Earlier this week a friend of the Carter family passed away. Lois was not quite 88. Her kids grew up with the Carter kids, and I've heard several stories about the Pritchard kids. Her daughter, Dorothy, was one of two non-family members at my Minnesota personal shower before our wedding. It cracks me up that everyone in the Carter family still refers to her as "Dorothy Pritchard" -- and she's been married around 20 years or more, from what I understand! I didn't know Lois that well, but she touched my life in different ways, calling or writing after she received our Christmas letter (which STILL hasn't gone out for 2008...), and once calling at 5:50 a.m. as in before the sun was awake (and the rest of us) to tell us she'd just finished watching a segment on our farm on a local news cast....it was a repeat of the nightly news before. She always seemed so cheerful to me.
Lois is home in heaven, no longer trapped her in a cancer-ridden, pain-filled body. Our family attended her funeral on Thursday morning. It was a lovely funeral, if funerals could be described as lovely. Lois loved to gather 'round the piano and sing, so we spent about 10-15 minutes singing one old chorus or hymn after another. It was beautiful. Dorothy's sister wrote a tribute to her life, and wow...did that lady lead a full and amazing life! What a legacy she passed on!
We took the kids because Dorothy is a special person to them....and I explained to them that Mrs. Crook's mama had died and was in heaven with Jesus now. They understand about death -- they know my grandparents on my mother's side died and remember them vaguely from when they were still alive. (They've never met my dad's dad who has also passed.) They know that if you are a Christian, if you have asked Jesus to forgive your sins, when you die you go to heaven.
Well. I guess I never thought I'd have to explain why Mrs. Pritchard's body was still here if she was already in heaven with Jesus! It just never dawned on me...the coffin was open and by the entrance of the sanctuary. Mrs. Crook was standing by it hugging lots of people, so of COURSE we had to go give her a big hug, too. It's Mrs. Crook (and she gives us fruit snacks)...plus, she looked sad and seemed like she could use a hug. And right behind Mrs. Crook, in full view, was Mrs. Pritchard's body.
Instant fascination. "Why is Mrs. Crook's mama laying there, Mama?" "I thought Mrs. Crook's mama was in heaven with Jesus." It didn't dawn on me at the time that, even though they never met Lois, they knew instantly that's who it was. "Mama, is she sleeping? Is she alive again like Jesus is?"
I moved the kids into the relatively empty sanctuary (it was still about 20 minutes before the funeral...we were waiting for Tony to arrive...he had been working at the farm and was going to come just for the funeral then leave) and tried to explain, offering up quick prayers for wisdom to explain. God is awesome....I know I couldn't have come up with an answer for them that they understood without His help.
I explained to Luke and Susi that what they saw was just a shell. That our bodies are a shell, and when God creates us and we start growing in our Mama's tummy, we have a soul and spirit which is the part of us that is really alive...God gives us our body as a shell for our soul and spirit. When we die, it is the body, the shell, that stops living...and the REAL part of us goes to heaven to be with Jesus. They were so satisfied with that answer. It made sense to them. I think. They were a bit disappointed when the funeral started and they rolled the casket in.... "Why did they close the lid, Mama?" "Will we see her again?" I reminded them it was just the outside shell of Mrs. Pritchard...she was already in heaven and yes, one day we WOULD see her again, but not until we were in heaven. They also wanted to know why people were so sad and crying, but they did understand that even though she was with Jesus, Mrs. Pritchard's family misses her and are sad she isn't here to talk with any more.
On the way home, I asked if they had any other questions, and Luke did...."What are they going to do with the empty shell now, Mama?" I explained about burial and how the casket with the body would go into a big hole in the ground...but reminded them Mrs. Pritchard wasn't going into the hole, and Luke piped up, "yeah, cuz she's already in heaven!" Ahh! He got it! Then he wanted to know...."When we're in heaven, will all the red stuff in our eyes be gone? You know, the red stuff that comes when we cry?"
They say that sometimes a simple explanation is the best for kids, not to go further than the questions they ask. I realized my kids were thinking more than I expected them to. Today, on the way in to town, we passed a dead skunk on the road. Luke immediately asked what the really nice smell was in the car and I informed him it WASN'T a nice smell, it was a dead skunk. Hm. Dead. There's that word again. "Mama, did someone killeded the skunk?" "Yes, Susanna, they did." "How? Why?" "Well, the skunk was crossing the road and a car didn't see it (poor car!) and hit it and it died. That's why you NEVER walk on the road and are always careful around cars!" "Oh. So Mama, is the inside of the skunk in heaven with Jesus now?" So we had a quick talk about the difference between animals and humans. And how there wouldn't be stinky smells in heaven.
Always thinking, they are. About an hour later, we were coming from the grocery store when we saw Miss Beth (Waller, one of Luke's Sunday School teachers) walking on the road with an elderly man. The part they were on was coned off, but still Susanna said, with great concern, "Miss Beth should NOT be walking on the road, Mama!"