Memorial Service

When a person you love transitions from this world to the next, you need to provide an opportunity to respectfully remember them.  This can be a funeral or a memorial service.  Now I think of a funeral as a respectful remembrance ceremony where there is the final remains of the transitioned person.  I think of a memorial service as a respectful remembrance ceremony without the remains.  Just giving you my definition.  Don’t know if there is really a difference.

But it is the duty or chore or job of the family to put this ceremony together.  Not an easy thing to pull off.  You want to honor your loved one but you don’t want people to feel uncomfortable or create a sea of depression.

And some people attend a memorial service out of feelings of obligation.  Others have no choice because of the relationship such as being a member of the family or a co-worker or a person’s boss.  Essentially it is not at the top of a person’s “I want to” list.  So when you are planning the service, you want people to breathe a sigh of relief when it is a pleasant experience and not a downer.

There are many choices needing to be made.  Who will preside?  What special words do you want spoken?  What type of music and what specific songs should be included?  What should the program look like?

The first decision is to find a funeral home to help you.  This is hard.  You want someone that you trust.  You want someone that will listen and guide you instead of selling you the biggest funeral that they have.  Oh, yes.  It is a product that you are buying, and you are vulnerable so sometimes you spend more money with the encourgagement of the funeral director.  You need a person with reason to help you.

We were very lucky.  My husband and I had talked about dying many times.  We both looked around and realized that this was a natural thing that happened to all people.  So it was smart to think about it and be prepared.  So I knew exactly what he wanted and what I should do.  I knew the funeral home he trusted and I also knew that I could be careful in what I spent.

The program became a group project for the family.  A little bit of serious, a little bit of funny and a comfortable amount of talking about my husband.  Remembering the agenda kept us on target.  We were not preaching to the lost, we were honoring my husband and remembering the good times in his life.

Since we have a large family we got the children involved in drawing pictures and displaying lots of photos of the fun times we had with Poppy.  We quoted Dr. Suess as well as C.S. Lewis and the Bible.  We had modern songs and old favorites.  And we had a flag ceremony to remember his time serving in the Air Force.

I enjoyed the memorial service.  It was a great mixture of his life.  It was not sad.  There were serious parts and there was laughter.  I felt him there and he was enjoying it with us.  My husband was a very loved man and his service reflected his valued life and all that he gave to us.  It was our time to say,” We love you, we honor and respect you and we will always remember you”. He left a legacy and I feel we honored his legacy through his service.

Connecting with People

The days following the death of my husband was like a major reunion.  There was a constant flow of people in my home.  Some of these people I had not seen for many years.  Others I had just seen the day before.  But they came and they came and they came.  Sometimes one group would overlap with another.

It was so wonderful.  The visits did so much for me.  First and foremost, I was so pleased that people respected my husband enough to get in a car and drive to my house and spend time with me, honoring my husband.  It takes energy to visit someone.  You have to carve out time in a busy schedule.  You have to drive to our house which is not on the beaten path to anywhere.  Then you have to go into an unknown environment.  Will this be a group of crying people or will you feel uncomfortable?  It is not easy to be a visitor.

The visits were a great distraction for me.  I could focus on the people coming through my door.  I was meeting new people. I was reconnecting people of my past. Friends of my children, colleagues of my children, friends of my childhood, persons that we worship with at our church, neighbors, friends that we partied with as my husband and I were a young couple, friends that I went to school with and people that we had known forever.

Having people to focus on allowed me to move off of the sadness and the sense of loss.  We told “remember when” stories.  We updated information about jobs, children, homes, hobbies, retirement and activities.  We laughed, joked and had a good time. The visits were a great time to breathe, and act as if nothing had happen.

The visits were also a glimpse of my new world.  I was entertaining guests without my husband.  Something that I had not done for almost 53 years.  My new social group was myself and my adult children.  I was reconnecting with people that would properly play a role in my new life.  I did not grasp that at the time but it was a gentle introduction to my future.

The visits also let the time move by rapidly.  I cannot imagine sitting alone after a tragedy and counting the hours until a memorial service.  At a time like this everything stops.  Your regular routine does not exist anymore.  Appointments are cancelled, and daily activities are not conducted.  Time hangs in the air.  Visits keep you occupied and moves you through the days.

I am so thankful to people for the decision to visit me and my family.  I was very surprised at the number of people that came.  But I was so happy when they came.  I was reconnected to people of the past, and I was connected to new people.  I know how much energy and effort it took to visit and I want people to know how important it is to visit.  It is therapeutic for both parties.

God made us to be social.  We know that babies will not develop if they are held in isolation.  And especially when our world is threatened or destroyed, we have a need to be social.  Reaching out and connecting pulls us through the worst of events.

 

Processing with God

There was not to be any sleep the night of my husband’s death.  Oh, I went to bed.  I did everything I usually do before bed.  I prepared to sleep but sleep never was to be a part of my night.  I had to make my peace with life and death.  I had to process with God.

And process I did.  I thought about the last few minutes before my husband left to walk down to the lake.  Was he in a good mood?  Did he seem sick?  Did he seem confused?  Were there symptoms of illness that I did not pick up on?  Was I in tune with his moods, his needs, his physical and emotional facets?

Yes, he was in a great mood.  We had laughed and joked and our relationship was in a good place.  No, he did not seem to be sick.  There were no symptoms that I could have noticed.  He had been weed eating which he loved to do.  He was going to play in the lake with children and grandchildren which he dearly loved.  Life was good.

So what went wrong?  If he was not sick and not depressed, what went wrong?  He was a good swimmer.  He was in eight feet of water.  What went wrong?

I tried to walk through the scenario all night.  I visually put myself there at the scene.  I, in my mind, was playing with them in the water.  We were splashing and laughing and making a train with rafts and noodles.  We were teasing and joking and having fun, as only family can do.  We were being responsible and caring, but relaxing and staying cool in the heat.  We were enjoying the lake that we love so much.

Then I visualized the final moments before he drown.  I lay on the raft with him.  I watched as he watched the kids and looked at them at play.  How he saw with pride each of them.  How precious they are and how much he loved them.

And then he rolled over and left this physical world.  There was no pain.  There was no discomfort.  There was no panic.  It was a simple movement from this world to the next.  God reached down and quietly lifted him out of his body and took him to the next world.  It was easy, and smooth and a comfortable transition.

Non-believers will say that during the night I justified his death in my own mind.  And non-believers will find their own explanations in all things.  But I know what happened during the night.  I was there.  I had the presence of God with me.  I talked to God as if he were sitting on the side of my bed. And we argued some.  I told him about my shock and my anger.  I asked why I was not allowed to be more prepared.

But when morning came,  I knew that God had been with me all night.  He had tolerated my anger.  He had carried me through the scenario many times.  He allowed me to question and he had provided me with the strength to get through the night.  But most of all, God provided me with his peace.  He let me know that He was with me and life was going to be OK.  My husband was fine and I would be also.  What a great God I have that would allow me this night of processing and would take me into His heart and grant me grace and peace to live through death and life.

How to Rate a Neighbor

I had never thought about whether I was a good or bad neighbor.  I have always been friendly, tried to mind my own business, spoken to everyone, waved and smiled and when asked, I would try to accommodate requests.  Was I a good neighbor?  I don’t know.  For most of my adult life, I lived on acreage and did not have neighbors that were 20 feet away.  But was that just an excuse?

I have been exposed to neighbors that are unbelievable.  When my husband died they all appeared.  They did not stop at the door and ask to come in.  They opened the door, came in and took over.  They never came to me to ask advice about what they should do.  They took over.  They never asked me where I kept silverware or glassware or tupperware.  They took over.

I have never been cared for so well and and with so much love by those outside the family.  They were the host and hostesses for my house.  I was left to deal with my loss and the necessary decisions of my loss.  I was free to go to my room and lay down if I needed to.  I was free to go to the funeral home and to visit with the constant numbers of people that came to the house.  They took over.

They bought food and water. They organized food.  They greeted people.  They cleaned areas of the house. They held hands with us. They cried with us.  They planned with us. They processed with us.  They took over.

My husband died on Saturday.  They were there on Saturday.  They were there on Sunday.  They were there on Monday.  They were there on Tuesday.  They took turns and seemed to organize their schedule.  By Wednesday, they let us know that they were dropping by less because we needed less.  We now had lots of relatives to be there.  By Thursday they would check in but not stay long.

It was like a choreographed dance.  They could sense what we needed and when we needed it.  The never pushed into my business but they gave off a sense of being available.  They worked in the shadows but let their presence known when there was a need.  I am a very independent and private person but I did not feel they interfered with my privacy.

I often have wondered if they took a course on “How to be a Good Neighbor” because they were experts in the field.  I am not sure that I could ever do a neighbor job as good as these folks did.  I just hope that I have learned some things that I can use when it is my turn to be the good neighbor.  Right now I can just say, “thank you, thank you, thank you”.  You were so wonderful because you took over.

Invasion

My house was full of neighbors and the porches were full of neighbors.  I knew all of these people and I knew that they were sitting in my space because they cared for me.  But then, I became engulfed with uniforms.  These were not neighbors.  These were not people that I knew.  These were deputies from the sheriff’s department,  firemen and persons from the Department of Natural Resources.  They were strangers and yet they came as if they should be welcomed.

I have always lived a very calm life.  I am the opposite of a drama queen.  I have never been involved with emergencies.  I have never been a party to a burglary or an automobile accident or an assault or anything else that would cause me to be associated with uniformed persons.  My naive picture of the uniform is that of the kindergartener when the policeman is my friend.  I did not associate this invasion of the uniforms as dangerous, intimidating or bearing bad news.

One of the uniforms was assigned to me.  It turns out that his son had played at my house years back. He was good friends with my daughter’s good friend.  In my state of mind, I did not remember him.  It turned out he was kind, caring and had my best interest in mind.  In the beginning, however, I did not have a warm fuzzy feeling about the uniforms in my house.  The most uncomfortable moment came when one of the uniforms told me he had to look through my house. He had to do this to make sure my husband had not gotten out of the lake and was in the house somewhere.  I got up to escort him for a tour of the house.  However, he told me I had to remain in the presence of another uniform while he searched my house.  I suddenly felt like I was a suspect.  It was like I was being accused of hiding my husband in the house as I reported his drowning.

As I sat and wondered, reality filtered into my brain.  No one remains living when they have been underwater this long.  My brain started to let me know that there was no longer a hope of recovering my husband to come home and be with me.  It was now finding him so we could confirm what was already evident.  I remember saying to my uniform “keeper” that I understood that it was over, but I needed confirmation.  I could not call my other four children without confirmation.  I was calm; very calm.  I was rational.  I was reasonable.

As my neighbors sat vigil on the porch, they watched the boats of the uniforms searching the bottom with sonar.  They would say, “I think they know where he is”.  They would question, “Why don’t they send in divers?”.  And we sat.  Calmly sat. Our neighbors kept us in cool water as we sat and sat on this famously hot day.  Until three hours later a young uniform came and knelt by my chair.  He looked up at me and I knew.  After introducing himself, (the uniforms all have such good manners), he said he needed to talk to me.  I looked at him and said, “you have found him”.  “Yes”, he said, ” I have him on the boat.”  The invasion of the uniforms had confirmed my new reality.

Panic

I immediately hung up and tried to call 911.  It took me three tries. I kept hitting the wrong keys on my phone.  When the lady answered I explained that I was calling about a possible drowning in Lake Murray.  She sounded disinterested and said she had already had many calls.  I said, “It is my husband”.  She perked up.  She wanted to know his name and his age and what he was wearing.  I gave her the information and she said to hang up, the rescuers were on the way.

Having my hip replaced only three weeks prior, I could not bend over to put on shoes so I grabbed a red canvas pair of slip ons.  I remember thinking, “Ray would be so embarrassed to see me.”  I had on aqua clam diggers, white pressure hose and these red canvas shoes that were half on.  As I hurried down stairs to direct the rescue truck I was screaming at God. “No God, No.  Please no.  Don’t let this be true.  I really need him.  Please God, don’t let this be happening”.  I got to the door as the rescuers were passing the house.  I got out to the driveway as they passed in the other direction.  Even though I waved at them they went on down the road.  But my neighbor was coming home and she asked me what had happened.  I told her that I thought Ray had drown.  That was the beginning.

Before I could turn around my house was full of people.  All, and I mean all, of my neighbors came to my house.  They were in the living room, the kitchen and the porches.  They were the most caring people I have ever known. I am a very independent and controlling person and these people were taking over my house.  They were serving water and waiting on everyone.  I kept feeling like I needed to take care of them.  They were guests in my house.  It was very strange, but comforting. I can never express enough gratitude to these wonderful people who were so supportive in those moments.

Next came the children and grandchildren.  The rescuers had dismissed them from the lake and sent them all to the house.  I will never forget my grandchildren shaking with sobs as they slowly walked up the hill from the lake. Too young to be a part of this horrible tragedy.  Our beautiful day had suddenly turned to be an unreal and unthinkable event.  It was happening too fast.  I could not breathe.  I could not find anything that I could do. My chest was tight. I could not think.  I was in a panic.

Where it began…or ended…

July 22, 2017.  I woke up to a beautiful Carolina day.  The sun was shining.  It was hot; famously hot as we say in South Carolina.  The lake in front of the house was as blue as the Carolina sky and was quiet and inviting.  I could not look forward to swimming this day since I had had a hip replaced just three weeks ago.  But the day started like all great Saturdays with chocolate chip pancakes and bacon with a side egg.  My husband of 52 years made sure I had all that I needed to start the day with a smile.  He was that way.  Always caring that everyone was given what they needed.

After breakfast I went back upstairs to my bedroom to rest.  Ray, my husband, went outside to do some weed-eating.  This was one of the chores that he enjoyed most.  I guess he just got lost in the mindless cutting and it was soothing for him.  I watched him from my bedroom windows.

After several hours of outside chores, Ray came inside to put on his bathing suit.  The heat was demanding that he take a swim in the lake.  He teased me about going to see the ladies in the bikinis on the lake.  Of course, the ladies were all of his grown daughters and granddaughters.  I told him to give me the binoculars so I could watch as they played in the water.  I said he should behave because I would be watching.

And watch I did.  Between reading a book and resting I would spy on the group of ten out in the water.  They had paddle boards, noodles and rafts and they would hook together and make a train or they would drift off in pairs to play.  It was obvious that they were having a great time.  I felt a little left out because I could not join them.  But it was fun watching.  Poppy was relaxing and playing.

About 2pm I noticed that most everyone had left their toys and were diving over next to one of our docks.  I assumed that someone had dropped a phone or keys in the lake and they were all diving for the lost item.  Then I saw my youngest daughter running to our other dock and jump in the ski boat and hustle over to where everyone was diving.  Something told me something was wrong.

I called her on her phone and she did not answer.  Just a few minutes later my phone rang.  It was my daughter calling me.  I answered and she said, “Mom, pray.  Pray hard.  I think we have lost Poppy”.