Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Time to Mourn, Part Two

Arriving at the church, we set to work at putting up displays of Mom C.'s life. Because she fell ill so soon after arriving here in the valley, we were really feeling like people here had not even had a chance to get to know the healthy Judy. They only knew her as a sick person in a recliner for whom prayers, meals and cards were offered. So we put her on display.

We had created several large boards covered with photographs, both portraits and snapshots, as well as documents from high school, college and dental assisting school. We set out more framed photos on tables. In addition, we found a treasure trove of her watercolor paintings and displayed nearly all of them in one way or another. Beside them sat her palettes and trays of paint, which almost looked to be still wet. We also displayed a wooden sign, reading "Judy's Garden," which she had proudly displayed in her last two yards, with photos of the gardens themselves and the painting she had done of a garden with the sign in it--and the straw hat she was rarely seen without when outdoors.

It was a touching memorial, and many people commented later that they felt like they'd become so much better acquainted with her by browsing through all the displays. It was a lot of work to set up, but it was worth it. We wanted people to see her whole life, not just the past three months.

As people began to arrive for the service, Ruth's friends from BC played a piano and cello prelude and a slide show of more photos played on the big screen in the front of the church.

I do so love the cello. It touches a deep part of me somehow.

The service was so sweet and tender. In addition to our church's pastor, who did a very nice job, several songs were sung and four of us--the three siblings and myself--were able to speak through our tears, straight from our hearts. It was truly beautiful. We hadn't consulted each other as to what each was planning to say, but each person's sentiments dove-tailed beautifully with the others'. Mom was honored, and her deep and life-changing relationship with her Jesus was placed on center stage.

All of us were able to maintain just enough composure to get through what we wanted to say, but enough of our heart leaked through that people could see how special this dear woman was. I didn't really care to try to maintain any appearances. These people who had come were our friends and to hold back our tears would have been terribly dishonest, denying both the immensity of our love for her and the value of the relationships with the people in attendance.

What an odd thing a funeral is, in that sense. If we had just wanted their practical support, they could have just come for the luncheon, where they could hug us and talk to us and interact. But no; we asked them to come and sit with us as we mourned, turning the private grief we have been experiencing for the last weeks into a very public thing. We asked them to come and weep with those who weep.

With us seated in the front rows, we couldn't really see what the atmosphere was like among our guests during the service, and when I had my turn up on the platform, my eyes kept blurring up on me, but I heard from many others later that there hadn't been a dry eye in the house, that even the traditionally non-crying types were blubbering away with the rest of us.

It was a great loss, and the tears were honest and necessary. Our children, thankfully, were able to pour out their grief as well. They cried, all of them, within the comfort of their extended family. Elli, again, was a great comfort to Grandpa, and they cried in each other's arms off and on throughout the ceremony.

After the last words were spoken, the guests were ushered out and the family was left alone. We gathered in the back of the church while the casket was opened up one more time so Dad C. could have a few minutes alone for a final goodbye before we headed to the cemetery.

It was heart-wrenching to watch him weep there, alone.

As we were waiting for him, Elli's Awana leader came in the back door and approached me with tears silently streaming down her face. The compassion I saw in her eyes is something I won't soon forget and she gently handed me an envelope, handmade from green construction paper and labelled in a childish scrawl, "I Love You, Grandma Judy--From Elli." I choked on a sudden sob and hugged the woman tightly.

She had found it.

Let me back up.

Late Friday night, Elli had realized with much anguish that she'd forgotten the packet of drawings she had created for Grandma, the one she had wanted to place in the casket to go with her to the grave, dust to dust. She had painstakingly created them at school, skipping her school work with her kind-hearted teacher's permission. There was one of a dog, one of a rainbow, one of a palm tree, one of a pine tree, and one of the "Judy's Garden" sign. But she had left them in her desk. The building was locked for the weekend.

When I saw Elli's Awana leader (whose husband is the P.E. teacher at the school) arrive at the funeral, I asked her in desperation if her husband had come with her and if there was anything he could do. He hadn't come with her, but she would make a couple of phone calls. It would have to be during the service itself, if there was any hope of retrieving Elli's precious gift in time. I prepared Elli for disappointment. It was highly unlikely. Even if he could be reached in time, he likely wouldn't have keys to someone else's classroom. After the service began, I realized I hadn't even told her which classroom Elli was in.

But she handed me a packet of drawings addressed to Grandma. It was obviously the one. She had found it. She had called her husband, who had called the school janitor, who had come from home, figured out which classroom, and searched through all the desks until he found what must be the precious packet of drawings. Bless that man.

When Dad C. was finished, we caught the funeral director's attention just in time before he closed the lid. My daughter and I quickly approached the casket together and she reached up to put the packet inside, next to the Bible that they had placed in Mom C.'s hands, the Bible she had carried during her wedding in lieu of flowers and had requested to be buried with. Then we held each other and wept anew, my daughter and I, at the tragic beauty of it all and the relief that she was able to give her Grandma that one final gift.

Then just as the lid was being closed, Andy ran forward, too, and placed atop Elli's packet a stem of freesias, his and his mother's favorite flower, which he had plucked from a flower arrangement and had used as a visual during his time on the platform, speaking of the fragrance of Christ that had emanated from her life.

The lid closed.

We were done.

The three siblings, as well as us two daughters-in-law and Benny (Ruth's boyfriend) surrounded the casket. We were the pall bearers, and we carried the appropriately heavy load willingly, and with great honor and dignity, back out into the snow again for the short drive to the cemetery.

To start with Part One, click here.

To continue with Part Three, click here.


alison said...

She was celebrated and carried lovingly to the grave by her children - a good life.

Dan said...

Thanks for sharing this--I'm weeping with you here in Grand Rapids too. She was dearly loved, and we have hope. Thank God, we have hope.

AmberJ said...

Thank you.

Mister Ed T said...

What a wonderful tribute to her. Well done! Thanks for letting us peek in the church window.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts during the service went to Proverbs 31 And her children (and grandchildren) will arise and call her blessed.

Love Dad

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Thomas said he wanted to put something in the casket for Grandma. I told Thomas it wouldn't be appropriate to do that. Why didn't I know it would be appropriate.

Sherry C said...


It wasn't something we had encouraged or even suggested.

Elli just said she had made something that she wanted to put in and I didn't see any reason why she couldn't.

I don't think I had even mentioned it to Andy beforehand, let alone consulted anyone for advice on what was or was not appropriate. You didn't miss out on some group decision; it just kind of happened.

I'm sorry if you feel it was inappropriate.