The greatest thing happened today!
It comes after two of the most endearing and tearful weeks of my life and it takes a special resolve to keep my composure now. This past week might have been the most difficult of all. At times I would seem fine and at peace, but then something would happen to bring out the tears once more.
The funeral…The Homegoing was very nice. I nearly forgot. We don’t have funerals for saved people. We have Homegoings to send them on home to their Father. Her homegoing was just very, very nice.
I got there early to help my cousin set up her video and I was completely unnerved because when I first walked in the church, one of the other members looked at me and said I looked just like her as I walked through the door, and I took it as a complete compliment, but I was still rather unsettled at what the sight of me was doing to her. It was a compliment, however. To be compared with someone who was in tune with her Lord…always a compliment.
So, I’m helping my cousin and another member comes into the sanctuary and she pauses as she stares at me because I’m standing right next to the pulpit. At first, I thought she was going to say something because of what I was wearing (I hardly ever wear a skirt and I was wearing white because I kept telling myself that this wasn’t a funeral, so there was no need to wear black), but then she too told me that she thought I was Edrith standing there. She started crying as she sat down afterward and I had no idea what to do even as I kept rubbing her shoulders and telling her that we all knew where Edrith was. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord…
At that point, the funeral home had not brought her there yet and my cousin and I kept trying to make the video work, but it simply would not function and as I’m handing her my cell phone so she can call my other cousin, her husband, for more direction, the church doors opened and then they came in with her. The casket was a shade darker than Tiffany Blue and I froze. I stood on the pulpit with my cousin who was working with the video equipment just behind it and I stared anywhere except at the casket. I simply was not ready. I had been trying all week long to get ready, but I simply wasn’t.
The Sunday directly after we had first received the news was the most tearful service I have ever experienced. Everyone was so affected and it really hit home when we didn’t see her there. I remember driving up to the stop sign just in front of the church, as it sits on the corner, and I just sat there in my car for a full minute just staring at the church. My hands were shaking and the tears were beginning to come again because I knew what was about to happen. I knew that I was going to walk through the church doors and instead of getting a quick hug from her and a little “happy dance” that I had made on time for Sunday School for the third third week in a row, she would not be there. I eventually gained my composure and got to the church, and you could just see it in everyone’s eyes.
I tried to keep my lesson light-hearted and my other students and I tried to laugh about how Esau must of have looked being covered in red hair and how simple he seemed to give up his birthright for a bowl of soup, but even toward the end of the lesson, I began to feel it again. When we concluded Sunday School, our secretary only had this year’s records because her mind was clearly elsewhere and the atmosphere was very subdued. It only occurred to me then, that our Sunday School director had forgotten to come around and even collect the offerings for my Young Adult class. I also hadn’t realized how much I’d taken for granted seeing her standing next to Deacon Jordan as they concluded. I nearly lost it at first when we consecrated before Sunday School and she was not the one to lead the prayer. I had grown so accustomed to how she would pray: “Oh Heavenly Father, we come to you…” She would continue to say it throughout her prayers: Oh Heavenly Father, this and Oh Heavenly Father that. It was so Edrith and her style of praying and I miss it dearly.
The devotional service was subdued as well. Normally, it is filled with upbeat songs to get everyone in the spirit, but the songs were slow and moving throughout the service. You could just see it on the face of everyone in the church. Hugs lasted longer as you could feel others shake as they tried to hold back tears and I had held it together until I saw our choir director, her best friend. She was surrounded by others who just kept telling her that we all knew where Edrith is, but the tears just kept coming and when I hugged her I broke down with her. I don’t normally cry in public if I can help it, but I broke down as we cried together for our lost sister.
The rest of the service went along, though also greatly subdued, and I kept trying to keep my eyes dry as I stood at the door and greeted people as an usher, but I kept running for the tissues and simply had to leave for the restroom at one point. I normally take a collection plate down the aisles during the missionary offering, but I could not and asked to just hold the door during the offering. I was not ready to see all the faces yet because I knew what was coming.
The announcements went as normal and I nearly lost it altogether when I followed along in our bulletin. A project she had been heading was still on schedule and her name was still there as someone to speak to about the project. Our announcer, also the same member who broke down after thinking I was Edrith standing at the pulpit, had paused as she read the reminder for the event and thankfully read the other name as the event leader, my cousin, but we all saw it and the other ushers came out with several news boxes of tissues.
Pastor said a lot about her and I was okay at first until he started to tear up at the pulpit. Dear Jesus…everyone was crying at that point. It was just so sad because we knew where she went, yet our hearts still wretched for her and still do. The youth was began singing and with each song, I grew more tearful even though I tried so desperately to keep my composure. One of our lead ushers kept asking me if I was okay and I kept saying yes, wanting to believe the words, but during altar call prayer, I held hands with him and another usher as one of the ministers lead the prayer and I started shaking violently because I was trying to hold it together, but the tears kept coming and eventually, he just pulled me into a hug and allowed me weep openly on his shoulder. By the time, the altar call prayer was over, I knew others were crying just as much and even harder than me, but the tears would not stop and I crossed the church to where my mother sat and just fell into her arms as I cried. She pulled me into the hall continually saying “I know baby. I know.” as I just wailed in the hallway. The hardest thing about it was that…as old as I am; I am 23 years old, I live on my own, I have a job, I go to school and I have my own insurance. I am, for all intents and purposes, an adult, but all my grown self wanted, no needed in that moment was my mother. As I crossed the church, I just kept saying to myself “I just want my mommy.” I had never experienced grief before and I’ve found that as grown as I pretend to be, at the end, I just needed my mother.
She eventually took my outside because a short while after we left the sanctuary, Edrith’s goddaughter, also the daughter of her best friend, was having a fit not unlike mine in the arms of her mother and it made me cry even harder. Outside, my mother just kept telling me that these should not be tears that I would never see Edrith again. She said, that we knew where she was and we know that she is praising Jesus right next to the father; she said to me the same thing I had been trying to tell others all morning, but I just needed to hear someone say the same to me as well. We were joined by other friends who had come to check in on me and my one friend began to cry slightly. She said, “I don’t remember who got on me most about coming to church and Sunday School. Edrith or Dorienne.” and it made me laugh because that was just the kind of person Edrith was.
After a while, I was okay and I haven’t had screaming tears like that since, though the silent ones have slipped every now and again and did so immensely at the Homegoing. Throughout the rest of the week, I was so unnerved by the fact that I could be shaken to my knees with grief and be brought to the point that I needed to just hug my mother and cry. I kept having to tell people what happened and write e-mails to my professors to explain what was going on in my life. I had to turn in a paper a week late because I had had every intention on beginning it Sunday night, but it did not cross my mind again until the class I was able to attend that week. Even now, I am still trying to play catch-up, but it is slowly coming along. My employer has been oddly understanding. I had a vacation day scheduled for last Wednesday, but was able to get it moved to last Monday so that I wouldn’t have to just call in “sick” to go to the Homegoing. They let me work “mail” a lot because somehow, listening to someone gripe about why they had to pay a $4.38 finance charge on their credit after I had just lost a dear friend was just bound to cause problems.
Previously, I had never been involved with the plans of a Homegoing. It never occurred to me that the programs that were passed out during the service had to made. Things had to be written for them, they had to be printed and put together. That first week was probably the most stressful week of my life. I offered help where I could and even then I still felt inadequate. That Saturday, nine days after it had happened, I had called our choir director, Edrith’s best friend, and the director of the choir in which Edrith sang, to see if we were going to have a practice/getting together in remembrance of her and she told me that we weren’t and that they were just looking at the site for her grave that day. I went to work that day able to keep it together unlike the previous week, where I was okay until someone asked me what was wrong, after seeing the look on my face and probably noting that I was still in glasses and had on no makeup. My friends from work tried their best to console me and I pulled it together quickly, but I was in no mood to deal with customers regardless.
Last Sunday was the first time we had to sing without her. It was…very difficult. At one point, right before we began another song, Caprica, our director, looked to Edrith’s seat in the choir stand and this look came over her face. She had to keep leaving the sanctuary after each song and I knew she left to weep away from the eyes of the rest of the congregation. We could just sense it as we sang up there. She was with us, but she wasn’t with us and that’s what made me cry hardest during altar call prayer. It was not as drastic as the previous week, but I still cried hard because I knew that at no point again in this life would I look two seats down to the soprano section and see her smiling face.
After service, we had to put the pieces for her programs together and we had this fun assembly line going as we kept the conversation light-hearted via my other cousin, who I had poked and prodded about the staples not being on the pre-made creases from the assembly line until she sat back and let me do it. It took close to three hours, but I stapled together all 200+ programs…directly on the crease. 🙂 We had pizza together before afternoon service, and we joked and laughed and just talked like women do when we get together and every once in a while we’d talk about how pretty her picture was on the programs and who was doing her hair and such. It was a very bonding moment for all of us and I got to show my sarcastic side more than I had previously.
All of this was going through my head when the men from the funeral home came in the sanctuary with the casket and when they had opened up the casket and I could just make out her hair between the top of the closed part and where I stood, I handed my phone to my cousin and I ran away into the side hall. I had tried to keep it together, but I really wasn’t ready. I came back quickly, though, to help her and when it looked like she got a good handle on making the video work again, I left again to sit just in the hall. I hugged those I knew who had come through the doors and at one point I stood just to the side of the casket’s opening and could see the white of the pillows around her face before I left again. My other cousin just kept repeating that we were not having a funeral. We were just sending her home.
With everything set up, we filed up to see her and I was holding the hands of two of my cousins as we walked toward the casket. I began to shake again as we approached and I thought I was going to lose it again and I felt my cousin squeeze my hand just as tightly as I squeezed hers as we finally got there.
Her hair done exactly like she always had it, even with the little flip across her forehead and as my other cousin said as we stared at her, she really looked at piece with all the white around her. My memory of what I saw is very blurry because the tears were coming down my face so readily that it blurred my vision, but that’s okay because that’s not how I plan on remembering her anyway. All of my memories of her are happy, not sad at all.
Our choir, with my two cousins included, took the choir stands, but as we sat waiting for the service to begin we noticed how full the sanctuary was and by the time service was about to begin, some of the actual church members were sitting in the choir stands with us to make room for all those who had come to pay their respects for her. It was just so full. The doors of the sanctuary remained open and they had set up more seats out in the hall to account for all the people. We actually ran out of programs and someone had to quickly run out and have some xeroxed to accommodate everyone who was there. What is amazing is that there were so many people and yet, lots of people had already left during the wake and even more had left because there just wasn’t anywhere else to sit. So loved…
I kept it together for the most part once we were in the choir stands and we sang twice before they showed her video. Tears were streaming down my face throughout most of it and I was trying so hard to pull things together because I knew what the last song we were going to sing was and it was always one of my absolute favorites.
As this was a Homegoing and not a funeral, the songs we sang were bright and uplifting and that is how we sing “Pass Me Not.” I think I’ll post of video of us singing it a couple months ago in this post…but my favorite part of “Pass Me Not” is when we break the harmony and the different parts sing alone. Edrith was a soprano and though she was not some Whitney Houston-type singer, she could carry the soprano part all by herself and even before October 5th, it was one of my favorite parts of the song; how Caprica would point to Edrith and the other sopranos and we would just continue with the song from that point. I knew the song was coming and I glanced at where she should have been sitting. We had lain this shimmering throw over one of the seats in the soprano section, right where she should have been, and tears fell down my face before we even started the song because I knew whose voice I would not be hearing as I tried to maintain my own alto part.
Right when we broke into the soprano, alto and tenor parts like normal, the tears began to flow even harder, but I sang Edrith home as loud as I could. Afterward the music was playing and Pastor was yelling about how great God is and how we’re just singing our sister on home and I had a little moment of my own. I’ve never been one to be so moved during service that I dance and so on, but I had this moment where I was sort of bouncing in my seat a bit as I cried tears of mixed joy and sorrow. Something like that for a person like me is akin to jumping up and screaming and taking laps around the sanctuary as I screamed “Jesus!” I really can’t explain that moment, but it brought me peace afterward and throughout the rest of the service.
I rode in the car with my cousins and some other friends to the grave sight and we had a nice talk on the way there. We sang along with some of gospel songs that had come on the radio and jokingly suggested what we wanted for our own Homegoings. No one really wants to think that kind of thing, but it’s good to get it out early on so that when tragedy strikes, everyone knows what you wanted. Caprica had said to us that Edrith hadn’t wanted a sad funeral. She wanted it to be joyous and she wanted everyone to be happy. That kind of conversation had probably taken place months or years earlier, but at least we knew what she wanted.
I should ask my cousin what the exact number of her marker is because with all the twists and turns we had done in the cemetery, I know I’ll never find it again on my own. She rests by several large trees and it is so peaceful out there…
We had dinner at the church afterward and I had to explain my choices for vegetarianism multiple times and endure several calls of “I’ve never heard of a black person who didn’t eat chicken.” before I was able to sit. I sat next across from friends and between Pastor and one of the ministers I just call “Paw-Paw” even though we’re not related. I laughed a lot when talk with Paw-Paw turned to me ever getting married, since Pastor had talked about how Edrith was not willing to settle for anyone, but waiting on a good man. I had never given it a lot of thought, but I really do want Paw-Paw to dance at my wedding someday, so I should probably get on with that, too.
This past week had gone by in interesting spurts where I was upbeat having sang her home to points when I wanted to watch one of our church DVDs, but knew I couldn’t because I knew most of the services I have are ones where our choir sang and I wasn’t ready to see her just yet and the thought of that kind of brought me down a bit. Most interesting is that I don’t see myself ever trying to sleep in on Saturdays anymore. I don’t know because I know getting up at eight on Saturdays when I don’t have to probably won’t keep anyone else from passing, but I still don’t see myself doing that anymore.
But…today, the greatest thing happened.
I had been so crazed this week trying to just push through things that I hadn’t got to the lesson until I was literally driving myself to the church. I won’t be allowing that to happen again because there’s just no excuse for it. I know I should be prepared to teach the adult class on any given week and it would have been due justice if Deacon Jordan had looked at me and asked and I would have had to tell him that I simply wasn’t ready, but we got through the lesson and had a rather fine discussion as a whole group as Sunday School concluded, though it was very small with the fewest people I’d seen there yet.
As I stood my post at the door later on, greeting people and handing out the bulletins, I saw her mother and hugged her as she came through the door, though I had never hugged her previously even though she was a church member. Some people I hug, some people I don’t because we just don’t know each other like that, but she I hugged and probably will continue to hug each Sunday. What was so great though, is that directly behind her was a face that had only become familiar to me last Monday. One of Edrith’s sisters had come to our church.
I remember Caprica telling us after it had happened that Edrith was the only one of siblings who was saved and seeing her sister this morning nearly brought tears to my eyes. Throughout the entire service I kept praying and praying that the Word would touch her and that she would see reason to join and “give her life to Christ” today and like always, my Lord Jesus answered my prayer when I prayed so earnestly. She probably had made up her mind to do it when she got up this morning, but I prayed for her anyway. I was so sad for her when I saw her at the Homegoing because I knew she wasn’t saved and that was probably the hardest thing to deal with, but there she was and when Pastor Emeritus opened the doors to the church this morning, she stepped out in the aisle and I nearly burst into tears.
She joined the church today. She’s older than Edrith was, but she’d never been baptized and I’m just so happy and I burst forth with happy tears. Anytime I see someone join the church, it is cause for me to smile, but she in particular was most moving.