“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami
True. I was not the same person at the end of this storm. I had gone through the refiner’s fire, and come out completely different. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
November 27, 2014
It was Thanksgiving Day. It was a first. A first of many that I would face in the next year. Perhaps God knew it would be best for me to meet this “first” now—when I was numb and things were all a blur.
The first holiday without Roger.
We had baked the turkey the day before, so it was all ready. I was pretty dazed, so the girls helped me get everything together. I remember my heart feeling so empty without Roger at the table.
I have not always been a “Black Friday” person. In fact, I only began joining my daughters-in-laws and Lisa a few years ago. The thought of getting up at 11:30 pm—yes, I go to bed early—to go shopping for five or six hours simply does not appeal to a morning person. But after we got in the groove, there was a lot of darting from store to store or line to line, and that made me glad I joined them. Depending on your point of view politically or physiologically, it was good news that in 2014 stores opened at 6:00 pm.
We had decided to do the Black Friday gig months before this storm, so we kept to the routine and checked out all of the ads on Thursday morning. We prepared dinner, ate, and even took time to share what we were thankful for. As hard as it was, we found that there were many things that called for thanksgiving. The saying in Chad and Steph’s kitchen states, there is always, always, always, always something to be thankful for. I won’t share now, but our list was healthy.
I don’t recall much of the shopping experience—didn’t take any pictures (unusual for me). But I do remember how surreal it was for me to stand in Walmart with my hand on a kitchen trash can next to Madison who was holding a soccer ball, waiting for the announcement, “On your mark; get set; go!” which actually means, “You may now begin your Black Friday shopping.” On Thanksgiving Day, no less. I thought, “My husband just died yesterday. We will bury him Saturday. And here I am out with all of these shopping-crazed people whose only thought was to get the best bargain and get out of there.”
November 28, 2014
With visitation set for Friday night, we worked in earnest in the morning to get things ready. Pictures, a DVD to play of family memories, music to go with the DVD, a bulletin about Roger’s life, an obituary, the order of service…a funeral takes a lot of planning.
Lisa designed the bulletin and nieces Carissa and Alysha helped put pictures on foam board. Items that spoke of Roger’s life were gathered, and by Friday afternoon we felt like everything came together nicely.
Hard emotions. Walking into the church and seeing Roger in the casket for the first time.
Yes, he looked “so good.” Isn’t that what I always said when I walked by a casket? “Everything looks so nice.” “They did a nice job getting her ready.” In fact, those were statements that Roger even said. I now wonder how those grieving families received our feeble words of encouragement.
In all honesty, Roger did look good. He had been so bloated with the effects of the brain tumor, that he actually looked great. Well, not great. Lifeless. But better than he had looked for weeks.
But seeing him for the first time in that casket—reality set in. This was it. In a short time many friends and family members would join us in visiting the dead and the living. And I can’t count the times I said out loud, “It’s just his body. It’s just his shell. He is not here.”
I was so grateful for the number of friends who came through the line. Many friends were in the area for the Thanksgiving holiday; the kids even got to see old friends from their high school days. People traveled great distances to pay their respects to Roger. Little did they know that it was a huge encouragement to me.
November 29, 2014
The day had come. The hardest day. The day we would officially say goodbye to Roger and lay his body to rest until the rapture. Many times I have attended funerals and said to the family, “The next part is the hardest part.”
Both my parents had died, Roger’s folks, too. And we both had a nephew on each side who met death tragically as young boys. So, death was not a stranger to me. I KNEW that this would be a hard day, and I could empathetically tell others that it would be a hard day.
But there is just something about leaving your soul mate in the ground and walking away to grieve, mourn, live, and cry that makes you want to collapse.
The service was touching. Chad led the congregation in “When We All Get to Heaven” with me playing the piano, just like I had done so many years with Roger leading the music. Pastor Derek read the obituary. Pastor Thompson read fond and funny memories we had of Roger. We showed a video of pictures with the kids as youngsters singing, “Daddy.” Pastor Thompson gave the message. And it was over. People filed up front to give their condolences—many who came from great distances just for the service, and then we hovered around the casket to say another goodbye before the lid was shut. Reminding myself again: It’s just his shell. It’s not really Roger. His soul is in heaven.
Pallbearers. Who did we pick? There were so many that would have been appropriate, but the three sons, Chad, Lance and Scott, and the three grandsons, Micah, Asher and Seth were who we chose. How touching it was to see the boys and their sons carry grandpa to the hearse and then to the gravesite.
You need to understand that the cemetery is about a half-mile from where we live. I’m finding that it’s a good thing now. I can go anytime to visit his grave—not him. Remember? “It’s just his body. It’s just his shell. He is not here.”
In fact, when we purchased the lots, we had fun trying them on for size!
We arrived at the cemetery, sat in the tent, and Pastor Thompson read some scriptures, and that was it. Well, almost. We sang as a group, “What a Day That Will Be” and it was beautiful. What a fitting end to an exemplary life. (Many thanks to Penny McCullough for video taping this. In the wind, no less.)
There was the usual funeral food at the church, and there was a lot of laughter. Bless the ladies who fix food for these events. This family reunion, with sad overtones, was a joyous celebration of the purpose of life.
Even as we returned to our home that afternoon, the fellowship continued, making the beginning transition to widowhood a little easier. It was as though I was on a moving sidewalk. It was moving. I couldn’t get off. But there were other people walking along side of me to help me along the way.
So it’s over. Roger is gone, and that particular storm, that brainstorm–navigating my husband’s uncharted journey with brain cancer–has ended. But there are other kinds of storms that formulate even after such a turbulent brainstorm has run its course, such as a heartstorm: that period of struggles during the first year of being a widow. I have kept another journal that charts such struggles. My heartstorm. And I plan on posting chapters of this new journey in the weeks to come.