Back in Missouri (and missing my mother)

Howdy, everyone!  After a long drive yesterday, we are back in Missouri.

I have gone through the comments that had built up waiting to be moderated, so hopefully if you left a comment while I was gone you will now find it there.  And I thought it would be nice to give you a quick summary of how things went last week.  However, first…

Thanks so much to the many of you who left comments, sent e-mails, and mailed cards and letters of condolence concerning my mother’s death.  Those things really do mean a lot, and every one brought with it a comforting touch.  It has been a difficult time, but we have gotten through it just fine, and all of you played a part in that, for which you have my deepest appreciation.

The drive down last Tuesday went rather quickly, although we got into Texas rather late to really do anything or meet with anyone.  After the very difficult night the evening before, my stepfather was going to bed early, and my sister was an hour-or-so from where we were staying (at our friends’ house in Dallas).  So after arriving and getting the sleepy kids in, we just crashed for that first night.

The next morning we coordinated with my stepfather and sister and met them at the funeral home with the rest of the family (my brother-in-law, two stepsisters, and my stepfather’s sister, brother-in-law, and father).  The funeral home is owned by some nice folks related to my stepfather’s brother-in-law, and they did a marvelous job in all respects–very professional and considerate.

That didn’t make the tasks any easier: creating the “program” for the funeral, writing the announcement for the paper, etc.  There was going to be no visitation with a body on view as my mother made her wishes clear to all of us over the last 30 years or so: she wished to be cremated and to have her ashes spread in the hills of Kentucky.  My father remembered that.  My stepfather remembered that.  My sister remembered that.  And I remembered that.  All independently.  She also did not want to be “on view,” as it were (unless it meant she could appear in a scene in her favorite TV program: “CSI: Miami”).  There was some discussion about these things, as one principle about funerals is that they are, in a real way, for the living, who remain and must deal with the loss, and not really for the dead, who are truly no longer with us and are awaiting a resurrection.  Yet there is another aspect about funerals and such “last things” that came into play: They are a final opportunity to keep one’s word and commitments to the departed.  And honor her wishes we did (and will).

So, we decided on a visitation for the sake of being with the family on the next evening (Thursday) and a funeral on Friday afternoon.  After that difficult task, we headed to the bank to take care of my mother’s financial affairs, since I was the only other name on one of her accounts.  An odd thing that was, going through my mother’s checkbook, looking for items that were still outstanding and reading entries that she had just written days before.  It brought to mind (as did many things this trip) that life can seem so normal and routine all the way up until a single, unexpected moment arrives when, suddenly, it just isn’t anymore.

During the daylight portion of Thursday, I was able to visit with my 91-year-old grandmother (paternal) and my father.  It was a good chance to spend a little time with them before the evening’s event and to catch them up on all that was going on and the arrangements that had been made.

The visitation went very well.  It was difficult to round up pictures of my mother, as she hated having her picture taken, especially the last few decades.  Still, we came across some good ones that represented her in various stages of life, and one of my stepsisters found a great picture of her that was much more recent than those we had found, and it served as the centerpiece.  I saw numerous faces that I had not seen in decades, and every one was a joy to me.  Several members of the local Dallas congregation of my church came by, and my thanks go out to them if they are reading this (and even if they are not!).  What could have been a much more stressful evening was not at all (well, it still was a little), and everyone’s spirit of comfort and support was heartily appreciated.

I went to bed that night a bit stressed, as not only was the funeral the next day, but I was going to be delivering the message at that funeral.  I had certainly done a number of funerals before this one — it sort of comes with the job, and, frankly, it is a humbling honor to be able to serve families in this way.  But I was unsure if I would be able to do my mother’s.  Yet, she did not have any particular “religious affiliation” as I think my stepfather put it, and there was no other pastor who would naturally fit the bill.  The funeral home’s chaplain would have gladly done it, I am sure, but there was something in me that recoiled at the idea of a man who did not know my mother getting up there to memorialize her.  I have done my share of funerals for people I did not know, but for that to be the case with Mom when I was right there and did know her was too difficult a thought to bear.  So, as weird as the concept may seem, I was doing the funeral service for my mother.  The night before, I stayed up making notes on our standard church funeral outline, modifying it a bit for my own delivery, and adding a personal section at the beginning, when I would be speaking as a son instead of as a pastor.

The day of the funeral, itself, began with horrible traffic (Ah, Dallas!  How I’ve missed you!), which meant some people would be late.  Still, everyone made it, and it was well attended by a collection of friends and family–some who knew my mother, and others who only knew us, those left behind, who wished to show us their love and support.  Several people were there from the Dallas LCG congregation, and they will forever have my gratitude.

My stepfather’s brother–my stepuncle, if you will–spoke briefly first, and said some very kind words.  I was thankful, both for the nice things he said about my mother, but also that something was said at all, as I was not yet convinced at that time that I would be able to speak intelligibly once I got to the lectern–so at least I could be confident that the assembled crowd heard at least some recognizable words in the English language should I be overcome with blubbering and sobs!

I was not overcome, however–at least not to the point that I could not proceed–and God was very merciful in providing the strength and focus I needed to accomplish the task.  Actually, on a later occasion I would like to discuss in these pages the feedback I received that day and afterwards, as it was a testimony to how powerful and wonderful the truth of God really is, as well as how there is a hunger for it out there that brings to mind John 4:35.  For now, let me just say that everyone was gracious in their comments, and my stepfather said that my mother would have been very pleased with it all.  That was something I very much wanted to hear.

The next day, I think the family members needed some “alone time,” and my stepfather and sister spent the day dealing with what had transpired in their own way (though we did talk on the phone).  As for my family and I, we went to Sabbath services in Dallas, which was a wonderful experience.  It was fantastic to get to see everyone again, even if we were there under difficult circumstances, and everyone was so supportive and understanding.  As an added bonus, they were having a “Family Fun Show” that night, and it was a welcome break from the somber atmosphere that we had been experiencing all week.

The next day was spent with the assembled family at my sister’s house.  The Dallas LCG congregation had generously provided us some “vittles” (“victuals” for you proper spelling maniacs out there!), which were much appreciated.  (I should say, here, perhaps, that my wife, kids, and I are the only ones in my side of our family who are in the church, yet the support they have given my entire family has been so appreciated.  My sister received a card directed to her personally from a family in the Kansas City LCG congregation, and she let me know that it meant a great deal to her.)  It was a good chance to spend a “normal” day with each other without having thoughts of pending memorial services, preparations, etc. hanging over our heads.  Somehow, we’ve got to learn how to be a family without my mother present, and we needed a day like that, I think, to get the process started.

The next day, I was able to spend more time with my grandmother and father, again, and also with my aunt.  And this time, we brought the kids to see their great-grandmother, as well.  We had not brought them the first time, as we knew they would be in “church mode” for about a day-and-a-half following, so it seemed good at that time to let them be little monkeys at the house where we were staying (under the generous, watchful eyes of our kind hosts!) so that it would be easier to be “still” that night.  However, we wanted to make sure that they got to visit with my grandmother (“Nena” to me!) and Dad on this visit, as well.  That was very pleasant, and we left with even more pecans.  Actually, I haven’t been detailing the accumulation of pecans, have I?  Well, let’s just say that the pecans were flowing this week, and we should be set and well supplied for making pecan pies on into the Thanksgiving of 2027.

Around dinner time, we left Nena’s house to meet with my stepfather for a dinner of Tex-Mex at On the Border.  It was a great conversation and a nice way to end a very emotional week.

The next morning (yesterday), we left with mixed emotions…  We were a bit sad to leave our friends and family to, once again, drive so far away.  We were a bit happy to finally be going home–to sleep in our beds, live life in our own house, get back to our own routine, and visit with our churches.  We were a bit moved by the fact that the Texas we were leaving was a Texas we had never left before: one without my mother.

However, mostly we were terrified.  The wonderful family who had hosted us the entire time had, just before we left, come down with some sort of stomach bug.  Their younger child was throwing up.  The mom was throwing up.  Even the assistant who comes to help them out during the day was throwing up.  And the dad had a bit of funny feeling in the tummy as well.  So, we all held our breath, gave some hugs to the healthy, best wishes to the sick, and deepest thanks to all, and then settled in for what we just knew were going to be 11 to 13 hours of stuck-in-the-car regurgitation fun.  Our prayer was that (1) we didn’t want to be sick, and (2) OK, if we had to be sick, then could it at least wait until we made it home.

God was merciful, and we did, indeed, make it home with nary a gurgle.  Boy #4 did make some pretend gurgles at one point, which had Mom and Dad freaking out and grabbing buckets and towels.  After we realized that it was just pretend, we informed Boys 1 through 4 that Mom and I were at DefCon 5 for any sensory input that indicated throwing up, and to be as considerate of our frayed nerves as they could be.

So, here I am — horribly behind on what seems like a thousand tasks, but thankful to have some work with which to occupy myself.  My stepfather seems to be holding up well, as does my sister, though bouts of realization break through on occasion and a rough patch arrives.  Still, it passes and life goes on.

There is much to discuss about all of this–much I would like to say and write about in more detail, as well as some anecdotes and lessons I would like to relate–but I think it would be better for another time.  I’ve spent enough time this morning as it is (though I must admit that it has been very helpful–you’re a great listener!), and other tasks await.  Besides, some thoughts are better after some simmering.

Again, to the many of you all over the country who showed us your love and compassion during this time and who had my family in your prayers, you have my heartfelt appreciation.  Even now I see in the mail that had been held during our absence several letters that I suspect are expressions of sympathy, and it really does mean so much to me.

2 thoughts on “Back in Missouri (and missing my mother)

  1. Dear Mr. Smith,

    I have been in Israel (mostly, in Jerusalem) from January 1-20 and only have returned very recently. On the way home, I stopped in Charlotte and at this moment am writing to you from an office donated to me for the afternoon. (I spoke and will yet speak to a number of the senior ministers and others about my trip, the motivations for which are summarized on my blog — see the Website link listed here.) I have missed reading your blog (which made catching up this afternoon all the more special) — and I see to my deep regret that I missed the news of your mother’s death.

    Even though we as Christians have a hope that keeps us from grieving as those who have no hope, we still know and feel that death is an enemy. We hurt when death separates us from loved ones. May God grant you and your mother’s family not just to know, but to feel that this is only “goodbye for now”, not “farewell”. When Mr. John Ogwyn died — just as we were becoming good friends as well as associates — this thought was a great comfort to me, as it has been when other deaths among family and friends have come into my experience.

    Blessings in Messiah,
    John Wheeler

  2. Pingback: Living Church of God in East Missouri » Thankfully back home

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