Today we make the drive to Columbus to attend the funeral of my father’s twin brother’s wife. Aunt Betty has been a ray of sunshine in our lives since before I was born. She and my uncle lived just a few minutes from my father and mother and she was more like a sister than a sister-in-law to my mother. She passed away from cancer. I am so proud of the way she walked into her death choosing to not do chemo that wasn’t going to improve her quality of life or extend it significantly. She has her relationship with Jesus and did not fear going Home to be with Him. She turned 80 just a few weeks ago, saw her children have their own children and had over 60 years with my uncle. A life well lived indeed.
We go to her church, a large Baptist church north of Columbus. She and my uncle had only been here a couple of years, but they had already made a huge impression the pastor there and the congregation.
As I look around the room at my family, I am filled with pride and admiration. I sometimes wonder if I was born into the wrong family. I am the black sheep in many ways. I was always the “sensitive” one. Still am. I guess I’m still a Christian, depends on how you define Christian. My grandfather was one of the most influential pastors in Columbus back in the day. He died over 40 years ago, but people still know his name and when other pastors find out we are related to Bishop Karl F. Smith, they take notice. My grandfather created quite a legacy a lot of which is in this room. This is a good family to be in.
My cousins lead Aunt Betty’s service. Life long musicians and my cousin who is a pastor, they do an excellent job. It’s a homecoming celebration. The only sadness is we know all how much we will miss Aunt Betty, but we know it’s not good-bye, only see you later.
I’m feeling pretty OK. Having her service so soon after Shayna’s is tough. I don’t normally go to funerals anyway, but it’s time for me to grow up and face the unpleasant for other people’s sake.
Ty and I shed a few tears before the service starts as everyone tells us how sorry they are about our loss. An hour or so of that before the service starts is draining.
The pastor of the church gets up to speak near the end. He tell us how impressed he is with our worship service. Except for a few bloody Jesus songs, I agree with him. I’m a very visual and literal person. Growing up with all of those songs about the blood of Jesus washing me clean scarred me for life. Images of the monster god with Jesus’s blood dripping from his lips and me covered in that blood begin to resurface.
Then he gives his message. He does a wonderful job. I have never heard a pastor preach about heaven in a way to make me actually want to go. Of course losing Shayna just over three months ago gives me a great motivation to want to get there sooner rather than later. But, then, here is comes. He would be remiss if he doesn’t also tell us about hell. Hell is a real place. Hell is eternal. There is no hope. He repeats. No hope. I’ve been nodding all along with his amazing description of the promises of heaven. Now I struggle to not shake my head as he describes the monstrous god I was taught in Sunday School. No, Hell is real, but it’s not eternal and God does not send you there, nor does He ever give up on you.
Near the end of his remarks he reads one of those “Don’t miss me” poems from the departed telling us death is no thing. Ty and I both break down in sobs. Yeah, we miss Shayna. She might just be in the next room, just a hair’s breadth away. But we haven’t hugged her four months or heard her sweet voice, or had her complain about one of my meals. We miss her like crazy.
My “aunt”, a great friend of my mother who held me when I was a baby comes over and embraces me and Ty. She just holds us while we both get it out telling us her words won’t help, but the tears will. It’s a tender moment.
There is comfort in knowing Aunt Betty is with Shayna now. There is comfort in thinking about my family gathering over there. But, there is jealousy when I go to funerals now. My tears at that moment weren’t only about missing Aunt Betty or even Shayna. My tears were tears because I am homesick. Heaven is a real place to me now, becoming more real all the time as I have been meditating on it and studying it daily. This place is beautiful, but it’s also so full of pain. I’m of the age where friends are getting sick. We are losing parents. Impermanence is making itself know to all of us. It’s tough.