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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Whole New Understanding of Funerals

I learned something very important yesterday…

I always thought funerals were only for the people who knew the deceased, and so I've often wondered why people, including my dad, read obituaries.  But yesterday something beautiful happened.  After my brother's funeral and interment, once gathered in the main hall, I saw the faces of my husband's family, a previous co-worker from nearly ten years ago, friends from our "church" community, etc…. people who never knew my brother, Danny, but came to KNOW him, honour him, and support my family.  The gesture brought forth fresh tears of deep gratitude for the hearts of these beautiful people who already understood that funerals are not for the dead, but rather they are for the LIVING.

I wanted to share this humbling lesson with you all in case any of you out there thought the same thing as me.  Don't ever ask yourself "Did I know this person well enough to be worthy of attending the funeral?".  Because what I learned yesterday filled an aching in my heart which was to have Danny KNOWN by everyone.  Something inside wants him to LIVE on not just in my family's heart but in others', too.  The fact that the world does not pause for a moment to join in mourning but rather keeps right on going… meals to be made, bedtime routines to undergo, laundry to fold… etc… catches me off guard and stirs up sorrow.  As insensitive as it may seem, perhaps God is more brilliant in His design than we give Him credit for.  If the world paused, what would ever, ever encourage us to hit that "play" button ever again?  He humbly reminds us that there IS a bigger picture.. and He promised that it is a gracious picture... that even this, a moment which understanding cannot grasp yet, is for His name's sake.  He is setting His table.  His guests are preparing to arrive, one by one.  And before we know it, that trumpet will sound and those who have been made ready, those whom He created for the purpose of pouring forth His mercy, will enter into the marriage feast of the Lamb and the rejoicing will never cease.

I believe He has prepared a place for my brother and his invitation has been received.  He is resting now and in a state of readiness for the glory of God.

But I miss knowing he is out there right now.  Even if we didn't always know where that was.  I miss knowing he simply was.

Another thing I got to learn these past few days is how very proud I am of my family and how deeply affirmed I am in the gift of blessing my children by being a "larger" family.  I am number five of six kids and my heart instantly goes out to any and all of you who have mourned a deep loss without the comfort of siblings.  I know that God alone is our Comforter, but I thank Him for having used the arms of my sisters and brothers to hold me these days and I pray He could use mine to hold them.

Sunday night, at the viewing, I saw a side to each of my siblings I will never, ever forget.  A gift I will always credit to my brother, Danny.  Danny was only 17 months older than my next brother (brother #2) and only three years older than my eldest sister.  Four years after that and it's sister #2, another four years after that and it's me… eight years after that and it's my little brother.  So I was twelve years younger than Danny and missed out on some of those crazy stories of his wild adventures on our 80 acres farm.  My big brother #2 has always been more shy, more private and Danny was the outgoing, fearless ring leader, if you will.  Needless to say, Danny and brother #2 and sister #1 were like peas in a pod, doing everything together under the sun (literally).  It has been their stories that have made my heart grow deeper in love for our brother.  He moved out when I was only 4 or 5 so my memories are only of our many family functions and the occasional phone call from him.  But my delight is seeing the best of my brother in his two sons.

My heart goes out to my brother #2 and sister #1 for the deepness of their loss.  To be honest with you, I have never seen brother #2 cry and I've never seen his heart so vulnerable like this before... and it has made me love him that much more, too.  Sunday, at the viewing, I watched my quiet, shy brother stand up before everyone and share some of his childhood memories.  Through the quiet tears that sneaked past despite his great self-control, my brother spoke with strength, simple words but with such comedic timing that he filled the place with laughter despite the solemn occasion… and this is EXACTLY what Danny would have wanted.  Danny lived to make people laugh and was such a gifted story-teller… so convincing, you would believe ANYTHING he told you… a direct DNA link to our Dad!!  I thank brother #2 for honouring Danny by speaking exactly as he did.  I have never been more proud of him.

Then there was sister #1 who stood up there and conveyed such depth of love with grace and eloquent poise…. representing not only her own memories but Danny's girlfriend's memories, too.  Her strength was evident through her bright smile despite eyes glistening.  I watched her love shine with such radiance and felt so proud of her.

Sister #2 went up, always the most petite of all us siblings, but don't let that ever fool you!  The delicate state of her sorrow did not waver her ability to share her fondest memories of our brother and how though she couldn't pin point what exactly she learned more of him in those moments, what she did know is that she loved him all the more with each of them.

And my Mom… so brave, so strong.  She went up there and shared some of her fondest memories including when Danny was just little and he ran into the kitchen where she was doing dishes and told her in French "Maman!  Fermes tes yeux!"  (Close your eyes!).  He led her out the door, down the driveway up to the main road, my mother ever-trusting in her little boy's lead.  Finally he turned her around and said "Ouvres tes yeux!"  (Open your eyes!).  My Mom says the sky was filled from north to south with the most radiant sunset… truly breathtaking.  And there, my brother spread his arms wide in triumphant glory and declared "c'est tout pour toi, Maman!" (it's all for you, Mom).

When it came time for Danny's Song to be played, the recording was NOT working!  My sisters and I pre-recorded it because we knew we wouldn't be able to sing it without bawling.  My heart sank when the barely audible song came through with skips and scratches… when I saw my two sisters walk up to the front with a resolve in their eyes, they didn't need to say a thing.  I got up there, grabbed the guitar, and found strength in uniting with them in that resolve that our brother deserved better than that failed recording!  We three sisters have often sung together and according to Danny's girlfriend, she said he often boasted about how beautifully his sisters sang… a big brother's pride we wanted to live up to.  Well, by the grace of God, my sisters and I rode that wave of strength and sang from the bottom of our hurting hearts until that very last note… Then the wave broke, the hurt all-consuming, and the unspoken words of "there you go, big brother, that was for you" resonating in our hearts with the remnant harmonics still in the air from the guitar in my hands.

My left fingers are gloriously callused from playing his song many times over again like a comforting lullaby.  I watch his childhood footage and get choked up each time I see my brother sitting on that motored canoe looking back at my father… with such pride, with such trust… a son in his element with his dad.

Danny holding me
I know the ebb and flow between the peace and sorrow will subside with time.  Peace that his suffering is finally over but sorrow that there will never again be those Danny-moments, no more pictures, no more rolling our eyes at bad jokes, etc… I know this storm will pass, the waves will be stilled and peace will settle on the waters and reflect the sunrise like a mirror lake on a moose hunt.  In the meantime, I cry out to Yaweh as my only comforter and thank Him for my family and the beautiful people He puts in my life.  I am richly blessed.

May God comfort you in the losses you face in your life.  May you feel united with those who know with you the pain of watching life go on no matter what and may the hurt you've experience be filled with the hope in God's promises to His children.  Our Shepherd who tends to His flock.

I love you all out there.  God bless you!

1 comment:

val betker said...

Yes, Rita, funerals are for the living. They give us the opportunity to say goodbye to our loved ones. They remind our friends that we need their support and comfort - always, but especially when grieving. It is the venue used to pay tribute to our loved one and celebrate their life by sharing our happy memories. Your brother's tribute was outstanding. The love in the room was palpable. I was honored to be able to attend his memorial.
My heart goes out to you, Rita. Take comfort in knowing you have many friends as well as family to lean on at this time. We love you, Rita, and will always be there for you.