can hear me, please help your child to know
You’re always good, always good
As we try to believe what is not meant to be understood
Will you help us to trust your intentions for us are still good?
You laid down your life, and you suffered like I never could
You’re always good, always good. You’re always good.
We then went to a lunch afterward at Dad’s church where we had a lovely meal and we had a microphone to pass around so people were more comfortable sharing stories about Mom. It was a perfect way to finish the day honoring her.
The next day, we had to roll straight into honoring Dad on his 70th birthday. It was emotional. We all had some tears that morning as we wished him a happy birthday. We took the grandkids out of the house for a few hours as our first present to him, and then we went out to dinner that night and gave him cards and gifts that evening. There were both tears and laughter – exactly as it should have been. Jenn and I gave Dad a new TiVo for Father’s Day a few weeks earlier, and we told him then that it was for both Father’s Day and for his birthday. But, we couldn’t stand for him not to have anything to open from us for his birthday. So, we put a small note in a tiny box, wrapped it, and then wrapped three larger boxes around it. He opened them all through laughter and then got to the note, which said: We already got you a TiVo! What were you expecting? (And then some other sweeter things.) We got a good laugh out of him for that.
Saturday began with our last appointment at the funeral home to design Mom’s headstone. It went fine, but I think some of the emotions were starting to set in and come more. It was a sweet and sad time for me, Jenn and Dad. We then went through Mom’s clothes that afternoon and picked out what we wanted (at Dad’s request). Then came the goodbyes – this part is the worst. First to the Brady’s as they flew out first thing Sunday morning, and then with us as we left Monday morning. I couldn’t even hardly speak about our departure without tears, and saying goodbye to Dad Monday morning was one of the harder things I’ve ever had to do.
Many say that grief comes in waves and that the waves come hard and fast at first. But there are glimpses of mercy and grace even in the waves. I’ve pointed them out above so that I remember them, but my hope in sharing this process with you is that you look for them in your hard things as well. There’s always grace and mercy there – we just have to allow him to show it to us.