December 22. Three days until Christmas! The excitement of the children. The festive decorations. The parties. A gathering of family. A joyous time of year.
Unless you have to plan or attend a funeral. I encountered a funeral procession just this morning. Hello trigger! Not that it wasn't already on my mind, it just sort of slapped me in the face. Eight years ago, I was the one in that first limo. It's so difficult.
You've probably figured out by now that grief involves rituals. At least for me. In order to heal, one must move forward, yet must never forget. My therapy is writing. I do promise you, my posts going forward will not all be about Meghan or about topics that make readers uncomfortable or move them to tears. That is not my intent. It is my hope that in sharing my experiences of this week eight years ago, that it not only helps me heal, but that it gives you a sense of what the depth of such a loss is. That you might have some insight into what might be going on inside my heart and head and indeed in the hearts and heads of anyone who has lost a loved one during this season or during their 'anniversary' week, whenever that may be. That you understand that this is not about reliving the pain because I can't move forward. It's about sharing my pain, my experiences, so that we can ALL grow, heal and move forward. It's a process. One that involves remembering even the difficult days. There is no right or wrong way. This is my way. Once again, I thank you for walking with me.
Funerals are a ritual in which we, those left here on earth, have a formal chance to say good-bye. It's a ritual of closure. The burial of the physical body or for some. It's a celebration of their life. A chance for all those who knew them to gather and share. To remember the joy and laughter they brought to our lives. It's a bittersweet mixture of laughter and tears. It's a chance to gather in support of those left behind, that they need not grieve alone.
With the funerals of the 20 children lost in the Sandy Hook School shooting last Friday so prevalent in the media this week, I know many people are feeling for those families. I saw the media there and thought what would I done if it were my child. I'd have run out there and told them to go the hell home and let us mourn in peace! Families need privacy. To be surrounded by friends, family and loved ones. To feel as if they can truly grieve without it ending up on the evening news or the front page of the paper. No one needs or wants their '15 minutes of fame' to be in such a personal moment of grief and pain. I feel for those families. On so many levels.
This is what the media can't show, could never know.
The morning of Meg's funeral we met at the funeral home for our last goodbye. We all had one last chance to see her. Our immediate family said goodbye, one by one, then left to get in their cars for the processional. We were the last. We said our goodbyes. I kissed her one last time. We all took a pink rose from an arrangement by her casket. The director asked if I wanted her blankets or kitties. I said no. No sooner were we in the limo and I regretted it. The casket had already been sealed. She would've wanted them I rationalized. But of course, she didn't need them. She was not there. Only her body was. To this day, I really wish I had them...
The hearse pulled out of the driveway with her little white casket surrounded by her pink and white flowers visible through the windows. Our family limo followed. The boys thought it was pretty cool to ride in a limo! I remember the traffic that was stopped on our town's main road at the intersections as we traveled the mile to the church. Everyone knew it was her funeral. It had been in the paper. We are a small town. I distinctly remember one woman bowing her head in her car, visibly crying, and make the sign of the cross as Meggie passed her car. That's what moved me to tears first that day.
Our little processional arrived at the church. The parking lot was overflowing. I thought it odd, not that many people could have taken the day off to come. We watched the last few people enter. Then we walked in as a family of 4, instead of 5. The church was packed, standing room only. Nearly everyone was crying. All eyes were on us. I held my boys hands. I was numb. My head was spinny again. I saw nothing but the red pointsettas at the altar.
Then, Meggie came in. We were asked to place the pall, a decorative cloth, over her casket. Her father and I did so with a little help from the boys. When we were finished my husband briefly placed his head on her casket in a moment of grief. Her twin, who I was holding in my arms, very quietly said "it's perfect". And we took our seats.
There were two priests and a Deacon, my uncle, who had baptized her, officiating. He delivered the homily. A neighbor did a reading. Then, instead of another reading, a song was played on a CD player. It was called "Visitor From Heaven" by Twila Paris. It was beautiful and moving. I don't remember much from the service. I remember our priest asking if we wanted them to wait to decorate the church for Christmas until after her funeral the day before. I said of course not! I remember him giving me the choices for readings and hating them all. I remember the choices for songs being easier and more appropriate but not what I really wanted.
I had asked a friend at the last minute if she'd take a few photos. Again, so the boys would have them to refer to should they ever wish to since they'd likely not remember. I scrap-booked all of the photos from her wake and funeral. It was good therapy for me. I look at it every year this day. My oldest son has never wanted to look at it. Meg's twin has looked at it twice with me.
After the service we returned to the limo to wait for everyone to get in their cars for the very short drive to the cemetery. I remember watching the people pour out of the church, being surprised to see some of the people there that I did. I was touched.
We made the slow and short journey to the cemetery. I remember seeing the officer stationed there to stop traffic fighting tears off. I believe he was one of the first people at our house the day she died. I was later told he had just had a baby girl himself.
As we gathered at her 'special place' at the cemetery for her burial, a brief prayer was said. Her twin was holding a stuffed cat he had received as a gift the day before. He wanted to play in the snow. When it was over, I took the pink rose we had taken from the funeral home and placed it on her casket. I remember saying "You always wanted to fly my angel, I love you". Her twin placed his flower. And another. And another. He asked if he could go in the special place with her. As if my heart could have broken any more that day... Slowly, others did the same with flowers and left us alone.
I remember the funeral director coming to me and asking which way we wanted her body to lay relative to the 'head' stone. He said he only asked because although it made no sense, having her head away from the road seemed a more peaceful rest. I agreed and laughed. She'd really have a 'foot' stone! Sounded about right for Meg. He handed us a bag of some of the things we had on display at the funeral home for the wake and hugged us. We headed for home while they buried her casket.
We listened to that same CD of Meggie's favorite music in the limo. We arrived home to "You can Fly". Her twin couldn't wait to get out of the car and immediately threw himself into the snow and attempted to make a 3-year old snow angel. A fitting tribute! We went into the house to find it full of family and friends and neighbors. The food, my God, the food! To be honest, although I understand the ritual, the last thing I wanted to do was be social. I wanted everyone to go the hell home and leave us alone. I had to make the boys lunch. Ham cut with a Christmas Tree cookie cutter. It was the only way they'd eat it. I think I hid in my room most of the rest of that afternoon. I just didn't want to be social. What a stupid tradition, I thought. Of course, it was more for everyone else than it was for me. The support was definitely appreciated, I was just done and needed to be alone.
Eventually everyone left. Not a moment too soon. In the quiet, we looked in that bag. Aside from the things we provided like the CD of music and pictures, we found an heirloom Bible, a Merry Christmas From Heaven ornament, bookmarks with her obituary laminated to them, the guest book from her wake, the extra prayer cards and the beautiful tribute tile with her picture and a poem the director's wife had made for us. All gifts from them. I was so touched by their kindness and thoughtfulness.
We later learned that they gifted us her funeral as well. Such a kind and generous family.
We were and are so blessed to live in the community we do. The support, even 8 years later, is still there. In fact a neighbor called me just last night to ask how I was doing, knowing it was a difficult week for me.
December 22nd will always be a 'trigger' day for me. One I endure with a heavy heart. It is a day of significance in my life, even though everyone else who was there has likely forgotten or simply doesn't remember this was the day unless I mention it. That's OK I understand that. My heart is heavy. The day your bury your child is only second in painfulness to the day that they died.
That said, she had a beautiful service and a beautiful day. I am so blessed to have had her in my life the 3 short years I did. She truly was a visitor from Heaven.
As her Uncle Larry wrote on a note card to her that afternoon, "Fly High, Fly Free!" She got her never-ending wish, she will forever 'fly in the sky', only now, it's among angels. I'm the mom of an angel. One of the happiest, most loving and sweet and yet loudest little angels you might have ever encountered. Her light is bright and her love boundless.
Close your eyes and feel her. Can you? I can.