Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rest in Peace

It's been a few weeks now, but I still feel like I'm processing everything that happened during our time in Iowa for my sister's funeral and burial. Overall, I came home with a feeling of peace and a definite sense of closure. I wasn't expecting that, but I realized once I was there and everything was underway that I had already done all my mourning over the past year. (The weekend I went to say good-bye to her was infinitely more difficult than her funeral.) I felt like it really was a celebration of sorts, and that is what she wanted. Lot of laughs amid the tears. It really was a happy time.

Rachael drew this picture for me before we left. She said this is how she would feel while we were gone:

At least it wasn't too hard leaving her and Elizabeth behind knowing they would be having a blast with their California cousins, Aunt Shauna and Uncle Todd, and Grandma and Grandpa who were all in town for their spring break. (Still can't believe the timing of that! Such a blessing.)

Christina's kids the morning of the funeral. Cameron, Suzanne, Christopher,  and Joshua.
My dad with the inseparable Andrew and Will:

Josh is the son who went with us and helped a ton when we took Christina to DisneyWorld and the beach last October:

Christina liked the idea of a beach themed funeral. My sister, Elizabeth, did a ton of work organizing the program and creating collages and things to display at the funeral home. Christina's son, Christopher, gave Christina this picture sometime in the last year:

My brother-in-law, Tino, their son, A.J., Brandon, and my other brother-in-law, Jason:
During the visitation we played the CD of 80's music I made for Christina while she was in the nursing home that included many of the songs on the DVD I made of our trip to Florida (also playing on a screen at the front of the room). It was so much better than somber organ music! It really created a feeling of joy and gratitude instead of grief. (We've already had our fair share of that . . .) 

We really didn't know who would show up since our family spent most of our growing up years in Rock Island, Illinois (about an hour east of Iowa City) while Christina spent most of her years raising her own children in the Iowa City/Coralville area. (She moved there shortly after my parents while I was a missionary in Japan. Brandon and I followed a few years later when I was about 8 months pregnant with Kate and he was just starting what would become 9 years of medical training at the University of Iowa.) It ended up being a wonderful mix of people from both the Quad Cities (a group of 4 cities that border Iowa and Illinois on the Mississippi: Rock Island, Moline, Davenport, and Bettendorf) as well as the Iowa City/Coralville area. We had a guest book of course, but I kind of wish there had been some way to get a picture of everyone who came. It was so comforting to see the faces of so many friends! High school friends, church friends, neighborhood friends. 

(I know this isn't a unique thought, but isn't it too bad that it takes something like a funeral to have such wonderful gatherings?) 

There were many people I expected to see, and then so many surprises! I can't list them all here so I won't even try, but I did get this ONE picture of Brandon and I with our dear friends, Rob and Mindy. Brandon and Rob became fast friends on the first day of medical school (before classes even started), and we've been friends ever since. Rob gave Kate her first present when we were still in the hospital (a little stuffed cow--he probably doesn't even remember) and was one of the few people at her first birthday party (he gave her a pop-up book and our first "George and Martha" books--sure he doesn't remember that either, but I know he remembers the hideous sugar free carrot brick cake I made . . .) His mom even made baby blankets for our children, and Brandon gave the homily at their wedding. (Which I thought was interesting since he was giving the eulogy on this occasion . . .) Rob and Mindy ended up settling down in Rock Island of all places, and they made the one hour drive on a Friday night just for us. Makes my heart melt! I could share stories of similar familiarity and friendship about so many of the people who came. Thank you, friends! Thank you to all who came to lend support and share your love. We appreciated each and every one of you so much!
We made a last minute decision to use a song Christina had requested for her funeral as a "prelude" of sorts while everyone was getting seated for the service and watching the DVD. It was Rascal Flatt's "I'm Moving On" which I had never heard before until I was downloading it to put on a CD for the service the night before. If you knew Christina and the story of her life, you would know what a perfect song that was to have at her funeral. She knew what she was doing when she picked that one. (Man, what a tear jerker!)  

In one of the places Christina lived with her children, a college guy living next door took it upon himself to become a mentor to her kids. I don't even know why now that I think about it (should have asked him!), but he was such a gift to all of them. How many college kids recognize the difficulty of being a single mom/not having a father figure in the home and do something about it? Seriously! What a guy! I have heard Christina and her kids talk about Phil a million times over the years, but I finally got to meet him at the funeral since we asked him to share a few thoughts at the beginning of the service. (He's now married and his wife is about to have their first child(ren)--twins!) 

After Phil, Christina's best friend of recent years (she almost came to Florida with us) spoke and shared many funny and touching stories that had everyone laughing and crying at the same time. Christina connected with "Sister Jackson" a few years ago when she called a prayer hotline, and from what Sister Jackson said, they both helped each other through a lot of tough things in recent years. Christina requested she sing Amazing Grace at her funeral and she did a beautiful job. I'd say I wish Christina had been there to hear it, but I'm sure she was. (Why didn't I get a picture of both Phil and Sister Jackson????) 

Brandon had to try and follow that with his more formal euology, but really, he did a fantastic job. (As I knew he would. And I was so impressed at the composure! He's usually such a cry baby . . . I like that about him.) 

The funeral home (Gay & Ciha) also did a fantastic job in every way. I love how they had little tissue packets and breath mints strategically placed around every corner, and how they put Christina's favorite cross, her beach hat, and a little "love note" from Josh (he wrote it on a napkin while she was in the nursing home) in the coffin with her: 
How do you label this picture? I won't try:
The next day (April 6th & Good Friday--how's that for symbolic?), we buried Christina in Davenport, Iowa in the same cemetery as both sets of grandparents. She was actually buried right next to our maternal grandparents. (She was especially close to them.) The weather couldn't have been more perfect, which only added to the feelings of peace and gratitude:  

We took a few minutes here for anyone who wanted to to share any last thoughts. I got a little blubbery. How could I not? One of the last things I promised Christina is that we would take care of her kids and make sure they were okay. I know they are all legal adults now, but just barely:

Heading down to the burial site. I teased my mom that it looked like Brandon was walking her down the aisle:
Pointing out her parents' (their great-grandparents) graves:

My parents had Christina cremated (Brandon and I totally want to be cremated--another day, another soapbox) and we were all surprised to find out we could put her remains in whatever we wanted, so Joanna had the idea of putting them in her beach bag. Perfect:

Everyone walked the short distance over to Grandma and Grandpa Waddell's gravesite to spend a few minutes before leaving the cemetery:

Of course, my little family couldn't resist going to check out this cool old whatchamacallit: 

The "after party" was held at none other than Happy Joe's where we ingested way too much taco pizza in honor of Christina:

My adorable Aunt Jan, my dad's only sibling:

And if you were Christina, where else would you go for dessert after eating Happy Joe's taco pizza but WHITEY'S . . .

This is the closest we've ever come to a complete family picture. The only missing members are my two youngest, and of course, Christina. Is it funny that when I look at this picture I feel she is with us almost more than ever before?
Love you, Christina. Rest in peace . . .

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