Mom was right.

Years ago, when Nate and I were in our twenties, we were invited to a slew of weddings back-to-back. For a couple of months straight we were attending a wedding every weekend. I complained to Mom at the time saying, “I’m constantly shopping for wedding gifts, and it’s expensive. Besides, we’re so busy, we’re neglecting our weekend work around the house.”

Mom answered in a strange way. “Weddings are happy. Just wait til your calendar is full of funerals.”

Tomorrow we attend the wake planned in Nate’s honor. The next day is his funeral, and we haven’t been to a wedding in quite a while. Mom was right. These occasions aren’t  happy.

The girls and I shopped for clothes today, having nothing appropriate for the wake and funeral of our husband/father. Shopping for clothes is usually fun, but this time the fun had been sucked out of it like air from a balloon. The guidelines for what to buy were based on the sad realities of a family in mourning. We tried on dark colors, mostly black, and fought sadness even in the dressing rooms. None of us are “happy” with our purchases.

funeral dress small

Each of us has been peppered by thoughts of Nate being in the next room or on his way home. Even as I tried on my black suit I thought, “Nate will like this when he sees it.” That’s probably the hardest part of beginning the mourning process. The reality of his absence takes time to sink in. One minute we know it, and the next we’ve forgotten. Each disappointing “oh… that’s right… he’s gone” is a sledge hammer to the heart.

Facing the wake and funeral is both a fear and a fascination. I’m fearful of the emotional assault on our children and on myself. Will it feel like we’re being kicked when we’re already down?

Yet I’m fascinated as I wonder who will come. The funeral home wanted to know what size room we’d need. Bob said, “We have a small room that will seat 30, a larger one for 60 and the largest  for 130. Unlike planning a wedding at which the guests are specifically invited and the RSVPs carefully counted, a funeral is a wild card. A small obituary goes into the newspaper, and you hope people see it. Beyond that, you can’t plan.

“The younger the deceased, the stronger the draw,” they say. Is 64 young? As Nate and I approached the social security check-drawing age of 65, we felt pretty old. As he anticipated death, our tune changed and 64 was young. We have no idea how many or who will come.

Attending a wake or a funeral is not pleasant. It’s difficult to know what to say or how to act. Those who do come will be, I’m certain, our true friends. In this one way, funerals and weddings are alike. I’m looking forward to putting my arms around people I love but have not seen in many months or maybe even years. We will be coming together because Nate died, which is a horrible reason to gather. But we will also find gentle enjoyment in seeing each other, longing for more than lightning fast conversations in a receiving line.

If only Nate could be there, too…..

“We are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)

Counting Blessings

Our first day without Nate has been jam-packed with wake and funeral preparations, trips to the cemetery and funeral home, eulogy and obituary writing, and shopping for proper funeral clothes. All of it reminds us that Nate’s death is the only reason for today’s check list.

The low point of the day was when Van’s Medical Supply arrived to pick up the hospital bed and related equipment. As the man stepped into our front door he looked me in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I started to tear up and said, “It seems like you just brought the bed in.”

He looked at the ground and quietly said, “It went so fast for you.”

Watching him break apart the sturdy automatic bed was a symbol of my breaking heart. I could hardly stand it and had to look away. Last night after everyone was in bed, at 4:45 am, I was longing to get my pajamas on and go to sleep but was drawn to the little room where Nate died. The hospital bed was still set up then, although the sheets had gone out the door wrapped around Nate. I climbed onto the bed with my face in his pillows and cried and cried. The plugged-in mattress gently rose and fell as it had when Nate had been lying on it, coming to life with the weight of my body. Oh how I missed Nate, even the Nate in the hospital bed.

As long as he’d been alive, even if breathing ever so slightly, I still had my husband. I was still a married woman. We were still a team, working together to keep him alive. Now he was gone, and his absence was completely final for the rest of my life. I began to understand why people can make decisions to keep their debilitated loved ones on life support, even though brain-dead. A person can still hug, kiss and hold a warm, living body. Caressing the dead is unthinkable.

Nate’s makeshift bedroom was rearranged and put back the way it had been the day the hospital bed arrived, a desk in the middle, computer on top of that, wing chair in the corner, bookshelves again visible. Last night’s atmosphere of quiet worship in that place had dissipated like so much smoke in a stack, and my insides ached to have Nate back.

Lying in bed at 5:00 am last “night” wasn’t peaceful. A thousand thoughts swirled in my brain as I replayed the important events of the 24 hours just past, savoring the memories. Today as I looked at the room where he stopped breathing, the scene reappeared in my mind. But God firmly reminded me of what had happened in the minutes after Nate died.

Our nine kids and kids-in-law had once again squeezed around the bed to say their final goodbyes. After Nate died, no one said a word. Then I began talking about what he was possibly seeing and doing at that exact time in another world, trying desperately to cut through the thick atmosphere of sorrow in the room. No one else spoke, unless choked sobs and teary sniffles qualified.

We all studied Nate’s face, so devoid of life and truly qualifying as a corpse. Our Nate was no longer in the room with us. That wasn’t him. What good would it do to stay focused on him… on that?

The kids and I began talking about the way it all happened. Before too many minutes had passed, we were numbering our blessings. On a busy day like yesterday, how likely was it that each of us would have been in the room as he died? We had wanted that. I had wanted that. And there we were.

There was the blessing of having Nate at home with us, around the clock, rather than far away in the sterile, fluorescent atmosphere of a hospital. There was the totally unexpected outpouring of love from those we know and some we’d never met, everything from checks in the mail to food in the fridge. And there was the mysterious power of prayer, prayed in great volume, bringing our family and our husband/dad into God’s throne room daily. As we named these blessings and many more, we were able to dry our tears and walk out of the room.              blessings pumpkin, half mast flag 004

One of today’s happier tasks was to gather pictures of Nate for poster boards we will display at the funeral home. In a group effort to page through 196 albums, happy memories washed over us like a fresh breeze coming into a stuffy room. Chuckles grew into laughter and then into guffaws as we recalled funny stories the photos told. We studied Nate in all the pictures and our blessings list grew longer: he took us on great vacations, wanted us to have fun, taught us to fish, rode with us on motorcycles, always included our friends. One of the boys said, “Papa was just a legend.”

“I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing.” (Ezekiel 34:26)

Obituary of Willard Nathan Nyman

Willard Nathan Nyman, age 64, beloved husband of Margaret, nee Johnson for forty years; dear Papa of Nelson, Lars, Linnea (Adam) Curington, Klaus, Hans (Katy), Louisa, and Birgitta; cherished brother of Kenneth; loving grandfather of Nicholas and Skylar. Born in Galesburg, IL, on August 18, 1945, to his late parents, Willard and Lois Nyman. Respected Chicago attorney for 37 years, active member of Moody Church and later The Orchard Evangelical Free Church of Arlington Hts. A believer in Jesus Christ, faithful to God and his family. Visitation Friday, November 6, 4-7 pm, funeral Saturday, November 7, 12 pm. at Drake & Son Funeral Home, 5303 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60625. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be sent to  The Orchard Evangelical Free Church, 1330 N. Douglas Ave., Arlington Hts., IL 60004 or Moody Church, 1635 N. LaSalle, Chicago, IL 60614 or Pacific Garden Mission, 1458 S. Canal St., Chicago, IL 60607.