By the grace of God, I managed to get home for my precious Grandma's funeral. It was a crazy last few days in Sweden, then about 24 hours of travel time and all night spent in airports, bus, and train stations in London to get to my early morning flight (and my sweet, chivalrous man stayed with me til 3 in the morning, even though he had to work the next day!). But upon arriving home, my Mom collected me at the airport and we went straightaway to Grandma and Grandpa's house and I went straight into my Grandpa's arms.
I'm so thankful I was home for the days that followed. I honestly don't know if I could have withstood losing my Grandma without facing it with my family. She was so loved by all of us and loved all of us so very much. She has left such an incredible legacy of love and encouragement and friendship. I miss her every day.
Her visitation was on the Friday night after I arrived in on the Thursday. I'd been managing to hold myself together pretty well after the first few days of coming to terms with her loss before I left Sweden. (Charles was there and did a lot of back stroking and holding me when I cried. I'm so thankful he just happened to be visiting when I got the news. God is too good to me.) But upon pulling up to the church with my dear cousin Jackee and her husband, I suddenly felt like I couldn't walk through those church doors. I couldn't face seeing her lying there, devoid of the life and exuberance and warmth she had always embodied to me. A few family members congregated outside the doors and hugs and tears flowed freely. And somehow, I entered the church, and started to make my way into the sanctuary and up toward the casket where she lay. I didn't feel like the 26-year-old woman who has lived and worked all over the world in all kinds of circumstances then. I felt about 6 years old and all alone and desperate for a cuddle from my Grandma, who was always perfectly proportioned for snuggling into.
I didn't stay long in the sanctuary upon seeing her. Too upset. But eventually I made my way back in and took a seat in the front row to be near to her body and to the family members milling about. Grandpa was stationed near to her at the top of the aisle of pews and remained there the whole night, speaking to everyone who came to pay respects. He would later tell me that he was up half that night with charlie-horses in his legs. With no air-conditioning, the sanctuary was very very hot as well, and we were all giving and receiving a great deal of hugs.
My darling little 5-year-old niece Emily came and sat down beside me on the pew. With quiet reflection, she looked up into my face. Then she sat up on her haunches to peer more closely at it. I don't think she'd actually seen Auntie crying before. Then, sweetly, and with such confidence, she said to me, "Don't worry, Auntie Leah. Grandma's alive in heaven, and in our hearts." Out of the mouth of babes. She then went on to say that her dearly loved cat Natalie was also in heaven and I told her that her great-grandma was probably taking care of Natalie now and she liked that idea very very much :)
The younger great-grandchildren with their limited understanding of what was happening were so sweet. My Mom saw my cousin's 3-year-old Michael trying to reach up into the casket and reach Grandma's hand, so she picked him up in her arms so he could get a better look. He asked, "What happened?" and my Mom told him that she had died. His reply was, "She died? What happened?" and it went on like this for a bit. The next day at the actual funeral, I heard Michael loudly proclaim, "She died" to the other children. I wonder if he even knows what that means, but he's so darling saying it and I just imagine Grandma getting the giggles as she watches the going-ons from heaven!
The funeral was really a beautiful celebration of her life. My Grandpa said he'd been to a lot of funerals but never one as nice as his wife's. I'm so glad he felt that way. My dad said that so many people came that it was one of the bigger funerals he's ever done. The turn out of support from friends and family was incredible and I'm so thankful, especially as it touches my Grandpa. So many flowers were sent that it created a whole wall on either side of the casket at the front of the church. My Uncle Mike gave a eulogy on behalf of her four children, and my cousin JD gave one on behalf of us 12 grandchildren. They both did such a good job at bringing across who she was to us. JD managed to mention a memory from each one of the 12 of us. It was a very tearful affair. All of us granddaughters and granddaughter-in-laws had the honour of carrying one of Grandma's hankies that day, a precious way to feel a bit connnected. Grandpa also let me wear a necklace of hers for the day. Somehow, it was very special to have things of hers as we went through the day...
Before the service got underway, my Dad the funeral director and my Grandpa the husband went up to close the casket. Grandpa nearly broke my heart when he leaned down to give her one last kiss. The last of the thousands he must have given her in their 61 years of marriage, and couple of years of courting before that! They have always loved one another oh-so-well and my heart is perhaps most tender for my darling Grandpa now...
As they covered the closed casket with a cream-coloured cloth, and placed the flower arrangement with the ribbon declaring "Best Grandma Ever" in the centre of it, my sweet little 3-year-old nephew Tucker asked loudly, "Where'd 'Mama go? Where 'Mama?" And my heart broke a bit more, but with a sort of sweetness at his innocence. He didn't like having her closed away in the coffin where he could no longer see her. I think I found it disturbing to see my Grandma's body there but emptied of HER. And it was time now to let her go...
It was imperative that I could pull myself together in time for the song I was asked to sing. "I Can Only Imagine" by Mercy Me. I was desperate for the sound to make it out past the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes. And perhaps it wasn't sung properly, but it managed to find its way out and I'm so thankful. The message of the song is just so poignant, and so important for us to think on, to remember the paradise she is enjoying now. We so easily forget that this earthly life is not the end, and in fact is only the tiniest fraction of the promised eternal life when we believe in the grace of God through Christ. My Grandma knew her Saviour, and she is more alive now than she has ever been. And I am so glad for her...
|My baby brother Jonah and my niece|
Abby visiting Grandma's grave the day after
It was a hard, but healing day. We spent the rest of the day together at my Aunt Julee's as an extended family. I needed so many hugs. I'm so very very thankful I was home for the funeral and the family time.
|My grandpa created this train for behind his 4-wheeler for the |
Before I left my Grandpa's house (and how strange it is to call it that instead of Grandma AND Grandpa's) to go back to the airport the following week, my Mom slipped a ring which was my Grandma's on my finger. They had thought about burying her in it because it's her "mother ring", with the birthstones of her 4 children, and they didn't expect anyone would really want it. But I said that as it is something I have NEVER seen off her finger, I'd love to keep it in memory of her. I remember often stroking her hands, because they were so wonderfully soft, and asking about her rings, and she'd explain where she'd gotten each one. And she'd tell me which of the birthstones belonged to which of her children. I'd always try to find my mother's birthstone :) On my flight back to England, processing all that the 12 days back home had held and thinking about my upcoming speaking engagement at a youth event upon arriving, I kept finding myself gazing down at Grandma's ring on my hand and feeling a mixture of sorrow at missing her, and comfort at wearing something on my hand which she had always worn on hers... Like a tangible connection to her. I haven't gone a day without wearing it since. And every time I look at it, I'm reminded of how she loved me, of how proud she was of me.
And there is something so beautiful and comforting and wonderful about that legacy she's left me to hold on to. She loved me. She was proud of me. And I can rest in that. Thank you, Grandma. I love you so.
|My grandma's ring and her hankie I carried with me for the funeral|
Tomorrow would have been Grandma's 81st birthday. The extended family is getting together at my Grandpa's house to celebrate with him and remember her. I so wish I could be a part. But I'll be thankful for my Grandma and for my family from afar. Speaking with Jesus face-to-face now, I imagine this may be her happiest birthday ever, and that gives me solace...
Thank you, Lord, for giving me my Grandma. Please hold her close to you now. And please make Yourself in all Your comfort and peace so real to my Grandpa left without his other half, and to my Mom and her siblings left without their mother, and to my cousins and I left without the best Grandma in the world. We all miss her so. But we're so thankful You saw fit to give her to us...