Sunday, November 16, 2014

Journey of Loss {Part 5}: Departure

Billy refused to eat all that day. By fasting and praying, he hoped God would heal Luke.  It only sapped his strength and before long, he fell asleep.

“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said,
‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child will live?
But now he is dead.  Why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?
I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

(2 Samuel 12:22, 23, ESV)

It was an hour before midnight, about eight hours since Luke first entered this world that he silently slipped away.

I was busy talking to Mark and my sister-in-law, Krista, about the excitement of going on a mission trip to Ukraine and the joy of sharing the Christ with people of other nations. In the middle of the conversation, I looked down and realized Luke was no longer with us.

As he slept contentedly in my arms, he had left us and gone to be with the Lord. 
Mark gently awakened Billy, so he could hold Luke. As he held his son, Billy soon realized that he was gone. Yet, it was no longer Billy holding Luke; Jesus was holding him safe in His arms.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart” 
(Isaiah 40:11)

We didn’t want to hold on to Luke’s body too long. We wanted to remember him as he was, before he started to lose his rosy color. After the nursing staff checked his vitals and confirmed that he was gone, we passed his body to them to be held for burial. 
That night, Billy and I fell asleep holding each other in the hospital bed. We both woke up in the middle of the night and remembered Luke was gone. Billy started weeping first, and then I joined him.

The grief we shared that night echoed the throbbing pain in our hearts.
The next day, a hospice volunteer came into our room and handed us a bright purple folder with a butterfly on the cover. There were resources inside listing different ways to cope with grief. One pamphlet gave an explanation of the process to file for a death certificate and tips for planning a funeral.
In the midst of overwhelming sorrow, it seemed too hard to sort through such things.  Thankfully, Billy took over and found a funeral home that gave complimentary burial services for young children. He also found a cemetery that offered burial plots for babies.

My friend Mark and another friend, Barb, helped us tremendously in creating a plan for the funeral. Barb made a beautiful card with Luke’s picture on it to give to the people who came to the funeral, and Mark offered to help arrange all that would be shared.
The date was set and just about everyone said they would come, including my mother, stepfather, and birth father. It was comforting to know that all of my family and friends would be there for us in our time of grief.
The night before the funeral, my mother called to say she wasn’t going to come. She said my stepfather and older brother got into a heated argument and he was too upset to drive to the funeral.
It would have meant so much for my parents to come to Luke’s funeral.  
That night, I shared the problem with my small group. As I wept, they all laid their hands on me and prayed. They were the hands and feet of Jesus to comfort me in my time of grief.

As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
” (Isaiah 66:13)

The day of the funeral, I decided that I wasn’t going to wear black. Instead, I wore a sky blue blouse and a skirt covered with blue cornflowers. I wanted to show that I hadn’t lost all hope, because I knew, one day I would see Luke again. 
We drove to the cemetery, where empty chairs stood beneath a green canopy.  Luke’s body was encased in a little white casket on a table. There was a small rectangular hole dug in the ground behind the canopy, which was the same size as the coffin. 
The funeral staff asked Billy if he wanted to place Luke in the grave by himself. He looked stunned at first, but then nodded.
Soon, people started to arrive and toiled their way up to the canopy. One by one, they came up to the coffin, reflected for awhile, and placed a daisy on top. Many hugged us as they offered their tearful condolences.
Surprisingly, I spotted my mother and stepfather coming up the path, and I was surprised by an overwhelming gush of joy. I was thankful they could come and invited them to sit with me. 
Then my birth father arrived and gave me a big hug. He shared with me that his mother, my Nona Cina, went through this same kind of suffering. Her first baby was born right after the end of World War II. The child was stillborn, and she had to give birth to him alone in Italy while the war brides waited to be allowed into the United States.
Mark stood up and shared a little about Luke’s story, and our hope in Christ. My brother and sister in-law, John and Krista, read the following passages that Billy and I had prepared. 
Krista shared a poem that I adapted for Luke called “Reunion” from Misty by Carole Gift Page. Carole’s daughter was a little baby girl named Misty, who had a condition incompatible with life. I thought her poem was beautiful and said everything about Luke that I wanted to say. I adapted it by changing all the references from a girl to a baby boy and the length of time from one or two hours to eight hours.

Someday when I’m old
And someone asks if I’m looking forward to heaven
I’ll say I’m eager to see my Jesus
But there’s someone else I want to see too.
I’ll say
It’s been thirty or forty years since I’ve seen [him].
And the time we spent together was all too brief—
[eight hours]
That’s all,
And [he] was so tiny and frail
[He] spent that time just trying to breathe.
I never had a chance to find out who [he] was
Or what [he] was like—
What [he] could have done,
What [he] could have been,
But [he] was my child,
Flesh of my flesh,
My own,
And I love [him]
With limitless love.
My other children grew up
And grew older with me
But this one—
The one I’m longing to see—
Stayed the same through the years—
[His] face fixed in my memory like a faded snapshot,
Its corners worn from too much handling.
Through the years,
The good and bad times,
I’ve dreamed of that distant reunion
And imagined the moment
I could look [him] in the eyes
And say,
Your mother’s missed you
But we’ll never be apart again.

Adaptation of "Reunion," from Misty by Carole Gift Page

John shared a letter that Billy wrote:

Dear Luke,

What can I say? You are my one and only little boy. I held you in my arms for such a very short time. Eight hours, that was all the time that God allowed us to have with you. But, let me assure you that they were some of the best hours of my life. It was pure joy for me to hold you and kiss your sweet little head, and place my finger in your tiny little hand.
It was simply pure joy to know you little one. When your little hand seemed to squeeze my finger and one of your little eyes opened to peek at me. To see you breathing much longer than the doctors said you would.
I’m sorry that I did not get to know you better in my life. I’m sorry that we didn’t get to do all the things that daddies and little boys get to do. I wanted so much to take you to the park and push you in the swing, teach you how to ride a bike, take you fishing, and play catch.
But, that was not in God’s plan. God’s plan was for you to stay with your mommy and me for just a short time, and then to go to heaven to be with Him. God loves you very much and has a special purpose for you there. I think you are very happy there, too. There is no sickness, no pain, or cruelty up there like there is down here. Heaven is a place filled with love, for God is love and you can trust Him to take care of you.
As for me, I’m happy that you’re with Him, but sad that you’re leaving without me. Your mommy and I miss you very much and will think about you every day. But, don’t worry, one day we’ll come to heaven to live with God, too, and we’ll be with each other again.
Remember that I love you very much and you will stay in my heart forever.

There was a clear sky that day with a few puffy clouds that looked like woolly sheep on a baby blue blanket. A gentle breeze made the air cool and pleasant.

As a friend strummed the guitar and sang, “Amazing Grace,” Billy got up and stood before Luke’s little coffin. He wrapped his arms around it, picked it up, and carried it to the burial plot.

He slowly stepped into the grave, gently lowering the coffin and setting it down onto the cool, soft earth. 
When Billy came up out of the grave, he stood next to April and me. She was holding a red balloon that pulled to the right as the wind rushed past us. We all held the balloon and then released it together.

The balloon sailed high into the sky, floating up to the clouds, and I lifted up my hands up in worship of my Lord and King, who I still believed was good, even though He had allowed us to experience such sorrow.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you. 
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 
Lord Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.”
(Psalm 84: 4, 5, 12)

This is Part 5 of my story, Journey of Loss. Here is the link to Part 6.