Friday, July 17, 2015

Funeral Rock Stars

"It's going to be terrible.  It's going to be awful.  It's not going to be any fun. You're going to see and talk to tons of people you don't know.  But we all have to do it.  Unfortunately, this is just part of life."

These are the words Derek spoke to our girls as he explained the plans for both the upcoming visitation and the funeral.

Terrible because of the tears.  Awful because of the reason we had to be there.

Two days prior he'd gotten the shocking phone call.  His 74 year old father, Owen, had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away following routine knee replacement surgery.  As one family friend expressed during visitation, "He went in for a new knee and came out with a new life."

As difficult, as heart-breaking as this news was to bear, we are confident of Derek's father's presence now. We know his unwavering faith in his unwavering Savior is now full-out, glorious sight.
"Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it." 2 Cor. 5:19
We've been to funerals.  Several lately, unfortunately.  But this was the first time in our adult lives Derek and I had to play an active, intimate role because we're immediate family.

This was the first time my husband had to sit for over two hours at a funeral home and assist in making arrangements.  The first time he had to listen to casket options and help decide the number of death certificates needed, wording on the obituary and the pictures needed for the slideshow.

This was hard stuff.  For Derek's mother, Carol, his two brothers, their wives, and his aunt and uncle.  The hard stuff no one wants to do.  But from my perspective, the stuff they all handled like total and complete rock stars.

Visitation at the funeral home was scheduled to be three hours long.  But the crowd.

People stood in line for hours to pay their respects and to offer their condolences.

I shouldn't have been surprised at the overwhelming number of people. Owen (and Carol, too) have lived their entire lives in that area, rooted in their community.  They raised their children there and Derek's brothers and families are doing the same there; we live nearly two hours away.

Owen had also been an active member of his church for over 35 years, serving as a deacon and even being employed there as head of custodial management after he'd entered retirement nearly 15 years ago.

For six long hours, my mother-in-law lovingly embraced each and every visitor who stepped up to the casket and in front of her. As friends shared their cherished memories and favorite moments of the man she'd been married to for 52 years, she listened intimately, maintaining eye contact, giving them her undivided attention, soaking in every word as a lifeline.

And I watched her in complete amazement.

Though weak, she was clothed with strength.
Though broken, she was altogether lovely.
Though needy herself, she lifted up and ministered to others while they grieved.

Her sons, Kevin, Micah, and Derek, remained like stalwart soldiers by her side.

Carol Anne and Denny, Owen's sister and brother-in-law, were a constant presence for my mother-in-law. Always in the background, always serving. Always thinking of others' needs. Always assisting. Always helping. Always seeing the needs before anyone else did.

Derek had told me how his aunt and uncle had been invaluable throughout the first few days of this family tragedy, but I got to witness it with my own two eyes while I was down there.  No doubt they'll continue to be the tangible hands and feet of Jesus for Carol as the days go on. Because that's just who they are.

As the evening progressed and some of the grandchildren grew restless, Derek's cousin's wife from Tennessee, affectionately known as "Aunt Sue", volunteered to take them down to the sunroom in the funeral home. Their attention span spent there, she then offered to take them back to Carol's house, feed them dinner, let them play and watch them while we were away.  Who does that?  Aunt Sue, that's who.

Rob and Joel, the vocalists at the funeral, led those in attendance in full-out worship (because that's what Owen would've wanted) and Pastor Larry, Owen's pastor, proclaimed the love of Christ with the gospel (because that's what Owen would've wanted) and three individuals said, "Yes" to Jesus and his offer of salvation. Three new creations in Christ.  At my father-in-law's funeral, y'all.

Food abounded at the house.  Countless containers of casseroles, cakes and cookies, too many to fit in Carol's refrigerator, have provided continuous nourishment for the entire family, those from out-of-town and those in-town.  Flowers, cards, phone calls, text messages, and visitors have poured in over the past week and provided much comfort to those on the receiving end.

Love demonstrated in a million ways, big and small to the entire Fort family. People have shown up and God has shown off.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." 2 Cor. 1:3-5
The death of Derek's father will leave an irreplaceable hole in the family.  He loved us all and prayed for us all, particularly his seven grandchildren.  Over the last several years, he got to see each and every one of them baptized following individual personal confessions of faith in Jesus' sacrificial work on the cross for them.

But for us, one of the biggest losses is the fact that he won't be at the airport the day we arrive home from India. He'll never meet his eighth grandchild.  From the moment we shared our plans to adopt, Owen was beyond excited.  He loved that we were adopting. He loved hearing all the crazy, exciting, up/down details along the way.  And he loved the day we called to tell them we'd finally been matched with our girl.

Before I was even halfway through explaining the story, he stopped me.  He wanted to pause, to pray and to give thanks to God for what He'd done in our journey so far.  He believed big for us and prayed big for us and his Indian granddaughter.  He was most definitely one of our biggest supporters and we'll never forget that.

It's been a tough week since the funeral and yet, the hardest days lie ahead. Specifically for Carol.  She has to figure out a new day-to-day normal. She has to make decisions. She has to face the quietness and the loneliness.  So understandably, our thoughts, our concerns, our prayers are for her now, because she needs them.

Though she often referred to her husband as her "rock", I know she's leaning on, holding on and standing on the Rock, her Lord, her Redeemer right now. And I'm confident, too, her Rock is leaning in, holding her, and standing right there with her as well.  Because that's just what He does.

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