Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Tale of Two Funerals

In my life, I've been to three funerals that I can remember: one of the leaders of the singles branch(smallish congregation) when I was 19 or 20; my infant nephew; an older man in our ward (larger congregation) on the west side.  I knew them in varying levels, from barely to a little.

[Right about now I'm sounding like a huge jerk because I'm classifying my nephew with a couple of old men that I barely knew.  But he was born with multiple birth defects and lived all of his 3 1/2 months in the hospital.  I never held him, played with him, babysat him, had a conversation with him, laughed with him, or fed him something that my sister would not approve--like candy.  He is important to me and I love him in an auntie way, but I never KNEW him.  I look forward to getting to know him after this life, though.]

Last week, however, I attended two funerals for people who I knew.  I'd laughed with them, sat with them, shopped with them, visited them, shared food & stories & children & conversation &...  Well, I had a relationship with them.  And then I said goodbye.

One was for my dear friend Kirsten.  I met her when I was managing apartments.  She, with her husband and two young sons, moved into a townhouse several steps from my back gate.  Abby was in Sunbeams (the class for 3yo kiddos at church) with Kirsten's son Henry.  And they were going to get married.  They'd even decided the name of one of their children, though for the life of me I can't remember what it is now.  Then Abby decided she was going to marry Gavin.  Then Henry.  Then someone else.  Then Henry.  It always came back to Henry.  One of Riah's favorite memories of that family is asking Henry if he was going to marry Abigail.  He thought for a moment, then said, "No, I'm going to marry Alex."  (I recounted the story to Henry (who's nearly 13 now) and thoroughly amused AND embarrassed him.)

Kirsten had a boisterous laugh, a booming voice, a great sense of humor and welcoming arms.  She was usually smiling and was always, always ready to serve.  She was able to see a need and fill it before you really knew what you needed.  She was creative and talented, loved children, loved teens, loved adults and loved old people.  She just loved people!  She had a way of creating lasting relationships.  So many people have stories of how they had met her, then by the time they parted that day, felt that they'd known each other forever.  Kirsten is just that way.

I remember that she would sit on her front porch watching the kids playing in the courtyard at the apartments.  I'd open my door and let my own run around with hers and whoever else's were there.  I'll always remember the way she sat on her front porch watching the children, chatting with the neighbor mom.  Growing a relationship.

We went on field trips,

I was either sick or had a NEW baby, so the girls brought Ab & Alex for me.  They had a great time, as always.

camping trips,

The first one!!!  The beached beluga is me, with less than two months until we met Cora.

and had numerous ladies' nights at varying places, including her house.  Her home wasn't always perfectly clean, but it was always open and welcome.  We laughed together with the other ladies that formed a unique, sacred sisterhood.  We hoped and prayed together when she and her husband went through 2 or 3 rounds of IVF, attempting to grow their family.  We cried when none of them took.

I was pregnant in this one, too.  We went to Marrakesh and had a great time.  At one point Wendy, Kirsten and I were laughing uncontrollably in the corner, which is hard to do when hugely prego.  At least we were on comfy cushions.

I had fish tacos for the first time when she made them for dinner.  She'd invited us over for dinner, but we decided to just eat at the tables in the courtyard.  They were amazing and I think of her every time I make them for my own family.

She loved tie dye and all things bright.  I've never really been a wearer of tie dye.  But she taught many of us to do it.  One summer late afternoon, we gathered in my back patio so we could all make 4th of July tie dye.  I thought Emily was crazy for bringing a tie for her boys to dye because Father's Day was just around the corner, and was amused at all the everythings that people tie dyed.  And even though I don't love to wear it, I sure love to make it.  The next Christmas, I even tie dyed sheet sets for my nieces.  Megan's was green & bronze camo, and Sarah's was fuschia & bubble gum fireworks.  They STILL use those sheets!  One day, though, Kirsten was standing on her porch wearing a blue t-shirt that had a pattern that reminded me of the light reflections on the bottom of a pool.  THAT was a tie dyed shirt I would wear!  She taught me how, giving selflessly.


One of our sister-friends, Lydia, makes beautiful, unique blankets when babies are born.  She looked for months for the right fabric for Lee's.  So when Lydia had a baby, we made a blanket for her!  But not just one blanket.  We spent hours at Kirsten's house cutting old jeans into squares so they could be made into a queen-sized blanket for Lydia, plus three small ones for baby and her two big sisters.  When Lydia opened the gifts, she cried.  And when Kirsten died, she got the blanket out of the basement, wrapped herself in Kirsten's love, and cried again.

When we went camping, Kirsten had the most amazing camping gear, all organized and stuffed into her minivan.  Need an obscure tool that you'd use once a year?  Kirsten had it in her camping stuff.  She taught us to make cool treats to roast over the fire, brought a ball to make ice cream in, always had games, and no matter what the craft was, had enough for everyone.

Kirsten also had a secret.  She struggled valiantly with mental illness.  I think maybe it was depression.  I'm not sure because she never told me.  And judging by the shock and heartbreak that reverberated through the community, she never told a lot of people.  And in the end, it was that mental illness that ended her life too, too early.

Kirsten's favorite place was the beach.

Her funeral was bright.  Everyone was encouraged to wear bright colors or tie dye and to bring a flower from their garden or the side of the road.  I, of course, didn't own any tie dye shirts, so channeled my inner Kirsten and made some.  Three, actually, and they all turned out beautiful in their own way.  When I wear them I think of her.  And the garden of flowers on the stand grew and grew into a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person.

The girls gathered on a beach near Kirsten's home before her service.  It was a time of love, mourning and sisterhood.

One of the speakers told us that we could choose a flower to take home.  I spent the next half hour deciding which I would take to remind me of my friend.  In the end, I chose a bright pink daisy with white tips that look like they'd been dyed.  But there were still plenty left over after most of the attendees left the chapel, and Henry milled around these with a cousin.  He chose two or three at a time and gave them to those of his mother's friends who lingered in the chapel.  He gave me a partially bloomed blue hydrangea and a white something that smelled amazing.  His mama would be proud.

The same speaker talked about the seeds that Kirsten planted everywhere she went, and encouraged us to cultivate and grow the seeds that Kirsten has planted in us.  That idea has given me something to chew on for a while.

Part of Kirsten's memorial service was a slide show set to music, full of photos of Kirsten: a baby, growing up, and her adventures as an adult.  Our group of girlfriends: Aubrey, Emily F, Emily P, Lydia, Katie, Erika, Cheryl, Sundy, Megan and me (Wendy moved to Puerto Rico & couldn't come), held each other and sobbed as pictures of hikes, camping trips, ladies' nights and outings sliced new hurts into our already torn hearts.  I will forever live with the regret of not going to the ladies' weekend last April, and for missing the last two camping trips. 

Kirsten's funeral was sad.


About 15 years ago, before Riah & I were engaged, he took me with his two sisters to Calgary so that I could meet his Gramma.  We had a lovely time sightseeing, dancing and getting to know his mom's side of the family a little bit.  15 years ago it was easier to get to know them, as there were much, much fewer of them!  As we were walking through a park in the Eau Clare area, she put her arm in mine and said, "I hope you marry my Riah.  You're a firecracker!"  I laughed and gave her arm a squeeze.  Little did I know just how much of a firecracker she was herself!

Here she's 95 1/2, and there was no keeping her out of the thick of things!
Fast forward a couple of years to our marriage.  We honeymooned in Bannf, then had an open house at Gramma's house.  And it isn't a big house.  Grandpa built it 72 years ago using castoff lumber from building sites.  The top floor has a kitchen, den, living room, bathroom and two small bedrooms.  The basement is partially finished, but isn't exactly spacious.  Yet Gramma opened her home to have an party for her grandson.  My parents still talk about the accepting welcome they felt from Gramma that one short weekend that my whole family came to visit.

The center of my Canadian world.  (And one of my Kirsten shirts. Did you notice the other?)

But that's the way Gramma was.  She left a legacy of acceptance, love of people, teaching, patience, wit, humor, love of the Savior Jesus Christ, and love of family.  Last summer we went to Canada (I'm so very glad that we did!!!) and a photo was taken of her, her five children, their spouses (one of which is an ex, but still is counted as family), 19 grandchildren, a bazillion grandchildren and a few others that were grafted lovingly into the family tree as the years went by.  When I met Gramma so long ago, I found it odd that a girl named Alice was there, though her boyfriend (Riah's cousin) was on a two-year mission.  Looking back it makes perfect sense.

Due to distance, I didn't spend a lot of time with Gramma.  But I can feel her love when I visit her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  The atmosphere at family get-togethers is certainly one that she created.  When I visit I feel loved, I feel included, I feel accepted.  She created that, and it has been passed down through the generations.  I truly love my husband's cousins, aunts and uncles and their spouses.  Their hugs and well-wishes are sincere, and I sincerely want to be a part of that.

Attendees were invited to take a flower from the casket spray and either keep it or place it onto Gramma's casket.  I'm sure that she loved watching her great-grandchildren place flowers, then remove first one, then another, until they had a bouquet.
Gramma left this earth the morning after Kirsten did.  Her funeral was tear-filled, of course, but it was a celebration of her life and legacy.  Those there were happy to be together to celebrate her "graduation," as she called it.  We will miss her, but we will all cherish her loving memories.

She would have been 97 this winter.


I've had a hard couple of weeks. 

Someone mentioned offhand, "It will be interesting to compare the two funerals."  And in retrospect, it was.  But it wasn't anything surprising.  Kirsten's was sad, Gramma's was a bittersweet celebration.  What I've found myself focusing on, however, is the effects of these two influential women on me. 

I've decided that the Kirsten Seed that I will nurture in me is the ability to Carpe Diem.  Often I err on the side of wisdom and prudence and financial conservativism.  They're all good, but because of erring so often, I missed out on the last three events that I could have attended that would have created memories and grown the bonds of love and sisterhood that exist among my dear sweet girlfriends.

And I've decided that I will be more like Gramma in the way that I interact with the people that are most important to me.  I'll give them my time, attention and love, making it clear to them that they are more valuable to me than things.

Both Kirsten and Gramma are in a better place.  They are with people who have gone before who love them.  Thanks to Jesus Christ, we'll all be resurrected with perfect bodies.  Gramma's pretty excited about that, too, and her daughter Clare told me that just a few weeks before she died, she mentioned that as long as she's getting strong legs, strong arms and her hair, she's going to ask for a little more height.  Such a funny lady!

Both Kirsten and Gramma have been powerhouses of good.  They have each left their own kind of legacy, and I am blessed to be loved by each of them.

The sunset coming into Calgary the night before Gramma's funeral.
Kirsten's tribute in the local newspaper
Gramma's obituary