Take Me Out To The Ball Game!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Scenes From A Funeral

  "Ya know how in families everyone is crazy, but at the end of the day, they're family and you love them anyway?  Ya, well, that's not my family!"  I shamelessly stole this line from a Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney movie I watched yesterday while I was sick in bed with the flu because, well, IT FITS!!  I feel like Lucy, from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" when she yells, "That's IT!!!"

  Yep, that's my family.  The forces of good and evil have been on a collision course for quite awhile but it all came to a freaky, ugly head at the funeral of my beloved nephew a week ago.  I say this without an ounce of acrimony or malace whatsoever.  It just is what it is.  I am watching the end game of a lifetime of bitterness and self-pity.  I am watching what happens when people DON'T get sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I am watching what happens when people hold on to pain instead of turning it over to God, or their Higher Power.  It's not pretty.  There are bound to be victims, there's bound to be bloodshed.  At the funeral I saw one of my cousins taking photos at various times throughout the day but for the life of me, I couldn't bring myself to take any pictures of anyone or anything; it just didn't seem appropriate to say "hey, it's been forever since I've seen you!  Could you move that giant pile of used tissue from the table so I can get a picture of you and your adorable children?", or "Hey, you've been crying non-stop for over a week, say CHEESE!"  So what I lack in digital imagery, I will try to portray with words.  These pictures in my mind's eye may not be in chronological order so bear with me.

*My friend Sue picks me up for the funeral in her car.  She's in a charcoal grey wool coat and she's wearing blush.  She has a calm resolve about her, somehow I know she means business today and she's going to be my rock.

*We get to the church, get out of her car and walk across the parking lot to see Jim, my nephew's long time wrestling mentor (he was just one of two or three former wrestlers who went to every one of his matches), employer at times, surrogate father, friend, and biggest fan, saying hi to my dad.  He was clearly and understandably choked up.  We hugged and both of us fell apart.  I felt his loss so deeply and would do anything to take away his pain.

*I see my dad and I'm relieved.  We had left from the same house, so I knew he was going, I was just relieved to actually see him there, in real life.  The night I had arrived in town for the funeral my dad told me my nephew's mother (my cousin to whom I had always been the closest) had forbade him to attend and was threatening to have him arrested should he disobey her edict.  She had her pastor call my dad to tell him he wasn't allowed to attend, but I don't think anyone knows why exactly and I don't know that she explained her reasons to my dad. She's in a bad place.  She's not a bad person, just a hurting person who's lashing out.  Unfortunately it's toward the one person, who has always loved her like a daughter, and until her mother (my aunt) married her wonderful step-dad when we were 12, my dad was in many way a father-figure to all my cousins, but I digress.

*The kiss of Judas:  after I walked into the foyer, I saw a cousin across the way whom I hadn't seen in quite a few years.  Just as I walk up to her, I see her whisper something to someone behind her when she spots my dad, who had followed me into the building.  She hugs me without warmth and I felt a chill go up my spine.  I look behind me see the pastor who will be officiating the service telling my dad to leave.  It has begun.  The unthinkable scenario is about to unfold.

*An unmoveable object in the church foyer.  My nephew David, Jason's older brother, had heard the night before that his parents had forbidden my dad from attending.  He wasn't happy.  This picture shows him standing his full 6'2" with his brand new light blue dress shirt tucked into tan shorts towering WAY over the officiating minister telling him under no uncertain terms will his uncle NOT not be allowed into his brother's funeral.  Considering he could have snapped him like a twig, David showed the utmost strength of character and dignity in NOT losing his composure even for one second.  He stated his case with passion and integrity and with few words.  The left side of his neck is splotchy red from the stress of the confrontation.  He doesn't speak harshly to anyone, ever, that I know of.  His eyes are flashing.  He's asking the minister to go get the police so they can tell him why his peaceful uncle is about to be hauled away in handcuffs.

*I look at Sue at the edge of the foyer taking in this unfolding melodrama.  She's standing straight as a statue, like she's made out of granite, and afraid to move for fear of getting in the way or missing something, but her eyes show great concern.  Her hands are cold.  Mine are violently shaking.  I say over and over again "this can't be happening".  She holds my hand.  I think I'm coming very close to passing out.

*I tell the pastor that love will win the day.  He keeps saying over and over that my dad has to leave.  I tell him that evil isn't going to win.  Love wins the day.  I say my peace and walk away.

*Jason's mother, my beloved cousin with whom I've had SO MUCH fun and laughter and wonderful conversations over the years, comes from the sanctuary and in about three strides with her long, long, legs is at my dad's side telling him she has to talk with him outside and to come with her right this instant.  My dad won't budge.  He's not mad, he's just not going to follow her anywhere, and not certainly not outside the building.

*One of my nieces, ones of David's sisters, is pulling at his sleeve in the foyer, "David, come ON!  They're starting the service now and I want you there!  PLEASE come in!  They will start the service without you-now I don't want that to happen, so please come with me now!"  David won't go with her.  She goes into the sanctuary alone, upset.

*I see my dad through the church foyer doors talking to the police outside the church.  The foyer has emptied and presumably everyone has walked in and taken their seats. The next thing I know, my dad is walking into the sanctuary with David.  They stand in the back.  Sue and I take two seats in the back row.  If my dad is hauled away by the police, I need a quick escape.

*One of my nieces who has been sobbing, probably non-stop since she heard the news, miraculously pulls herself together to give a lovely and poignant story of what it was like for her, a sign language interpreter, to work at Jason's middle and high schools.  It's funny in parts and very touching.  Jason's nickname for her was "Ragdoll" and he carried her around school like she was his toy.  She signs "I love you" toward Jason's casket as she leaves the podium.

*One of Jason's sisters sings a song.  I see this in the program and think "has everyone has lost their ever-lovin' mind to have a sister sing a song at a funeral??"  And not just a song, her part of a duet that she and Jason used to sing together.  Has this family completely gone off the deep end?  She does a terrific job.  She's an amazing girl (young woman now) on so many levels.  I admire her even more.

*After the service I went home with my dad (he left quickly before my cousin could call the police again) and I drove his car back to the church so I could attend the graveside service.  As I walk up to the church doors again, my niece (the one who sang) is holding one of the doors open and needs help with the other one.  They are carrying Jason's casket out from the sanctuary to the waiting hearse.  I hold the doors wide open with her and take in the surreal, somber scene.  Again my mind tries to tell me my eyes are playing tricks on me.  Another cousin takes pictures of the pallbearers carrying the casket.  I can't imagine why anyone would need a photograph to remember that moment in time.  It is forever etched in my heart and brain.

*I see Jason's oldest sister as we close the church doors and we hug tightly.  We walk arm-in-arm down to the church basement where the food and the rest of the family and friends are.  I get to see her beautiful and amazing boys, whom I haven't seen in three and a half years.  One of them is "new", although now he's nearly two and a half and he is truly beautiful.  The middle boy, "Natey" was born looking EXACTLY like his Uncle Jason.  I'm glad I get to see his sweet face again.

*Jason's mom and her husband stay on opposite sides of the church basement from me for the remainder of the food time.  The rift feels like a chasm.  I feel empty.

*My middle cousin and I have a nice time in the church basement hall as she tells me beautiful memories of how Jason drove to Alabama many times to spend time with her and her husband and their wonderful daughters.  We are smiling and crying through the stories thanking God so very much that He let such an amazing boy come into our lives.  We agree that WE are the blessed ones to have known Jason.

*Graveside.  The pastor doesn't say anything remotely relevant to Jason's life or memory, or the power of a living relationship with a loving God who is right here with us in our grief, so I tune out.  I look across the way and two of Jason's closest cousins, his buddies, are bent over sobbing.  His uncle's (my only male cousin) shoulders heave with desperate cries.  His son, another nephew, stands away from the group of his older cousins, crying alone, unashamed.  This all has to be a really bad story.  No one THIS adored, THIS beloved, THIS treasured, could be gone.  David stands behind the casket watching out over the crowd of family (and the few friends who were allowed to attend) and tears slide down his cheeks.  Two of David and Jason's friends from high school, their best friends, their closer-than-friends buddies, stand next to David and they each throw some dirt on the casket as it's lowered into the hole in the ground.

*David's girlfriend, Krista, stands off to the side of the tent, alone on the frozen ground.  I want to move toward her but I seem to be stuck in one place.  She's not crying.  She's being strong for David.  Or maybe she's just strong.  We are blessed to have her in our family and I can't wait until she and David get married.

*I see one of David's other sisters standing close to her husband.  She looks beautiful and fresh, all of her make-up in the same place where she put it that morning.  I on the other hand, haven't worn mascara (or any makeup) for well over a week and have no future plans for it.  When I went home with my dad earlier in the day, I had to reapply moisturizer because the salt from my tears was drying out my skin.  I take two things away from this:  1) I am NOT a dignified griever by any stretch and 2) I am now old-as-dirt and that's why my skin dried out-from all the undignified crying I had been doing since before I got dressed that morning, which now seems like six months ago.

*There's nothing anybody can say to make it better.  I look around at various intervals at the cemetary to  see people hugging each other.  People talk quietly to one another and then seem to dissappear into the frozen mist. 

*Jason's  mom and stepdad and I go to our separate cars at the same time.  We don't say anything to each other.  It feels awkward on one hand, but there's absolutely nothing I can say to her at this point and I know it. I feel bad for her because I remember like it was yesterday what it was like to be twisted up with anger and control.  It's confusing to me because she "knows" what freedom in Christ is.  She was at the church where a man who was profoundly impacted by ALS was miraculously cured. She was in on the "ground floor" of  what it means to be restored from generational sin and just sin in general.  I will always love her and I pray for her and her husband as we drive away.  I know as long as we're alive on this earth, there's a chance for restoration.  I hope that all the love that Jason showed to every single person he ever met doesn't end up in vain in his own family.


    Five days after my birthday this year I got a message at dinner time in my facebook messages to call my cousin immediately.  It was a life-stopping message because I instantly knew someone in our family had died, but nothing could have prepared me for the outcome of that conversation.  I called her from the privacy of the bathroom and I gripped the sink with white knuckles while she delivered the shocking news.  I tried not to let my voice crack too much because my cousin had already had a VERY long day retelling the horrific news over and over to our extended family and I didn't want to start her crying all over again.  A VERY bright light had been extinguished from amongst us.  Every single one of us in the family had been hit hard in the center of our beings with a Jason-size cannon.  It couldn't be true of course; Jason, the second youngest child of my third youngest cousin, wasn't gone-my cousin had been misinformed.  He was in his early 20's.  He was larger than life.  He was stronger than an ox (or at least most modern mechanized farm equipment) and he was living and working for an oil company in Oklahoma (but not doing anything dangerous, so it just couldn't be true, my mind rationalized).  My heart reeled.  The room began to spin and I hung on harder to the sink.  But of course it was true; the news had been delivered to Jason's parents (one of my other cousins) early that morning from emergency workers and first responders where Jason lived and worked in Oklahoma, and from there the gut wrenching word quickly spread from sibling to sibling, from cousin to cousin, from aunt and uncle to aunt and uncle, until all of us, far and wide across the country and even into India, where my dad was, were doubled over with wracking sobs, each of us wishing it were US who had left and NOT JASON, anyone BUT Jason.

     Jason was born the year I graduated from college and because I left home after high school to go away to college, I never really knew him until my family and I "accidentally" moved back "home" to WA a few years ago.  We moved there in the Spring just in time to see his older brother, David, graduate from high school and get ready for college.  We were relieved to learn that David would be attending a university literally just down the street from my dad's house, where we had begun "accidentally" living in his guest room (ya, the head count would be four people living in a 10'x10' room), because we really wanted to get to know my "nephews" (I'm an only child, but my seven cousins had generously let me be an "aunt" to their kids--a moniker that probably doesn't hold much meaning in itself, but I've always loved it because I've always loved each and every one of my cousins like they were my sisters and brother....which probably sounds so silly to people who actually have brothers and sisters, but it's true for me none the less). 

   But I digress......back to David and Jason.  Jason was just finishing his junior year in high school and would be playing football in the fall and then begin wrestling in the winter.  We didn't know how long our "vacation" was going to be, but we knew that if it extended into September then we would be able to see some of Jason's senior year football and David's first year of college football.  We were excited!!  In our family when referring to the siblings David or Jason, we don't often begin the sentence with just one name, it's always "David and Jason did........" or "David and Jason are going to......."  They were very much individuals and had very unique personalities, but they did lots of things together and were very close in age.  They were still living at home, so it made sense that they did lots of stuff together.  And because my dad lived across the street from his sister and her husband (my aunt and uncle, David & Jason's grandma and grandpa), I felt like I had gotten to know them through my dad via phone conversations and the various stories of what the "boys" had been up to.  So I was privy to tales of the many trips to the ocean with the boys where my dad had property, a few mission trips to Mexico with my dad where they served families who live in giant dumps there, and of all the hard work they did for my aunt and uncle across the street.  My dad thought the WORLD of both of them and loved them like they were his. 

   As it turns out, everyone thought Jason was their's because, I think he was.  If by some form of magic every single person who had ever worked with, or befriended Jason, or had the opportunity to spend time with him could have been at his funeral, maybe eventually (after six weeks or so) we would have grownn tired of hearing the same thing hour after hour after hour, but I doubt it.  There were accounts of Jason paying for people's groceries, paying their rent, taking friends of friends to the hospital, fixing people's cars, and showing up to a friend's apartment out of the blue just to cheer them up.  I think what broke me up more than anything (aside from the sheer magnitude of the loss) was the sadness that someone truly GOOD  had left us.  Person after person, coach after coach (coaches from OPPOSING high schools came and spoke), even an elementary school teacher who had heard the news came, and they ALL said the same thing, "Jason had the highest character, the strongest work ethic, was the friendliest, most affectionate and had the best attitude" of ANYONE they had ever taught, anyone they had ever coached, anyone who had EVER been in their youth group......of anyone they had EVER known.  Period. End of conversation.  And that's just from the people who COULD talk.  I was sitting in the back row next to some of Jason's high school friends who were doubled over sobbing, so they couldn't add much, and two of Jason's closest mentor/father-figure/friends one row in front of us weren't doing much better.  Every single one of us who knew Jason were, ARE, walking around with Jason-size holes in us, and given that Jason was at least 6'0" tall (I'm only 5' 1", so anyone over 5'5" seems tall to me!) and probably tipped the scales at 300, we've been hit hard. 

   I don't expect to ever "get over" losing Jason.  Looking back I've known for quite awhile we didn't "accidentally" move to WA back in '05.  God was SO GOOD to us to open our eyes to the possibility of doing this thing we call "life" in a different way, so it actually "made sense" to uproot our little family and completely impose ourselves into my dad's very quiet and VERY ordered world, in order to get to know God a whole lot better (and His amazing plan for our lives).  Once we realized that our lives were unfolding in that small guest room, we made it our mission to go to every one of Jason's football games and every one of David's college games we could attend.  I don't think we missed a wrestling match and very soon we were  the loudest cheerleaders in the bleachers.  We were SO blessed to get to truly know Jason and to have him be part of our lives.  He loved our kids (even if he was a little intimidating for our daughter at the time) and he treated Hayden like the great little boy he was.  Jason didn't really know what a disability was so he didn't treat Hayden like he was broken or something to be afraid of; he hugged him, wrestled with him and carried him around like he did with everyone who was smaller than him (which for Jason, was pretty much everybody).  Jason probably didn't do it consciously, but everywhere he went he gave a piece of himself to everyone he encountered.

  Jason is forever imprinted on my soul at the very same place there's a canyon full of tears.