I'm sitting at my dining room table, postponing a bit on starting life over again with our new normal. The last of the company has gone home. I've got dirty dishes to wash, sheets to change, little girls to get back into routine. But first I have to get down the events of Friday because even now, it's seeming far away and I need to capture it forever in words.
The previous Saturday (the 19th), we buried Mom privately. We went to southern Wisconsin, to a quiet little cemetery out in the country, which is filled with all sorts of Nichols relatives. Under a shady tree, we laid Mom to rest, just our family and Mom's brother and his wife, who did the short committal service for us. We sang two hymns, said the Lord's Prayer, and recited the 23rd Psalm. At the end, the girls, my sister-in-law, and I scattered rose petals over Mom's casket and around the grave. We had so many rose petals that we scattered them over the other relatives, too. It was quiet and peaceful, and I think it was exactly how she would have wanted it.
This Friday (the 25th) was the memorial service. Mom adamantly did not want a funeral. She didn't want stiff funeral flowers or an organ playing "Abide With Me," or a eulogy or hushed voices or anything else traditionally associated with death. She wanted Easter Sunday all over again. So, we set out to do that for her.
My dad ordered two baskets of flowers from their florist friend whose shop is next door to my parents' house. They were filled with beautiful, bright flowers and butterflies, and the florist, who loved my mom, made extra arrangements as a gift: birdbaths with gorgeous spring-like arrangements inside them. It looked like a garden.
I dressed the girls in white eyelet dresses that my mom had made them a couple summers ago that fortunately still fit. As our family came in to the service, they walked beside my dad, holding his hands.
The program for the memorial had Lucy's drawing that she did for Mom last winter: the one the pictures Heaven with God and Jesus on their thrones and Mom and Lucy in their white robes, up in the clouds and with the streets of gold by them, with the words "Together Forever" and "by Lucy" written below. Sometimes when she didn't know I saw her over the last few months, I watched Mom pick up that picture and whisper "together forever." She also told everyone she knew about it and would read them I Thessalonians 4:13-18.
The pastor, Bruce, started the service by welcoming everyone and explaining that we were here for a different kind of service...a resurrection service. We said the Apostles' Creed, but the special Easter version that we've always said at College Church: with special emphasis on the resurrection of the body and extra "He is risen indeed!"s and "Alleluia!"s in there.
Then we sang "Come Christians, Join to Sing" and a hymn that my mom used to sing while she worked around the house, "Praise the Savior." After that, one of my mom's dearest friends, Ruthie, came to the front and read Mom's testimony that she had written out a few months ago titled "How I Met Jesus." Then we watched a video tribute with family photos to the song "Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone" by Chris Tomlin, created by my sister-in-law, Rome.
Chuck got up and read I Thess. 4:13-18, and Bruce preached a message called "Anticipation." I wish I could encapsulate everything he said here because it was so beautiful, but I can't. But he gave the good news of Jesus and he said that because of what He's done for us, we don't need to rely on what we've done to get to heaven. We can throw ourselves on His grace and mercy, and when we get there, Christ will say, "They're with ME!" He also talked about Mom's high school yearbook picture--how for her career goal it said "Missionary." She started a mission school in the West Indies and her whole married life in the U.S. she did mission work here. On one of her last nights, while she was in the hospice home, a night nurse went in her room to care for her. Out of nowhere, Mom reached up, put her arms around the nurse, and prayed for her. Bruce said that even the service today was one more day of Mom's missionary work because all she wanted in life was for everyone to know and love Jesus.
After the sermon, we sang "Up from the Grave He Arose." Then a group of us went to the front to sing the final song as the congregation stood and sang with us. We sang the song that Mom kept in her Bible and would listen to in her final months, whispering "Glory!" when she heard it. In fact, it was the last song she and I listened to together at her home--Travis Cottrell's version of "In Christ Alone/The Solid Rock."
As I stood on the platform, singing (with my pal Katie and I holding each other up, crying and smiling through the whole thing!), it was so loud in there that I think the walls shook, the roof might have raised up a bit, and I'm pretty sure I could hear my mom's sweet voice singing it along with us. And though I know I'm prone to a little creative license, I overheard so many comments afterward, such as "Was that not the best music sung to the Heavens you have ever heard?!" and "I was singing at the top of my voice, and I think the walls were shaking!" and "I think Heaven opened up a bit because I heard the angels singing, too!"
It was a great finish to the Easter service, and afterward our family went to the fellowship hall to greet everybody. Oh, and when my friend Jeanette came down, she told me that the postlude was "Victory in Jesus," which people just started singing along. (Mom would have been so on board with that.)
I was floored and so touched at how many people were there. Of course friends and family but also people I was shocked to see--like my friend who was my manager at work seven years ago. My brother's business partners. Cousins I don't think I've ever even met. People who had traveled from all over the country.
There was a spread of food from the church like you wouldn't believe unless you go to a church like that. I told Jennie--who said "Everyone's gone through the line, and the ladies just replenished it all!"--"Welcome to evangelicalism!" And my cousin Joseph said, "I haven't had cheese potato casserole since I was here last summer. If I lived here, my life expectancy would be much shorter."
Every person I talked to said they'd never been to a service like that before. It's not that I didn't see tears, but they were tears of joy. It was one of the happiest days ever: my mom is completely healed and we're going to see her again! The worst part of the day was that I kept waiting for Mom to walk in so I could tell her how wonderful everything is, but the best part of the day is that I'm pretty sure she knows already.
Quite a few of my blog readers were at the service, so they got to read the note I wrote that was in the program from our whole family. But for any of you who weren't there, the note is to you as well, so I'll include it below to close this. Thank you to all of you. He is risen!
To our family and friends,
Thank you for being with us today. This service was mostly planned by Mom (she never could resist planning a party), to be an encouragement to everyone and remind them of our hope in the Resurrection. Every person who is here today is here because they love Mom and us. To each one who has prayed, called, cried, hugged, sung in the dark, brought meals, visited, written notes, sent flowers, made incredibly generous offers to help in any way we have needed—you have held up our arms during this time. Any service offered or rendered was given to Him, and He saw each one. You are the Church, and you do it so well. We are humbled and can never thank you enough, but we’ll spend the rest of our lives trying!
And to Mom,
Remember when we were growing up and would play our stereo in the basement too loud? Dad would yell at us to turn it down, but if anyone happened to walk by the kitchen, they might have seen you dancing along to the music. We can only imagine what your reception Home was like, but we’re guessing the citizens of heaven are witnessing some never-before-seen dance moves now that you have arrived. Dance away, Mom—No more pain! You are exactly where you were always meant to be. For the rest of our time here, there will be an empty spot at the table and in our hearts where you have been, but we’re looking forward to when Jesus gathers us all together at His table—never to be separated again. Together forever! We love you.
Charles and Rome Nichols
Darren, Alice, Lucy, & Elaine Daniels