The Gift of Isaac, the Gift of Thanks (Part 4)
I realized that I have been avoiding writing this last entry about the Gift of Isaac. It just felt too final. Maybe if I didn’t finish the story, I could keep him alive in my heart just a little bit longer. I know that God is good and He had Isaac’s days carefully numbered from the beginning, but my heart says it wasn’t nearly long enough.
As I think back to the short time we held him and loved on him, I realize how impossible it is to get enough of him in those few moments we had. Part of your heart is in shock and another part is so fully alive to the moment and you spend those brief minutes doing everything you can to take in fully this beautiful gift. To try and remember every detail about his little body, how he smelled and how it felt to hold him. And awhile later, it just isn’t enough.
I am thankful that we have LOTS of pictures. It helps, but it still hurts. A lot. Every holiday and often on Sundays when we are worshipping, I feel God and I am reminded of Isaac. Because God’s presence was so fully with us while we walked through all of this, there is a part of my heart that continues to relate God’s presence to remembering Isaac. It also reminds me of how very brief life is, how eternal our God is. It makes me more thankful for heaven when every tear will be gone and there will be no more sorrow, no more sin, no more loss. In the meantime, I believe we can experience more of God if we don’t try to numb our pain. If we press into it clinging tightly to One who never leaves us nor forsakes us. And when we have let ourselves go there, we become more fully alive…alive to Him, alive to those around us. If we are willing to do this, there becomes less of us and we make more space for God to fill us. We bring more of Him to this broken, hurting world.
I last left our family parting ways temporarily. Until the graveside later that week. The next morning was Monday and we planned to go choose the cemetary plot for Isaac. Just four days before, we were anticipating Isaac’s impending arrival and now we were choosing his final resting place. I woke up that morning irritated beyond measure. I wan’t mad an anyone in particular. It reminded of the movie, Steel Magnolias, when Shelby, the young woman, died and her mother was at the graveside with her closest friends. At one point she began to come unglued and yelled, “I just want to hit someone!”. That was me. I wanted to do normal mom stuff…stop arguments, make dinner, clean a toilet…I did NOT want to help my daughter choose a cemetary plot!! I texted several people to pray for me. God was gracious and I ended up with a little extra time by myself. I was able to go to a dear friend’s house for a short time and she served me lunch, listened to me rant and rave, prayed with me, hugged me and sent me on my way. I was ready.
When we arrived at the cemetary, Brittney was very quiet. I could not even imagine how this felt for her. It was not something any mom would ever choose for her daughter to have to go through. But there we were. We walked around looking for the perfect spot and very quickly decided on one. I don’t know how to explain it, but all of us who were there were drawn to the same place. It was off in a quiet corner with a beautiful view and, as strange as it may sound, the sun seemed to keep shining on it.
After that, Jacob and his dad headed out to take care of the paperwork involved, while Brittney and I headed to the store to buy some needed supplies for her to start pumping her milk that was quicky coming in. She had decided that she would pump for someone else’s baby. It just seemed right to give that gift to someone else. It was also a way for her feel like she was not wasting something that Isaac had brought to her by his arrival. In some small way, it gave more meaning to his life.
As she and I drove through the cemetary on our way out, she began to unravel. She bent over with her head to her knees and sobbed and sobbed. She said the things she needed to say…how it wasn’t supposed to be this way. You can’t comfort that depth of grief with words. I didn’t even try. I rubbed her back and waited for this wave of grief to pass and prayed for wisdom. When she was ready, I prayed over her. She seemed much better after that and we moved on.
Intead of trying to have a graveside service sooner, we decided later was better. It gave all of us some time to process. Seems like a good idea when death happens suddenly. At one point we had to decide what to do with Isaac’s body in the meantime. I talked with Jacob about calling a funeral home and his response was not what I expected. He had decided that no funeral home would be involved and that Isaac would stay at the hospital. Jacob would be the one to go get him at the end of the week. I wasn’t sure if he realized what he was doing, but he said with finality, “I’m Isaac’s dad. It’s my responsibility. If I don’t do this, I’ll regret it.” Suddenly, I had the utmost respect for this decision that he had made. He had chosen the harder road.
As I thought about it, I realized how far our culture has removed themselves from death. In the old days, the family handled the deceased loved one. There is healing in processing the reality of death. When I told a friend that I was dreading the graveside service, he described it as a dark passageway that’s necessary to walk through in order to heal and move forward. He was right.
Much of the week I spent with Brittney and Jacob along with our two youngest children. I think it was healing for Britt to have her younger siblings there. Fall is Britt’s favorite time of year, so we tried to do the things that she loves…bake cookies, go to the pumpkin patch, carve pumpkins, etc. The pumpkin patch was bittersweet. She had planned to take Isaac there and get pictures of him. She went anyway and took pictures of her niece, which I think was helpful in that healing process.
I spent one day running around town looking for fall cookie cutters and in the process, God gave me some ideas for the graveside service. I bought a bunch of white daisies for all those attending to throw into Isaac’s grave and made arrangements for Britt and Jacob to have their own…she wanted sunflowers. I think because they look so cheerful and happy. In spite of our deep grief, we did laugh alot along the way that week. Deep in our hearts, we were preparing in some way for Friday morning’s graveside service.
Brittney could not handle the thought of a memorial service or too many people at the graveside. She was hurting so much, but she and Jacob are very private people. I tried to honor that and was the “front man” who told some dear ones that they couldn’t be there. That was very hard, but I had to protect Brittney’s heart…without question, that was most important.
Friday morning arrived. It was a beautiful sunny day. Jacob had asked his dad and my husband to go to the hospital to get Isaac. They placed the tiny casket in the car and drove off. My husband was very nervous about doing this. He wasn’t sure what to expect and just prayed a lot along the way. It ended up being a very beautiful and special time with Jacob and the “grandpas”. God was present and filled them with the grace and mercy they needed. It was such a comforting and beautiful thought…knowing that only the people that loved Isaac were the ones who carefully placed him in his casket and carried him to his final resting place.
Brittney and I put pictures and little special rememberances together to drop off at the home of some friends, where the reception would be. We got a little coffee and met up with the guys to drive to the cemetary. As we drove up to the plot, there was a crowd of friends and family waiting for us. I could feel Brittney’s nervousness. She had told me earlier that she didn’t know how she was supposed to act. I told her there were no rules. There were no expectations and there would be no judgment. She just needed to do whatever she needed to do. It was her baby and her grief.
I will never forget the grandpas (my husband and Jacob’s dad) carrying the tiny little casket from the car to the grave and the faces of those around me: our other children, friends, family. The depth of sadness in their expressions was unforgettable, but at the same time, we were sharing the grief. No ONE person had to bear it all. I am so thankful for all those who walked this journey with us and it made me eternally grateful for the Body of Christ. We have no idea how much we really need each other.
It was such a gift to have Jacob’s dad, who is a pastor, able to lead the graveside service. I know that wasn’t easy for him, but we are glad he was willing to do it. I’m not sure if Isaac knows how VERY loved he was by SO many very wonderful people. I hope he does.
At the end of the service, we handed daisies to everyone. They each took time to drop their flower into Isaac’s grave. I chose white flowers because they seemed to represent purity. And little Isaac seemed untouched by the world’s sinful stain.
(The two children kneeling are Jacob’s little brother and sister. Right behind his sister is our youngest, Silas.)
After the graveside, everyone left except for Jacob and Britt. My husband and I waited near the car to give them time to linger. To look across the way and see our daughter and her husband with their arms around each other grieving over the casket of our first grandchild was something that I will never, ever forget. It’s not something I would choose. Ever. Our lives will never be the same. But I still firmly believe that God WILL redeem it. I have seen some glimpses of this already. I am praying to see much, much more. I don’t believe that our God wastes anything…especially a death as precious as a little one.
And so we walk forward. In. Faith. We know that God can relate to our grief. He lost a Son also. Yes, He knew Jesus would rise again. We know Isaac lives on in glory and we will see him again. But I also believe God feels our pain and longs to comfort us and bring beauty for ashes. He is a Redeemer and He IS good.