Going through some photos today, I came across these, taken in the days after John died. The pictures brought back memories of some thoughts I had at the time but that I wasn’t ready to put into words here. Until now.
John died between 3 and 4 a.m. on Saturday, July 3, 2010. By 11 that morning I was sitting at the funeral home selecting the date of the service, the casket, where he would be buried, what he would be dressed in — all of the things he and I had never discussed at length or made plans for. In the next two days the plans and decisions I made were overwhelmingly reminiscent of planning our wedding. Grim, I know, but the parallels were pervasive. So many choices took me back to that time. John was gone, of course, yet every detail, every ritual, every tradition of the funeral echoed of wedding rituals.
It was a tad eerie to me to think this way. I was ashamed even to compare such a happy time as a wedding with a funeral — especially this one — that is so devastating and sad. But what they share is that they are both major life events. They are both a beginning and an ending, in a way. Our wedding was the end of our separate lives and the beginning of our life together. It was a celebration of us embarking on that new life. His funeral marked the end of that, the end of John’s life on Earth and the end of our relationship as husband and wife, as friends and as parents to our boys. While it was extremely tragic and sad, it too though was a celebration — a celebration of John’s life and his contributions in the time he was here. We, as society, mark such “life events” and “celebrations” with certain rituals. Perhaps that’s why the two seemed so similar. A lot of the “rituals” leading up to the funeral I had done only one other time in my life.
And the parallels only deepened my sense of loss. I was hyper-aware of the similarities. It hurt to be going through those motions regardless, but something about the dejavu to a happier time caused the hurt to be felt even deeper. The process of getting everything ready was a sharp, sharp reminder of a much happier day, spring 1999, when choosing what to wear and flowers and music filled me with elation rather than dread.
The search for my wedding dress began with magazines and a shopping trip with my BFF/maid of honor. I then went shopping with my mom and my sister, trying on dress after dress until we found the *perfect* one. The perfect one wasn’t solid white, so the one I went with was my second choice, which was gorgeous nonetheless. I tried it on as my mom and sister looked on. The boutique clerk added a veil in my hair for effect, and tears welled up in my mom’s and sister’s eyes.
The day before the funeral, I went shopping with my sister, trying on any black blouse, black skirt and black dress the store had. I tried on dresses in a dimly-lit dressing room and walked out to with each choice asking her how I looked. Not trying to be beautiful or radiant like I had as a bride but rather simple and “appropriate” and comfortable for the hard day ahead.
I chose my five closest girlfriends to stand beside me and made John scrounge up five guys to be their escorts. Not really, but close. He only had three close friends plus my brother in law, so we really did have to find a fifth.
For the funeral, we needed 4-6 pallbearers. Three of those were in our wedding — his best friend, my brother-in-law and my nephew: once our cute little ringbearer, now a handsome young man. The other pallbearers were two of John’s closest Navy buddies and a friend from our small group at church.
I chose white roses for my bridal bouquet, and my bridesmaids carried bouquets with blooms of white, peach and pastel blue. My hand-tied white roses were gorgeous and so “bridal,” but I was most proud of the deal we got on such beautiful flowers. For the bridesmaids I chose an $80 bouquet from a bridal book and the florist was able to make a similar-looking arrangement for half the cost by substituting different flowers in the same color scheme but with more blooms per stem. (In floral arranging you pay by the stem, so more blooms per stem saves $$$.)
The funeral spray from me and the boys was patriotic. John was in his Navy uniform with the flag draped over his casket. I thought the red, white and blue quite fitting.
The scriptures to be read
John and I didn’t really choose the sermon or Scriptures at our wedding. We chose our vows and chose the preachers and pretty much let the two preachers talk on what they wanted. One of those preachers was my dad.
Similarly with John’s funeral, I chose the pastors I wanted to speak and pretty much left it to those two preachers to talk on what they felt appropriate. Again, one of those preachers was my dad.
The music to be played
At our wedding, we had very little music. A family friend who played piano at a church where dad had been on staff (and who taught piano to me for a time and for whom I babysat for a time) played all of our music on piano. For the grandmothers and mothers entrance, she played Great Is Thy Faithfulness, I believe at the request of my mother. For the bridesmaids, Air. For me, the traditional bridal march. For our unity candle, she played a praise and worship chorus, Make Us One, while my high school English teacher/yearbook counselor/mentor sang. We did not have a dinner & dancing style reception, so there was no song for our first dance because there was no first dance.
For John’s funeral service, I chose two of John’s favorites. I didn’t want any “typical” funeral hymns. I wanted something very John. I chose “My God, My Savior” by Aaron Shust because it was so intrinsic to John that the boys often requested it in the car by asking for “daddy’s song.” At the service it was sung by my friend Stephanie. The other song was a live version of Third Day’s “Nothing Compares.” Kind of a funny story trying to track it down. The version I needed was from a live CD. John had the CD but I couldn’t find it. He had bought it on iTunes but I couldn’t find the track on there either, so I bought it again. I bought it with the wrong account or something or had an error and ended up having to buy it yet again, but finally got it to a CD to play during the service. While John liked the song itself, he really liked the live version best for a speech the lead singer makes between choruses:
“Those words that were written and spoken by the Apostle Paul apply just as much to our lives today as they did 2,000 years ago when he wrote them. That in our lives, no matter where we could go or who we could meet or what we could see or what we could earn or be given to us or accomplish, there is nothing in our lives that will ever even come close to the greatness of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Children. For my wedding, my 7-year-old nephew wore a black tux, like John and the groomsmen, and my 3-year-old twin nephews wore white dress shorts and white shirts with white knee socks and white shoes. They were my “flowerboys” because we had no little girls in our family and I wanted my wedding to be a family event.
For their dad’s funeral, my 7- and 4-year-old sons wore nearly the exact opposite of those beautiful flower boys. My sons wore little black pants and little black socks and little black shoes. They each wore a white polo shirt with an American flag over their heart, keeping with the patriotism of it all.
The thing I am most proud of from my wedding are the photos. The best wedding advice out there is to make sure you invest in a good wedding photographer because when the day is all done, the photos are all you really “have” to show for it. The dress goes in a box, the cake is eaten, the flowers die, but the photos are the only real and tangible product you get to keep from that day. So, we chose one of the best photographers in town (at the time) and paid a pretty penny for them (nearly 20 percent of our budget, more than my dress even!). And our wedding photos turned out gorgeous!
On one level it seems a little grim to have pictures from a funeral, and pictures of the deceased I wouldn’t like. But I wanted photos of John’s graveside service, especially, to be able to share with the boys when they get older and they don’t remember. I’m extremely glad I did — Finn got a headache at the service and wasn’t able to stay for the graveside portion, so not only does he not have memory of it, he wasn’t there. I’m so thankful for my friend Julie (of Julee B Photography) who gladly captured photos for us. On what I’m sure was an emotional day for her as well, she gave such a beautiful gift to me and my boys. Thank you, Julie.