It’s no surprise that the most vivid memories of life, the moments that seem stuck in time, are often cemented into memory through joy or pain. What is surprising is how closely the two exist. In the times of deep pain it’s the joyful moments that pull us through. They mingle together in an awful yet wonderfully poignant way.
The gathering was beautiful. I saw faces there that I have not seen in years. Many years. The fellowship and the memories we shared with each other made every second feel as warm as coming home after a long time away. A pastor from long ago, hymns that soothed the open wounds and deep sense of loss, my wife’s arm around me, my children comforting my dad and siblings, the sounds of sadness all around us, and the casket sitting there with my mom inside. It was unreal. Speaking to the crowd, but not remembering a word I said except for this. “If you do not know Jesus, consider that the love you felt from my mom was a taste of what it’s like to know him.” Loading the casket into the Hearse, feeling the weight of my mom’s body, knowing “she” was not there, yet seeing and feeling that her body was. It’s a feeling I cannot describe very well. It’s something I won’t forget.
The funeral felt like a stop on the way to a final destination. I knew that when we buried mom in 4 days that it would be then that I would lose all composure, the busyness of planning everything and the constant contact and fellowship with my friends and family would cease. So in the days between we laughed, we cried, we played board games, went on long walks, felt anger at death, and lost a lot of sleep. Pain and joy mingled together. Feeling alone while sitting with each other, a hole in our lives where mom existed.
It went really fast. We arrived and moved mom’s casket from the Hearse to the grave. No one said anything official, we just sat and stood there staring at the coffin. My brother said “See you mama llama, have fun in heaven”, and then the staff asked if we wanted to see her lowered into the ground.
As they lowered her into the ground a flood of memories raced through my mind. I wanted to hug everyone there, and run away at the same time. It was just my family present. We threw flowers into the grave and instead of lingering, we left. I don’t know if it’s because the pain was too great or if it was because it was so bitterly cold, or if we all knew that the casket held just a shell. Maybe it was all these things and more.
My wife and I drove back to my parents house alone so instead of going straight to my parents, I drove up into the hills so that I could see Livermore from up high. It was a sunny and clear day, the hills and the vineyards were an absolute radiant green, as if we were looking at a photo of a fantasy valley with filters to make it look amazing, yet it was just that way on it’s own. You want to feel amazing in those moments, but the reality is that I felt both pain and sorrow mingled with the awe and joy. The joy of the presence of my wife, the beauty before me and the memories scattered all over the town below me, and the joy of knowing my mom is no longer suffering and is with Jesus where we all long to be. Deeply saddened, because though death has lost it’s sting and the grave it’s power, today death seems to have the victory. I cannot go home and talk to my mom about the experiences of the day, nor can I now text her and let her know I am thinking of her and I am looking forward to the big family meet up in February. The one I deleted from the calendar this afternoon because it’s no longer going to happen. We did make our way home and then played board games for several hours as we enjoyed the company of each other.
I can tell things are going to get progressively worse as far as the feeling of loss. That pain is very real and it’s debilitating at times. Thankfully I do not mourn as one without hope as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says, because this is temporary. But I do mourn as does my family and our friends.
The folks who run the funeral home said that our service was not like others they have been a part of, they really enjoyed it and said several times they would like to have met my mom. That’s pretty cool.