the ponderings of a mother

These are the ponderings of a mother in love with her children, both in my arms and in the grave. Some of these ponderings are quite emotional, some are funny, others contemplative and spiritual. All are sincere. May these writings bless you in many ways and bring you closer to the one, true God and Redeemer of all things.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On grief and celebration

In a post entitle “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver Life” I wrote about waking this morning of the funeral service and having a sense of the Lord speaking to my heart…it was time “begin letting go”. This word to my soul was the fuel I needed to get out of bed and move forward into another strange day in our life.  We got out of bed and put on our clothes we had chosen the night before. I wore a black dress, for the mourning I felt; I also wore a bright teal scarf to represent the celebration of all God was doing. I flipped back and forth about this clothing choice the previous days. “Should I even wear black?  Is that too morbid…I am supposed to be comforted by the fact he is in heaven, right?” And as usual I also had the warring other half of my brain questioning “Should I even wear a bright color? This is horrible, our son is dead. We have to put him in the ground. Will people think I am nuts wearing celebratory colors?”  What I came to was that: no one will probably think about my clothes as much as I do; the world doesn’t revolve around me; I want to wear a black dress with a lively scarf to match my soul. Get on with it, Kimberly. (Sometimes I just get too caught up J).

One weird thing from the sleepless night behind was our new humidifier. It was making these sporadic clinking noises; sometimes it sounded like tapping or the wind blowing a branch up against the window. I was not quite used to it yet. As my mind and body attempted rest I would get into those zoned-type states, where you are not quite sleeping and not quite awake and where your mind creates wild associations between dreams and reality.  During one of these zoned times, which was essentially all night long, the humidifier started its tapping noise. I was startled by it and was certain Jonan was tapping at the window to let him in. I was fearing he would die in the cold outside if I didn’t let him in.  I don’t know what to make of these moments. When morning light comes I generally gain my clear thinking and am set straight from whatever oddities danced around my brain waves the night before.

As was becoming the custom, Kevin and Karen Miller came to pick us up. We carried our bag of all the great things we had put together for the service and got into their car. My mind was reeling.  We pulled up to the church and saw the hearse (again…breathe).  We walked in and there was my dad waiting with a big hug. People were already in full motion practicing the music and setting things up. The programs looked beautiful.  At another location there were also people (I don’t even know who) setting up for the luncheon, people who had coordinated food, and just generally doing all sorts of really amazing things for us. Once again, God was answering prayers I hadn’t yet prayed and taking care of our needs.

The funeral director met us and showed us Jonan’s casket…this time he was in there.  The hospital had given us a hand-knitted small blanket for such tragic occasions, made by a local church. We had Jonan wrapped in this blanket for his burial. We also had a wooden cross necklace from the church placed in his casket as well. It was the same type we received when we became members. He was, after all, part of the Body of Christ. And upon further reflection, I realized Jonan had partaken of the Eucharist every week with me since his conception.  That was a really beautiful thought for me. 

Jeff and I sat hidden in a side room as the church filled with people here to grieve and celebrate with us.  I peeked out the small window into the foyer…”there are so many people…Oh, Lord…you are amazing.” To be very transparent, there were times when I wondered if we were crazy to have a service for someone most people had never met, for someone who had never taken a breath of air…why are we doing this? Throughout these thoughts I came to think that maybe my questioning showed the product of my culture that I really am.  That life really isn’t that important until you have things to show for it, like accomplishments and enough time alive to show your importance. Yet over and over again the fact that Jonan was a real person with his own calling to fulfill on this earth solidified in my soul.  The fact that others were grieving his loss as well has continually struck me. There was something so precious about honoring the fact that his life mattered.  He counted. We did not have a funeral service in order to make a statement by any means, it was simply for us to grieve and honor his life.  But I will say the entire process marked me significantly and made a statement to me. Terms like “the sanctity of life” and the “power of the powerless” came alive through Jonan’s death. Such an odd paradox.  What a true and privileged honor it was to be there with so many that morning to honor the life of a small boy who changed ours. It all mattered.

The clergy that would lead the service came into our side room to pray with us.  We all needed this strength. Jeff was to be the pall-bearer for Jonan. It was daddy’s turn to carry him, and what lonely steps I know those were for him.  To carry his son’s body into and out of the church, and to his grave site to place him in the ground. He certainly needed our prayers. My dear friend Beth had made a small quilt and embroidered on it Jonan’s initials. We used it as the pall. I placed the pall over the casket before Jeff walked it down the isle of the church.

The service was p.o.w.e.r.f.u.l.  We had special scriptures chosen and Kevin Miller preached the homily.  He spoke about the Power of the Powerless.  A tender message wrought with so much truth. God was in our midst. Before our final songs Jeff and I stepped up to the microphone so I could introduce them.  I shared about mine and Jonan’s worship every morning and the two songs “Beautiful Things” and “The Earth is Yours” that I have blogged about previously. I shared that the day of our final ultrasound I had such joy and a sense of worship singing that last song that I had shut the blinds so I didn’t feel so self-conscious dancing around in my living room. Maybe this was the same moment Jonan was entering heaven…we will never know on this side of things. Then, I shared how we would sing the first song with a twist.  The lyrics:
“You make me new, you are making me new”
We changed to sing them present tense with Jonan:
“You’ve made me new, you have made me new”
It was a wonderful moment for me (and hopefully others) to be able to sing and think of the truth of Jonan’s life that moment. He had been made new by God, he was now whole. And even as we sang the second song, which is full of worship, we could be confident it was also present tense as we were worshipping God with Jonan and the rest of the company of Heaven. A beautiful ending to the celebration of a tragedy.

We recessed down the aisle and out to the foyer where people lined up to hug and love us.  The hugs were all so sincere and good, big hugs. It felt like I was being held up by everyone’s arms as I had been held up by their prayers for weeks. One friend gave me a “J” necklace in the line, a way to remember Jonan. We also received cards, flowers, and most of all the genuine love and grief in the eyes of so many.  All the eyes struck me.  These eyes of so many had a gentility, a deep sorrow, and sincere love to them. I once went through an exercise on a retreat where I had to give and receive a message from others only using their eyes, no words, no gestures. Only eyes.  By the end of that experience I was in tears. It was awkward and beautiful. That exercise prepared me for this receiving line. I felt I was able to see so much in everyone’s eyes.

We followed the hearse to the cemetery. It was a cold day, but thankfully not one of those negative wind-chill days Chicago can easily have in January.  As we all approached Jonan’s burial site a piper played a dirge. To use the overused word yet again…it was quite powerful. 


We gathered around Jonan’s vault (which the casket gets placed into for burial).  Words were spoken by Father Kevin, holy water sprinkled by Deacon Stephen, and Amazing Grace was sung to the sound of the piper. Emotional.  
We had decided, the day before at the funeral home, that we wanted the vault lowered into the ground and that we wanted to place dirt on it.  We wanted to lay him to rest, and anyone could join us if they desired. The funeral director suggested we tell everyone the point which we would be lowering him so they had the chance to leave. He let us know many people are uncomfortable with that in our culture and have been trained to not expect that at gravesites. Though, he mentioned, if it’s a younger crowd, they may not have been “trained” like this just yet. Hmm. 
We agreed for sure to allow everyone to make their own decision about their participation in this portion; I appreciated his sensitivity in reminding us of this. It did, however, interest me as I have often pondered our culture and its relation to death and grieving. Often times people will say “I am sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry.” Why is that (in our culture) instinctually a bad thing? If they hurt them intentionally, yeah, that was a poor choice…but I am referring here to when someone is grieving or sad. Crying is as natural as laughing.  Our body needs this and is wired for it. Why can we watch so many movies with brutality and death, yet not lower a casket into the ground because it is just too real for people. (I am not intending to be insensitive here, but I am questioning some obvious inconsistencies). I think we need to know how to grieve. I think we need permission. I think that sad music is good for the soul when there is loss and sadness. I often say, it is important to massage the soul so it can cry. Not to manipulate it, that is a different category. But to give it space and permission. Otherwise our world moves so quickly by us and our souls get lost in the confusion.  All of us a sudden we are moving again at our warp speed life, yet our souls are not with us. They are tired within us, or maybe we are just not aware that we have left them behind somewhere at all. How important it is to grieve.

I remember being in Romania over 10 years ago for about 3 months. I spend time there working with street kids and orphans and such. One day I heard a loud noise outside of the house where I was living.  There was a crowd of people walking behind a coffin. The coffin was in a vehicle opened in the back moving slow enough for people to walk behind it. Many were dressed in black and they were wailing. Weeping as they followed this car.   I stood there and watch until it was out of sight. I thought, I would never see this at home. I have never seen anything like this ever! Why so public? Why aren’t they crying behind closed doors? Just…why? I wish I could say I have done more study on the history of grief in different cultures, because I am quite interested in it…but I haven’t yet.  What I can say is that I think there is something healthy about having permission and even a roadmap of sorts as to how to mourn.  A place for tears, anger, questions, and wailing and tangible way to do each. For when we are fully present to our grief we can then, at some point, be fully present to our joy.
 I was glad I wore black that day.

Watching everyone place their hands in the dirt where Jonan’s body was laid and seeing them throw it in the hole was a healing process for me. It took a while to get through everyone, and I savored each dirty palm. All these loving hands the dirt. “From dust we came, and to dust we shall return.” It is a reality we all face.  Pretending it will never come gains me nothing, nor does dwelling on it. But I am finding that being present to my soul and the reality of all of life (and death) only allows me to live more fully, not less.

They said they had never seen so many people stay to throw dirt.

From there we went on to the luncheon. So much wonderful homemade food. We gathered around friends and family. The stories of God’s faithfulness were strung up around the room. Many shared about how Jonan had touch their life. We felt embedded in our community...we felt the church being the church. It was a time of celebration and remembering.

Jeff and I came home that day with gift, cards, flowers, plants, and a fridge of leftovers. The day was so much more healing than scary. I didn’t know how much I needed to go through this process of laying Jonan down. It was the beginning of healing.


  1. I noticed your colors and they were symbolic and meaningful for me.
    I also like your words about permission to grieve... it's true.

  2. I don't know you but I have been following your blog since you got the heart breaking news about your precious baby. Your writing is phenomenal and I am so sorry for your loss.

    Here is a song I hope you can find inspiring:

  3. Your writing is wraught with beautiful emotion. Thank you for gifting me with sacred tears. Your son's legacy is making a difference.