A year ago today, our family got dressed in black and assembled in a Chicago funeral home for Nate’s wake, a difficult day that began rushing toward us the moment he died. Thinking back, I remember with a shudder how I felt as we drove the old mini-van from Michigan to Chicago. Nelson was at the wheel, others were in the back, and my mind was swirling with a thousand details. Had we covered all the bases? Were we factoring in the time change from EST to CST? Did we bring the programs? Would we be able to bear what this day would bring?
But God was ready with a special something to calm my fears and bring a measure of peace. As we drove, my cell rang, and I heard the unmistakable Scottish accent of Colin Smith, our former pastor. He would be doing Nate’s service and was calling to reassure me. Reminding me Nate was in the presence of Christ on this day, he pulled my attention toward eternal positives and brought welcome relief to my spirit.
I also remember walking into the funeral home, greeted warmly by the personnel there, on a day when my frame of mind was freezing cold. The low point of the day came as I stepped into the room where Nate’s casket was positioned at the far end, wondering if my knees would buckle.
Seeing him there was a more powerful confirmation of his death than seeing him at home in the hospital bed immediately after he died. Lying in the bed he looked exactly as we’d expected at the conclusion of terminal, stage 4, pancreatic cancer. At the funeral home, in a casket, dressed in a business suit and wearing make-up, he looked out of place and awful. It was hard to look at his face, because that wasn’t my Nate.
Today I’m remembering with gratitude the long line of sympathizers who made the effort to attend that wake, who greeted me with memories of Nate and words of reassurance. As I hugged people, without realizing it I gradually inched away from Nate’s casket toward the back of the room. Several good friends tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You ought to move back toward Nate.” But I was far more composed half-a-room away.
In thinking back to Nate’s wake, my wish is that I could watch a video replay of each attendee and listen to our conversations again. So much of it was blurred because of the strain of that day. But I do remember the warmth that flowed over me as I received people, a stark contrast to the trembling cold I felt while looking at Nate’s body.
My family and I are still in the land of the living, which makes standing next to the dead an alien experience. But by God’s design, one day all of us will again stand next to Nate, who will be very much alive and well. That joyful truth will be the grand finale of his sad earthly wake. As rough as that day was, it wasn’t God’s final word.
There will be much more to the story.
”We will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh… We want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:3-4)