Thursday, June 11, 2015

Remembering Linda

The sky was cerulean and a light breeze blew through our hair as we stood huddled under the towering oak by Linda's grave. The pastor spoke words of hope and encouraged us to lean into God and each other in the coming days. I glanced around at hands held and bodies close and knew that his exhortation would be an easy continuation for us. Pastor Paul held his Bible open, the source of wisdom for each one of us in attendance, including my dear sister-in-law. He breathed Psalm 46 like it was life--and it was. I lifted my eyes to the playground just beyond the fence where we were posed. It was so still and quiet. The only sound was birdsong, the gentle swishing of leaves above and the occasional sniffle of thankful but grieving family members. The playground... how fitting. Linda was such a playful person. I couldn't remember one family gathering where she wasn't laughing or telling a funny story or someone else was telling of some joke she'd played on an unsuspecting soul. I found out later that others were looking to that playground with these same thoughts.

I wondered how anyone could survive the devastation of cancer and all it robs us of without knowing the loving arms of God surrounding them; the Creator whispering hints of home. I wished there was a person in the park to hear these words of comfort, someone who needed it perhaps even more than we did. Within a minute, a mom with her toddler arrived and quietly played while our tiny ceremony carried on. I couldn't help but think that one precious life had just left this world and that little girl was just entering. I lifted her and her momma up in prayer. 

The pastor concluded with verse 10 of that Psalm and I quoted with him in my mind, "Be still and know that I am God." That's exactly what we were all doing, I was sure. We began to sing the Doxology, and as our voices floated through that lovely cemetery overlooking the playground, we laid astilbe stems on Linda's casket, and I was overwhelmed by how much God was sustaining our family. 

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;    
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen. 

We walked back to our vehicles a little sadder, since this part of the day is always the most difficult. Linda knew this and so she made certain in her long notes about her funeral, that we'd end with a celebration, not the burial. Sustaining grace once again.

Not long after, we settled in reserved pews at the front of the church for the service. We took up six rows with the size of our family--blessings in numbers. Several of us from the family sang, "Your Love Never Fails" by Chris Tomlin, on the stage. My brother-in-law, sister-in-law and niece sang, "I Am Not Alone" by Kari Jobe. Linda's siblings shared humorously about growing up with their sister, and her children lovingly related stories of their mother with their dad standing beside them. Those brave, funny and sweet kids drew tears to my eyes. Pastor Paul spoke again and compared our sorrow to that of the storm Jesus' disciples had experienced in their boat. He began to tell of Jesus' power to calm the wind and waves and in that very moment, like a real object lesson straight from heaven, torrential rains pounded the roof of the church. Thunder roared out of nowhere and was suddenly gone as he counseled us to trust the Lord with our lives. Many were moved at the timing of it all. 

Hugs were abundant these past few days. Three well-attended visitations and a funeral later, we'd been squeezed by a lot of caring and prayerful people. More words of wisdom, more faith, more hope, more assurance. As I ravenously gobbled up a sandwich after the service, my eyes feasted on the gift of community lavished on us. I'd married into the Dutch world and it initially took some getting used to. Nearly twenty-one years later, I do nothing but praise God for this hard-working, dependable group who never drop the ball when it comes to love and support. The Lord has rewarded their faithfulness to Him with a strength of spirit and a certainty of His reality. I'm grateful to be one of them, doing my best to dote on my grieving brother-in-law and his children, and my parents-in-law. And more hugs abounding.

I held my girl on my lap and talked about death and hope and the joy of heaven. She understood that the coming days would be the tough ones for Aunt Linda's immediate family... resuming life as usual... kind of. She quite decidedly announced she was going to fast for her cousins so that they would be okay and happy. I told her that was a very loving thing to do for them and that I know God will answer her prayers because that's His desire for them too. And as days turn into years, I will keep the memory of my beautiful sister-in-law alive and remind my children about her hilarious personality and how we loved her. I will tell them how our gracious God granted us four years with her after her initial diagnosis of stage four cancer. And they will remember how God gave them an aunt they'll never forget. 
 Hanging together at the funeral home.
Practicing our song.
Waiting for a cue from Terry, who was playing the piano.
Watching the beautiful video of photos of Linda growing up, getting married, having children and living life.
Linda's two sisters xo
Cousins make everything less difficult.
Linda's two sisters xo
 Saying goodbye.
Rubber chicken on her casket? Yep, her kids knew her well :)
Sibling speech--funny, real, and loving.
 Found a crazy bunch of kids at the funeral :)
Bailey's sweet supporters.
 Post-funeral family time. Always laughing, even through the sadness.
 More amazing family.
 God is sustaining our joy and giving peace. May He be felt among us and through us in the difficult days to come.

(The Scripture that comforted Linda in her last months...)

Jesus said to her, "I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"
John 11:25,26


Camille said...

SO sorry for your earthly loss my sweet friend! May the Lord continue to give much grace and strength for the days ahead. What a precious testimony of His provisions you have shared in the telling of this journey. I am praying for you all today. Much Love, Camille XO

Heather said...

Thank you, Camille. You are an example of leaning on God through tough times, my friend.

Nicki Vos said...

It was a sad, but beautiful service. Yes, I loved the object lesson sent right down from heaven! I'm continuing to keep your family in my prayers.

Heather said...

Thank you, Nicki. We really appreciate it!