How do you condense a whole month into a few words? Especially a month as I've just had with so many details that swim about in your head, it makes it dizzy just to wake up in the morning?
The other side of pain, a new body, that's what Penny Leonhard has experienced this month, and I wish I could sit down and have a cup of tea with her, so that she could tell me what its like. What is it like to have no more pain and suffering, no more tears and joyful reunions with loved ones? What is it like to be removed from time and space, and see Him seated with us? What is it like to look into His eyes and understand it was ALL worth it?
But, this lifetime is characterized by the wait, and if you ever feel that sense of "are we there yet?" its because that's what part of our lifetime entails. My friends David and Kate Sunday are going through a time of waiting, as they waited first to see what Kate was sick with, then what type of cancer she had, and finally, they wait to see if the chemo and surgery will actually work.
In one of their blogs, David put an excerpt from a book that talked about waiting, and what we look forward too, but often too how we so weary in waiting.
As we returned to Atlanta after only 15 days of being back in Spain for New years, we realized that we would have to wait. Mom was very sick and was very different than when we saw her at Christmas. She was limited at Christmas, in pain, but could control her pa with the methadone and morphine. She was still able to go to Walmart, shopping and lunch with the girls and Andrew, enjoy Christmas Eve service with the entire fam and had a wonderful time on Christmas morning as we opened presents together.
But when we returned after only 15 days of absence, she was significantly worse. She could just recognize us, and say Hello. Her vocabulary consisted of things that "Thank you" "Excuse me" and most importantly to us "I love you".
She did perk up for a couple of days, and during that time had a wonderful conversation with Andrew. It was their last.
Her last week she slowly slipped away from us, physically and mentally. One of the last things she said to me in her bedside was as I took her hand, "Oh, that feels so warm." It was really hard to let go of her hand, and I walked away crying.
The last day, we all knew it was her last. I went into her room, and even though in Spanish, I sang her the simple song that says...
Who can separate us from the Love of God?
Nor life nor death, nor the highest or lowest places, nor the angels or demons, or any other thing, can separate us from God's love!
I don't know if she heard me. I hope she did.
That evening, as I kissed her goodnight, it felt as if she was already gone. I hugged Dad with tears. We went to bed.
4 hours later, Dad woke us with a knock on the door saying, "Mama is with Jesus." And like that, she left us.
I walked into her room. Her body was there, covered to her face. I didn't wear my glasses. All I could think was, "A new body." I said the words out loud and left. It was finished.
The nurse came,and confirmed it. The funeral home took her away. During those three hours of waiting for the funeral home, we sat together, clutched each other and cried and laughed. Christy and I declared we needed big breakfasts, and I went to buy eggs and bacon, while she made Mom's coffee cake.
After two days of details, funeral home arrangements, and hundreds of phone calls,we were ready for the wave of visitors. My parents, Christy's parents, the Rings, and hundreds more came to hold us up. The three families, Soens, Linds, and Rings, became a tripod of support. They have all known loss. They knew that we needed hugs and tears, food and time away from certain moments. They took care of us right then and there. Others continue when they left, and will continue.
The viewings were incredible. We had over 300 people come to visit. Thank you for your love.
The day before Penny passed away, her kids finished a book of memory and tribute with photos, essays and mementos of love. As Ken pressed "send" we were informed it would take 10 days. Ken still paid for 2 day shipping, and on the day of the viewing, it arrived. We were so thrilled. Before Penny passed, we showed her a rough draft. She loved it.
The funeral was brilliant. It was a moment where heaven touched earth and with tears and moments of majesty, we felt God's glory. As the choir sang, Bill stood in a moment of honor, and we scrambled to our feet to join him. There will be moments in heaven where we cannot lift our faces, and others where we stand in honor of Him. This funeral, we lifted our faces and stood to honor Him. A memory to treasure always. Through our tears, we still saw Light, and it helps us carry on.
At the graveside, no one of the family could speak. I'd been thinking about that for a long time, and I felt I could so I did. I didn't do it for me, I did it for them. I talked about how Penny's eulogy wasn't important, because it lived in her children. Andy carries her hugs of love, Ken her list making abilities, Mike her smarts, and the girls her huge amount of love she poured into everyone. I thanked everyone for their love and help and support. We sang, This world is not my Home. Andrew's baritone rang out to lead us. It was right and good.
I get ahead of myself. As we slowly made our way to the graveside, we had over 30 cars in a wonderful procession. Two motorcycle cops stopped traffic in all directions and most cars on the other side of the road stopped in respect. It was amazing to us and encouraging that so many people without even knowing us stopped for a moment of honor. Ceremony is important and it helps us begin healing, and this moment shines in our memories.
We returned to the church for a hot lunch. We sat at a table, my parents and my brother Tim, Andrew, Mike and Isaac. Tim told a joke, and we laughed. We knew that things were just beginning again and it was good.
We had closed the service by singing, Great is Thy Faithfulness. When we returned for church the next morning, the orchestra started with a prelude, and of course, it was Great is Thy Faithfulness.
And so, I end for now. This has been part of my process. I've not written all the details, some are just for us. But I close with this.
So many details were perfect. The verse I clung to this last year was a promise for us, and He completed it. Isaiah 57: 1-2 say
1 The righteous perish,
and no one ponders it in his heart;
devout men are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
2 Those who walk uprightly
enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.
Thank God for the peace we all have, even in our valley of tears, He has taken those tears and is changing them now into springs of joy.