This post is #189 in a series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during and following our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that period from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.
February 28, 2009
As I've been looking back through all the emails passing back and forth between the newspaper, our friends and family, the church staff, etc., that went on in those days immediately following Hannah's homegoing, I'm struck by how "together" I appeared to be. My communication skills were intact and I was generally coherent, but I remember none of it.
When I think about it now, I realize that I was actually moving in slow motion through a thick, soup-like fog, while other wonderful people were scurrying all around me, getting things done that needed to be done. There were people bringing us food, people organizing the food, people writing down who was bringing the food, people putting the slideshow and music together, people preparing to sing at the celebration service, people preparing a beautiful display of pictures and mementos, and people making arrangements for the locations of the visitation and celebration service. I know I never thanked all these people adequately ... I hope they could somehow sense my appreciation for the gifts of service they gave our family. They loved us well and it lifted such a burden from our shoulders.
Our home church was undergoing a major renovation at the time, rendering the sanctuary unusable for the visitation and funeral. It was decided (I don't remember who decided) that the visitation would be held in the youth building of our church. The pastor of another local church was contacted (I don't know by whom) and he graciously agreed to allow us to use their sanctuary for the celebration service.
As we prepared to attend the visitation later that day, we received a call from the funeral home that Hannah's body was ready if we wanted to come by and view it privately as a family. Honestly, I didn't want to. I had kissed her cold cheek goodbye at the hospice center and neither Brad nor I felt the need to see her again. Bethany did, though, so we went to the funeral home.
The funeral home was owned by a good friend of ours. Her daughter and Bethany had played basketball together for several years. She had been so kind to us through the process of making the arrangements, and it was such a comfort to me to know that Hannah's body had been gently cared for by someone who knew her and who loved our family. Bethany went in to see Hannah, accompanied by her friend. After a few minutes she came out, took us by the hands, and led us in so we could see her too.
As jarring as it is to see your child in a casket, there was a comfort there, too. Bethany had chosen her outfit the night before from her closet, and it was one of her favorites. She looked rested and peaceful, and for that I was thankful.
We decided not to have her body at the visitation that evening. Since the casket would be closed, there was really no point in transporting it there, only to move it to another location for the funeral.
We arrived about an hour before the visitation was scheduled to start, and the first person I saw when we walked in was my college roommate. We had been maids of honor in each other's weddings, but had not seen each other in years. She and her husband had driven all the way from the San Antonio area that day for the visitation, and after we hugged and talked for awhile, they left and drove all the way home. I was blown away by the extravagant gift of their presence.
It was a good thing we arrived early, because people began to arrive shortly after we did, and they continued to arrive well after the scheduled two-hour visitation time elapsed. We were buoyed by the love and kind words of friends, family, medical providers, and strangers all evening long. Someone brought us stools at some point because we'd been standing so long, but we just couldn't stay seated. The line of people went out the door and around the corner of the building.
It was a bitterly cold evening and while all those people were standing outside waiting to get in, a light snow began to fall, something quite unusual at the end of February in Arkansas! Several precious people whispered to me that evening that Hannah must have sent the snow from Heaven just for us. And I had to smile to myself, because unlike most kids, Hannah hated snow. Oh, she liked it when she was little ... we have great memories of sledding (or trying to sled) on our neighborhood streets in El Dorado, making snow angels, having snowball fights, etc. And she liked getting out of school because of snow. But as she'd gotten older, she liked snow less and less. She just really didn't like cold weather, especially after she got sick. So all the snow comments added a bit of private levity to the evening.
By the time we headed home that evening, we were exhausted but warmed by the love of all these precious people who had come to bring us comfort and share remembrances of our precious girl. Most of them had no idea what to say to us, but that was okay. Their presence and their sweet hugs communicated all we needed to know.
These were difficult days, but the prayers of God's people were giving us strength for every moment. We could literally feel them carrying us. If you were one of those who was praying for us during that time ... Thank you.