"For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living." Psalm 116:8&9

Monday, June 21, 2010

A New Father's Day Perspective

This past Sunday was our first Father's Day without Barry.  To be honest, I had been in denial about it's approach and was caught off guard Saturday night when I realized Father's Day was the next day. Needless to say, I spent most of Saturday night grieving.  

I grieved for my husband.  I grieved for what no longer was.  I grieved for my children.  Barry had always had a hard time with Father's Day. Not having a dad made it a rough day for him.  When William was born, it was so much fun to see how a day that had once been so painful became a day of celebrating the precious gift and responsibility God had given him.  One of his greatest desires was to give William and Layla a life and a relationship with their daddy that he never had. So, in facing our first Father's Day without him and the realization that Father's Day would always be hard for the kids was so painful.  I felt overwhelmed with sadness and loss.

On Sunday afternoon, I received an email from a woman I did not know.  She told me how Barry had impacted her life.  And then she said something that, in my grief, had not yet occurred to me.  She said that while we were celebrating our first Father's Day without him, he was celebrating his first Father's Day with his Father.  In my grief, I had been so focused on our pain, that I had forgotten about the beautiful gift Barry had been given.  Not only is he before the Lord, with no more pain and sorrow, but he is in the presence of his daddy - his real daddy.  For that, I am overcome with gratitude.

Psalm 68:5 tells us that God is "father to the fatherless."  He was always Barry's father.  Now Barry has the joy of seeing his father face to face.  And God is father to William and Layla.  And while they can no longer see their earthly daddy and cannot yet see their heavenly father, they are not without a dad.  They have 2.  One that loved them fiercely while here on earth, and one that loves them perfectly from heaven.  

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"My Daddy's Dead"

I don't know how it feels for you to read those words. I'm guessing it stings a little. No one wants to think about a child losing their father. It hurts even more to hear them come out of the mouth of my sweet 3-year-old each and every day.

William is a very verbal child. I am constantly amazed at the words he uses and how well he communicates. He is his father's child. It is a source of joy for me most of the time. But when he communicates the truth of our new reality, that daddy is dead, it grieves my soul. And during the last 3 months, this is a phrase that I have heard at least a dozen times a day.

William is just trying to process what has happened to our family and communicate his emotions about it. It is a very healthy process for anyone going through grief. It helps me gauge his understanding of Barry's death. It gives me opportunities to talk about Barry with him and seal memories of him in William's heart. It opens the door for us to talk about deep spiritual issues like death, sin, the death of Jesus on the cross, the resurrection, and eternal life. It causes us to stop and pray, asking God to "heal our hearts" and "make our hearts happy again." It helps me to remember the promises of God and trust in His faithfulness during hard times.

But it can also make for very awkward situations. William doesn't just say, "My daddy's dead," to me. He says it to his teachers at school and church. He says it to his friends. He says it to the waitress at the restaurant. He says it to the doctor. I never know when and where it is going to come out of his sweet little mouth.

I am thankful for those who have not only endured these awkward situations with me, but have engaged William with compassion and truth. His teacher at school spent two months talking with him about his daddy each day during nap time - loving him and letting him express his feelings in a safe environment. My heart will forever be grateful to her for the way she served God and our family in her actions. The preschool minister at our church made sure that all of his teachers knew what was going on and encouraged them to engage William with the truth of the Scriptures when he expressed his sadness at Barry's death. And there are those who simply have no words when William expresses, "my daddy's dead," but their eyes fill with tears and he knows that he is not alone in his grief.

My purpose in sharing this with you is this: we live in a fallen world. Because of that, there are so many children who are experiencing grief and tragedy. It is difficult to enter into a child's pain. It hurts. It makes us afraid. It causes us to think about the "what ifs" in our own lives. And often, we just don't know what to say or what to do. So we avoid. But when a child verbalizes his pain and the truth of his reality, it really is a beautiful thing. It is them processing their grief and it helps them to heal. So enter into the pain with them. They are just looking for some safety in a scary time.

If you are a parent who is walking through tragedy with your child, please know that you don't walk alone. Just like our children need us to walk with them and help them process their grief, you have a heavenly Father who also walks with you. He knows the pain and tears that your child's words can bring. He knows how deeply you desire to take away the pain and the temptation to run from it. He will not only walk through the pain with you, but He will carry you when you just can't take another step. And He will deliver you and your child from the hurt and tears.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Loving, Protecting and Providing for Your Loved Ones Even in Death - Funeral Arrangements

This is the second in a series of posts about how you can help your loved ones handle the "business side" of death, should the unfortunate occur.

It is amazing how time seems to stand still in the middle of a tragedy.  When Barry passed away, I stayed in his hospital room while the doctor ran some tests to see if Barry's organs could be harvested.  My strong, sweet daddy went in to the waiting room to tell our friends and family that Barry had died.  After about 45 minutes, I decided it was time to "face the crowd" and leave Barry's room.  As I stepped out of the room, our ICU nurse stopped me and told me she needed to know what funeral home we would be using.  What?  WHAT!?!

He had been gone less than an hour.  Did we really have to have that conversation right then?

Please understand, the nurse was amazing.  She was extremely helpful over the next 3 hours, compassionate and patient.  She wasn't trying to rush me.  She was just doing her job.  What I would come to learn is that when someone dies, TONS of decisions have to be made within the first 24 hours.  Those decisions are hard to make anyways, but when you add grief and shock to the process, you really just want to run away and hide.  But that's not an option..

So, here are some things that are helpful to discuss before tragedy comes.

Funeral Homes
The hospital will immediately need to know what funeral home you would like to use.  They contact the funeral home for you and coordinate the transfer of the body from the hospital to the home.  

Unless you have lived in one city for a long amount of time or have a funeral home that your family uses when a member of the family passes away, this decision will be a hard one.  Most people don't go shopping for a funeral home.  And I am not suggesting you do so either.  But a few things might help the process.

If you are participating in organ or tissue donation, the coordinator might be able to help you with some suggestions.  Our coordinator provided a list of funeral homes in the area that provided services at a discount rate to the families of donators.  From that list, she told us of the homes that she had worked with that provided excellent service in the past.  

The hospital will also provide a list of funeral homes to you that are near by.  I would suggest doing the following:
If a minister is at the hospital with you, ask them what funeral homes the church has worked with in the past and if they have any recommendations.  

Take the list the hospital provides and pick 3-5 homes.  Have someone who is at the hospital with you call each funeral home and ask them for their basic pricing for services.  Have that person write down the prices next to the name of the funeral home for you to review and pick from.  (You will be amazed at how varied pricing can be for basic services.  Remember - this is a business and unfortunately, some funeral homes take advantage of grief to make a higher profit.)

Once you have picked a funeral home, let the nurse know which home you would like to use and they will take care of coordinating the transfer of the body.  Remember to write down the contact information of the home, because you will need it within the next 24 hours.

The day after your loved one has passed away, you will need to go to the funeral home.  I would suggest calling them to set an appointment so that you don't have to wait once you get there.  At the funeral home, you will then need to make decisions on how you want the body handled.  The funeral home can explain all the processes to you and answer questions, but the main decision that has to be made next is if you want a burial or cremation.  This is a very personal decision that each family needs to make for themselves.  It is extremely helpful to make your wishes known before hand so that your loved ones don't have to carry the weight of this decision alone.  

To be honest, cremation requires the least amount of decisions to be made.  Once you have decided to cremate, the only other decisions you need to make are what to do with the ashes after the cremation.  You will need to pick a box/urn for the ashes.  These can range in price and style.  Also, you will need to decide what you would like to do with the ashes.  Some people choose to have the ashes taken to a cemetery.  Some people choose to keep the ashes at home.  Some people choose to scatter the ashes at a place that has significance to the family and the deceased.  

When you cremate, funeral arrangements are relatively simple.  Instead of a casket at the front of the room, some families choose to have pictures of the deceased placed at the front of the room with flowers.  You can also choose to have the ashes at the front of the room.

Finally, cremation can be significantly less expensive than a burial.  

When you choose to bury the deceased, several decisions have to be made.  The funeral home can walk you though this process step-by-step.  You will need to decide what type of casket you would like.  Caskets vary greatly in price.  It can be helpful for the family if they know how simple or elaborate you want your casket to be.  The family will have to decide what to dress the deceased in.  If there is something specific you would like, let your loved ones know.  

The major decision that has to be made is what cemetery you want to be buried in.  If members of your family are buried in a specific cemetery and you would also like to be buried there, you need to let your loved ones know.  Once the cemetery is chosen, they can help you pick a plot, based on what is available.  Some families have also already purchased plots to use when the time comes.  Then, you will need to chose a headstone.  This is another thing that varies greatly in price and style.  If you have a specific wish, it is helpful to let your loved ones know before hand.  

When you chose a burial, funeral arrangements are slightly more complex.  Do you want to have a viewing at the funeral home before the service?  Do you want an open or closed casket for the funeral?  Some families chose to have the casket open before and after the service so that people can see the deceased one last time, and close the casket during the service.  

Once the funeral is completed, the funeral home then takes the body in the casket to the cemetery where a graveside service is usually held.  

A burial can be significantly more expensive than a cremation.

Like I previously stated, whether to bury or cremate a loved one is an extremely personal decision.  There is no right or wrong decision.  I personally believe it is best to let the deceased make that decision for themsleves, but that requires that they have a conversation with their loved ones prior to death to let them know what they desire.  The wishes and beliefs of the family should be taken into consideration.  

If you don't have a strong opinion on the matter, I would suggest thinking about the following.  When you bury someone, there is a place that friends and family can go to "visit" the deceased.  For some people, this can be helpful and a part of the grieving process.  For others, this can be extremely painful.  Those left behind may feel an obligation to visit or keep flowers at the graveside.  They may feel guilty for not visiting often or moving away.  Each family will be different.  

The last thing I will say about making this decision prior to your passing is this: this is a decision that members of the family and loved ones will have different opinions about.  Some people also have very strong opinions about this topic.  To protect your spouse or loved ones from the pressure of upsetting others during an already tragic time, make this decision for yourself and make your wishes known.  Then, those left behind won't have to deal with fighting and upset feelings of others in the midst of grieving.