Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Mother's Passing--Monday, July 21, 2003

(The previous post is here.) On Monday, it rained. Which is as it should be. The obituary said to give donations to the Mission Committee of Faith Reformed Church instead of flowers. Some were unaware of this request. Some chose to ignore this request. And so the flower arrangements kept coming. What a blessing. By the end of the week, I believe that we had received seven different flower baskets. They were from all over the place. Many of them weren’t even from people in Erie. My workplace in Peoria sent flowers, as did my church. This was only the first indication of how far my mother’s influence had reached. One painful duty that had to be done. Dad and I went down to the library to tell Bob the librarian that Mom had died. You need to understand that Bob has been close to my family for as long as we have lived in Lawrence Park. The library is only a couple of blocks from the house, and so we were often found in the stacks, rooting around for books. We were all on a first name basis with the librarians, and Bob had a special place in our hearts. And now we had to tell him. He had already heard the news by the time that we arrived at the library. He was in tears. Funny that. We had suffered loss, and yet we ended up comforting him. This was a common experience during those days. As I look back on it, I’m not sure how that happened. God must have been blessing us with His peace, especially in the face of the unsaved who surrounded us. By His grace, we were able to be faithful to Him and honor His name. We could not have done it alone. The afternoon was spent running errands with Gabrielle. There were some practical matters that needing addressing, but primarily we were going to purchase wine, cheese, and crackers. This also needs some explaining. The Bible says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) After attending the funeral of a woman in my church here in Peoria, I began considering what I wanted my own funeral to be like. I want to remove as much of the burden of planning from my family when it is my time to pass on, and I want to ensure that my funeral will be as God-honoring as I can make it. I also want to incorporate some of my growing understanding of the importance of ritual and symbol. I believe that, in part, we Americans do not mourn well because we do not have the symbols to express our grief when words fail. So I was considering all of this. One decision that I made was that I want to have a reception as part of the time of mourning for me. At this reception, I want wine to be served. This is because, in the Bible, wine is a symbol of joy and of the coming of the fullness of the kingdom of God. Isaiah says:
“And the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, chose pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine. And on this mountain He will swallow up the conering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. And it will be said in that day, ‘Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.’” (Isaiah 26:6-9)
I had talked to Mom about this soon before she died. She agreed that it sounded like a good idea, but that, if there was wine, there needed to be cheese and crackers. I mean, we’re not barbarians. And so, that rainy Monday afternoon, Gabrielle and I drove out to Heritage Winery in North East to buy wine. I was looking for something very specific. It needed to be a red wine. Wine is also the symbol of the blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and I wanted to draw on that image. It also needed to be a sweet wine. This was an occasion for joy, and a dry wine just did not seem right. And so I examined the different wines, sampling this one or that, trying to determine which one seemed right. Finally I found the right one. It was a wine made from Fredonia grapes, which seemed particularly appropriate. My mother had lived in Fredonia and much of her family lived in that area. It was sweet without being overpowering, and it was a deep, deep red. When the errands were finished and dinner was over, it was time for the viewing. Dad had decided that the viewing would be family-only. It was the right decision. As I have contemplated the open-casket/closed-casket debate, it has seemed that this was a good compromise. We were able to be alone and see Mom in her final resting place without the need to be polite to half-remembered strangers or doing appropriate diplomatic duty, as is so often the case at many public viewings. This was not a time for the outside world. This was a time for the family to grieve. We arrived at the funeral home. We were ushered to wooden double doors. They were pulled back, and we entered together. It was a long room, decorated in blue. Blue carpet, soft blue wallpaper, soft lighting. And there, at the far end, lay my mother’s body. It was like a pilgrimage as we passed through that room to the casket at the far end. There was no order, no ceremony. Rather, the family that remained moved almost as one towards my mother’s last bed. And there, by my mother’s body, we wept. She was so cold. So very, very cold. And there, in that room, the reality finally connected as I looked upon her. She was dead. She was really, really dead. And I cried and cried and cried. My father held me while I cried. Then I held my sisters as they cried. We clung to each other as we gathered around the casket. And then my father read the following passage:
“For we know that if the earthly tend which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)
“This is not Linda,” he said. “Linda is gone. All that remains is her earthly building, which is what we see here.” And he was right. I took Arianna up to show her where her grandmother was lying. And I reminded her of the blessed hope, that one day Jesus will call for Mom, and she will come out of the grave wearing her new body, and we will all be together forever. She understood, I think, although she also was crying. Then Adiel gathered the children around the casket. And together, along with our spouses and Aunt Sue, we sang the Doxology:
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow Praise Him all creatures here below Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Then we filed out. Dad asked for a moment to be alone. So I herded my children from the room, turning back for only a moment. For the last time I saw my mother’s face. Then I closed the door. When we returned home, I served wine. Everyone gathered in the living room, where I held aloft a goblet of red Fredonia wine and read from Isaiah 25. I explained what we were doing and why. “Mom loved wine,” I said, “and the next wine that she will drink will be in the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And then I turned to my father. “For you, this is a cup of bitterness,” I said, “but remember that for your wife, it is a cup of joy. So drink.” And I gave him the goblet. With tears in his eyes, he drank. (The next post is here.)

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