Friday, June 16, 2017

Be Still My Soul

Dawn was just breaking when I decided to give up trying to sleep. The gravity of grief made getting out of bed too hard but simultaneously made rest impossible. The corners of my eyes were raw and crusty from the previous day’s tears, but that didn’t stop more from falling. More than anything I wanted it all to be a dream, I wanted a release from the invisible weighted blanket that was suffocating me.

Be still, my soul: when pain and grief are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Though slightly different from how they are actually written, these lyrics came to my mind as I lay in bed; a subconscious begging of peace to my soul, followed by a heaven-sent comfort. It would become a recurring experience over the next several days.

I reached for my phone from the bedside table in my mom’s guest room and opened Facebook. There I was concurrently comforted and traumatized by endless tributes to my exceptional brother. I still couldn’t accept that he was really gone. For 42 years, he had been a constant for me. Though I almost never post on Facebook, I shared the article about Chad’s death, then cried silently in bed for another 30 minutes until I forced myself to get out and face the day.

Amy and her twin brother, Stuart--who had gotten into town late the night before--arrived at Mom’s house soon thereafter. She and Stuart had walked the short half-a-block distance from her house to begin making arrangements. Amy was carrying a small notebook, ready to attack a checklist no wife as young and as utterly in love as she should ever have to face. An appointment with the funeral home was scheduled for 2:00 that afternoon and there was much to be determined and decided before then. Amy and Stuart had already begun the unbearable checklist. In fact, Amy had already called Chad’s employer to learn that he did not have any life insurance benefits. Amy maintained her trademark composure, assuring the rest of us that it would be okay. A brief moment of horror and panic was quickly replaced by a clear, direct impression to my mind that we set up a GoFundMe account. Amy humbly accepted and we decided to delegate the set-up to Erin, who was still in New York, feeling alone and helpless in her separation from the rest of us. She got it up and running within minutes. We watched donations pour in and cried at the generosity of those who knew and loved Chad as well as complete strangers. It didn’t take long to feel assured that Amy would not need to shoulder the additional burden of funding Chad’s final expenses.

At the top of the to-do list was an obituary, which Amy asked me to write. Though intimidated, I readily accepted the assignment, wanting to do anything and everything to assist her and honor my brother. Because obituaries need to be done in a very timely manner, I immediately grabbed my notebook to begin the daunting task of summarizing an extraordinary life in a few short paragraphs.

Be still, my soul: when pain and grief are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

We knew Chad would want a lot of music at his service. While discussing options, a close family friend texted Mom to offer a musical number. Another dear friend had already been asked and Amy quickly knew what she wanted for a third. Jon was asked to speak and Erin was assigned to give the life sketch. Prayer-givers, pall bearers, an organist and conductor were selected. Phone calls were made to see who could preside over the service and the building was reserved. Relief Society members came over to assess needs and make plans for the luncheon that would follow the service. Stuart worked diligently to design a program and Amy made calls to find a burial plot. Of one thing Amy was certain, she wanted Chad’s services to take place sooner than later. She expressed the desire to have Chad taken care of and placed in his final resting spot as soon as possible.

Friends stopped in to visit throughout the day offering condolences and sharing hugs that inevitably triggered tears. Most also brought food, lots and lots of food that we struggled to eat since grief had robbed us of our appetites. Still, when we grew weak and knew we needed to force sustenance into our bodies, it was a blessing not to have to wonder what to eat or where to find it.

At 2:00 that Friday afternoon, we met with the funeral director (whose name was Captain, by the way. As in, that is really the name his parents gave him.) We’d accomplished a great deal in the day so far, but the weight of our reality continually pressed upon us and tears were constantly spilling out. We learned that Chad’s autopsy was complete and he had been transported to the funeral home; the same building in which we were now sitting. Something about knowing that Chad was both there and not was very difficult for me.

Be still, my soul: when pain and grief are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Did you know you can barter with funeral homes? You can. And we did. By the time we left, a casket had been selected at a discounted price, a hefty charge for programs dismissed (because Stuart had done it) and a charge for dressing removed since we planned to do that ourselves. Captain was quite surprised at all we’d already gotten done. We settled on a Monday evening viewing, Tuesday morning burial and Tuesday afternoon memorial service. It initially felt backwards to me, but the cemetery wouldn’t bury after 4:00 pm and we needed an afternoon service so Chad’s students and coworkers could attend. In the end, it worked perfectly.

That evening, I sent the finalized obituary to the funeral home and within minutes it was ready to share on Facebook. We looked through photo albums to select pictures that would be used to fill the 4 large photo boards the funeral home had given us to display at Chad’s services. Each photo a tender memory, a small beat in a beautiful life. We also found his testimony that he’d written in 2005 for a gift I’d put together for my dad. This line was particularly meaningful, “I look forward to the day when we sit as a family at the feet of our Savior Jesus Christ and testify that it can and will be a reality if we all do all that we can to obey God’s commandments.” We knew we wanted to enlarge his testimony to also display and we also needed to print a poster-size photo for his memorial service.

The beautiful, professional headshot that was taken when Chad directed his first show was perfect. Getting it enlarged and framed was first on Saturday’s to-do list. Costco was efficient and affordable in getting the photo printed, but going to Costco on a Saturday morning means running into at least 4 family friends and running into friends means hugs and condolences and lots of tears that are both heart-warming and comforting, yet painful.

Next, we wandered Hobby Lobby trying to figure out framing. Grief makes everything harder; making decisions and finding what is needed in chock-full aisles of a large store becomes a daunting task. Seeing Chad’s face sprawled across the counter of the framing department was nearly unbearable. Mom walked down one aisle while I turned in the opposite direction, both of us unable to control our tears.

Be still, my soul: when pain and grief are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

After a few minutes of confusion, I finally rang the framing department’s bell and an associate named Emily came to help us. I was frank in my explanation of what we were trying to accomplish but that making decisions and thinking clearly were unusually challenging given our current circumstances. Emily was kind, compassionate and helpful. She took over the project; selected a frame and mat, assembled the two and made sure we got discounts on both. Days later, I would find that she had also taken the time to find Chad’s obituary online and leave the following on his guestbook:

It was late afternoon on Saturday when Jon and I were finally ready to return to Auburn. We would have less than 24 hours to accomplish a rather long list of tasks; print a poster-size copy of Chad’s testimony, complete four picture boards, go into school to write 3 days of sub plans, pack and unpack and then return to Yakima.

Caleb’s life-long best friends, Mason and Landon had planned a trip from Utah to Washington for that weekend, in large part to say goodbye to Caleb before leaving on two-year church missions. Spending time with them was exceptionally important to Caleb, but it was just one more thing to arrange. We ended up purchasing him a flight to Yakima on Monday so he could arrive in time for the viewing but would allow him to stay back and spend Sunday and part of Monday with his dear friends.

It was such a long list to do in such a short time all while being shrouded in unrelenting, indescribable pain. Late Saturday, while I was working on the photo boards, I snapped. Jon decided to put some of Chad’s photos to music to make a slide show. “Bring Him Home” from Les Mis and Wicked’s “For Good” kept starting and stopping in my background. I begged Jon to turn it down or better yet, turn it off and work on it later. After about 30 minutes of looking into Chad’s face as I attached his photos to a memory board while hearing words like “he is young,” “let him live,” and “because I knew you, I have been changed for good” I yelled, “Turn it off! Turn it off!”

Pressing my hands tightly against my face, I sobbed, “I can’t do it! I can’t listen to it anymore! I can’t!” I stood still in the middle of a mess of Chad’s pictures, crying uncontrollably--likely frightening my family--so Jon mercifully took a break. I was eventually able to compose myself, get back to work and finish two of the boards that night.

Sunday morning, I finished another photo board (the fourth was completed in Yakima that night) and later wept through most of Sacrament meeting. Immediately afterward, we got back in the car to return to Yakima. There was still more to check off the list, but what had already been done in so short a time was miraculous. There’s no denying we had divine help.

Be still, my soul…
The most difficult moments of my life were still to come.

1 comment:

Amy said...

I Love you! I still cannot believe how much you accomplished in such a short time. The pictures and testimony were beautiful! ♥️♥️