Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"What can I do?"

Joshua and Pauly at the Steeds.
This is one of the pictures Sheri brought me.

I have great compassion for people but I don't have a talent for putting those feelings into practical actions. If we hadn't been forced down the road of loss when Joshua died, I still wouldn't have a clue where to start. I was amazed (I'm still amazed)at the thoughtful things people did for us. I wanted to share some of those things here partly as a way to show gratitude for the tremendous kindnesses people showed us and partly because I learned some very sweet lessons that might be a help someone out there.

Lesson: Money is a good thing to give.

I had no idea that people gave money at the time of a funeral. It felt crass to talk about something as pedestrian as money when we were dealing with this monumental shock and sorrow. The expenses of funeral arraignments, as well as estate settlement have been known to ruin people. We were young and naive and vulnerable and we were lucky to have people around us who looked out for us and helped us make good decisions.

Until we were dealing with Joshua’s funeral arrangements I didn’t know how expensive funerals are. Caskets, funeral directors, preparing and transporting the body, burial costs, headstone and that doesn’t count all the medical expenses that commonly accompany death. It is a very expensive time.

People were so good to us. Our parents bore the brunt of the expenses. Our bishop made sure we knew the resources of the fast offerings were at our disposal. I don’t remember everything but I think the church paid for the casket. Paul’s unit 2/5 Cav did a fund raiser to pay for our plane tickets to Utah. (I love that) The ward I grew up in took up a generous fund to help pay for things in St. George. My grandmother bought the headstone. I can not express the gratitude we felt for so much generosity.

The lesson: Your instincts and talents are the best way to bless those around you.

Something that always makes me smile is when I think about Ellen Keuhl calling me. She said apologetically, “Rachel, I don’t bake and I can’t take care of your kids but I am a really good shopper. Would you please let me buy you something to wear at the funeral?” It was a funny request and up until that moment I hadn’t really thought about what I would wear. I accepted her gracious offer partly because I didn’t know what else to say and partly because I didn’t think that I had anything suitable to wear.

She asked me for sizes and color preferences. She bought me the most beautiful dark green dress and black boots to go with it. It is in my closet next to my wedding dress. I don’t think I will ever get rid of it. I was stunned and so thankful when she also bought me another dress or two and several outfits, just because. Ellen also bought a dress for Robin to wear. How thankful I was that I didn’t have to worry about what to wear. I felt appropriate and more than presentable but most importantly, I could focus on the significant moments of the day.

Lesson: It might feel awkward. It might feel too practical. But it might be exactly what is needed.

I mentioned the book that Holly Glines Wilkinson made and brought to us. It was waiting on the entry table at my mom’s house when we arrived home from the burial and lunch. It is probably the most valuable thing we were given, mostly because of what it holds. It isn’t fancy, just a blue 3 ring binder with the picture from the funeral program in a plastic sleeve and extra plastic sleeves ready to be filled.

I have been so thankful for that binder.

Without it I would have 100 cards bound together with a rubber band sitting in a box somewhere. I would have lost important papers in stacks of unimportant papers; they would have been thrown away long ago. And what in the world would I have done with that lock of curly, soft, light brown hair the nurse took from the back of Joshua’s head? Because of Holly's thoughtfulness, I had a place for cards and letters, hospital records, organ donation letters, the headstone order information, and my memories of that day.

Do you think Holly has any idea what an ideal gift that was? Do you think she has any inkling of how precious that binder is to me? Do you think she knows that I think of her and her kindness every time I walk through my living room and see the blue binder sitting on the book shelf?

Lesson: Sometimes you will just know what to do.

Brother and Sister Calvert had been Robin and Paul’s nursery teachers at church. They loved my kids and my kids adored them right back. Brother Calvert found out the kids were at the Steeds where they were staying while we were at the hospital. He went to see them on his lunch hour and just played with them. He read to them and he wrestled with Paul. He knew their lives were about to change forever and he just wanted to be with them. Sheri tried to fix him lunch. He didn’t want it; he was just there to be with my children.

There is a special corner in my heart that will always be reserved for Brother Calvert. Is it even possible to repay such kindnesses?

Lesson: Remember the anniversary.

Sheri called or wrote to me the next two or three years either on Joshua’s birthday or near the anniversary of his death. Those first years were especially important but even now it is so touching to me when someone sends me a note/email/text in January telling me that we are on their mind. It is so comforting to know that someone else in the world acknowledges that something horrendous happened to us and that we are not alone. The idea that someone else is shouldering just a little bit of our pain, even now makes a difference.

Lesson: Help provide proof that the child existed.

When an adult dies, there is a lifetime of relationships, achievements and memories from those around them, that provide evidence that they spent time on this earth. When I child dies, other than grieving parents and siblings, there is little proof they were ever even here. Sheri found every picture of Joshua she had taken at her house at the park, during our Sunday dinners together. It may seem simple but it was huge to me, emotionally and psychologically.

Lesson: If at all possible, attend the funeral.

I can't seem to put into words the strength I gleaned from huge rooms full of people who dropped everything, stopped their lives and came to mourn with us at the funerals; many who traveled very far. During the darkest days of my grieving, when I was so alone in my sorrow, I drew great peace and comfort from the idea of being surrounded by all those people who loved me. People who I knew would have willingly taken the crushing weight from me, had that been possible, at least for a little while. Attending the funeral is important.

Lesson: Just do something.

Other generous things people did that we still remember and touch our hearts: Tammy Calvert brought me a book on grieving. She gave me her own copy, the one that had helped her through her loss when cancer took her 8 year old daughter. How precious that book is to me. Others brought different books, meals, flowers, plants. Ladies from church, cleaned our house. The Cloves offered my family hotel rooms in St. George. People wrote the most beautiful letters. My grandmother sent me funny cards throughout the year. I could go one and on.

This certainly isn't a complete list, in fact I have been slow to write this post because people were so good to us and I know, after 15 years I would probably miss something or someone. I am sorry if that is the case.

It was so strange to feel such intense grief and loss, and to feel such deep gratitude at the same time. Some of those feelings have never gone away.