It was such a wonderful day. The friends who came, the people who served by setting up, cooking, serving the wonderful food, those who were still cleaning up when we finally went home, all of these kind people gave us an inestimable gift. They extended comfort in the form of memories, hugs, encouraging words and assurances of their prayers.
Tonight, at home, with some of the things (I felt) needed to be done finally finished, I sit in the comfortable circle of my family, some of the dear faces missing, some still here for awhile. I feel bone weariness, soul weariness, and the sub-conscious grief that tugs at my heart. I haven’t really had time to think clearly about much.
Today we buried my Mama. I looked at her face before closing the casket for the last time, and put my cheek against her cold one, and told her once again, “Oh, Mama. You were such a good Mama. I will always miss you.” And I know I will.
And then the rest of the day was a blur. There was lots of music, and there were so many people. Our cousins from both sides of our big family sang songs that brought back a thousand memories and gave me hope and comfort. My brothers, nephews, a niece, a son, a daughter and a family friend all worked together and the essence of my Sweet Mama was captured in the laughter and the tears and the words of Eternal Life. Six grandsons carried her gently to the final resting place and another grandson spoke the final familiar words while we sang songs of triumph that exalted in the face of the loss that I could not think about. And then, we covered the grave. My mama’s body, the shell of the woman who gave birth to me, was at rest. I shall never see that form of my Mother again.
Tonight, I sit in this comfortable circle and a sturdy thunderstorm has moved in. It has rumbled and crashed. The lightening has flashed, and the rain has poured down in buckets. I think of that fresh grave and think of the rain pouring down and wonder about the dirt that our family carefully piled in and around and over the vault until it was full and even with the ground. I think of my Sweet Mama’s body, there under the earth and wonder if the vault is waterproof.
And then I feel that searing, desperate grief as I think of the natural decay of the body that I knew as my Mama’s. I think of the damp trickling in, and the pretty dress and carefully combed hair and even the perfume that we spritzed on her neckline when we did her hair, and I suddenly want it all undone. I sit in my chair, alone and quiet in my sorrow while I finally have time to think about how this all is, and the tears just won’t stop. She hated to be wet and cold. She hated to be alone. She hated the dark.
I need to stop. I need to find comfort and I need to think differently.
And then, clear as an angel’s chime, I hear my Sweet Mama’s voice in my head. It is December 23, 2005, and we have just buried our Precious Daddy. And someone asked Mama about how she felt about leaving the grave on that cold December day.
“It really was okay,” she said, even in her deep, deep grief. “It wasn’t Daddy that we left there. That was just his shell. He isn’t there. It isn’t something that he even cares about.” And as the months and now years have passed, she has never had the need to go to his grave. She went very occasionally at first but has long since stopped going. She just hasn’t had the desire or the need.
I can’t say that I am like that. I still go to my Daddy’s grave when I am troubled or sad or just missing him so much. I know he isn’t there, but the physical remains of the Daddy I knew and loved are there, and I am comforted some how. Mostly I talk to Jesus, but sometimes I will cry out my anguished heart and try to think how he would answer me. And I know that I will do that some more in these next months.
One of the things that was hard over these last few weeks was that there were times when Mama seemed more reluctant to engage her children than she was (outside the family) friends or even strangers, and I found that so hard until the night that Middle Daughter, our resident Hospice nurse stopped me on my way out the door to go to Mama’s side. I was so sad and confused and weary that night. I had just asked my husband to please pray for me, and he had held me gently and prayed for wisdom and strength and courage. Most of all, I hated it that I was dreading the time with my Mama. But Deborah stopped me. She hugged me and she said something like this:
“Mama, you need to remember that Grandma’s emotions are still on ‘this side.’ She knows that she is slipping away and she is deeply grieving the separation from her beloved children. She cannot yet see Heaven and all the Glory that is waiting for her there, so she is living still with the emotions of this world. And engaging with you all is a reminder to her of all she’s going to part with, and it is just too hard. Don’t take it personally, and don’t think she is cutting you out. She is just working through this business of leaving, and there is no set way that this happens. She loves all of us intensely. She loved living so much and with the emotions from this life, all of this is probably giving her a deep, deep sense of grief.”
That helped me so incredibly much to believe that God would work in all or our lives to stay focused and steady and working towards the time when she could go HOME. That the less I expected or asked of her, the more she could concentrate on that other world. It could be our gift to her in this time when it felt our hearts would break. Truly a sacrifice of praise. And so, we did. We kept our heads and hearts where we knew that our Heavenly Father’s care could hold us tenderly and we found Him faithful, and our Mama did not disappoint us.
And tonight, Mama’s emotions are all on the other side. She is home free. She is not thinking about a deserted grave in a dark cemetery or the rain or the ones she left behind. She’s alive and free and timeless and full of incredible joy. The journey to Heaven was but a split second from that last peaceful breath, and she is only beginning this new adventure.
And this aching heart still offers grateful praise.
‘Weep not. Weep not. She is not dead! She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus!” (James Weldon Johnson)