It’s been a year

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Last week marked the 1 year anniversary since the sudden passing of my mom. It’s been an interesting year, navigating the waters of her loss, as I try to come to terms with our complicated relationship, and at the same time take her place as the only female in our family of 6. I’ve been grateful that my dad and I have always been close, but the past year we’ve been able to be an open sounding board for each other, and a bit of a role reversal at times as I’ve consoled him, and reminded him what he already knows. I’ve been able to see deep into the heart…into the stature of my dad that I’d always seen as a GIANT, to show me that even the great ones falter with questions and uncertainty and often times guilt, even when on the surface everything appears to be well.  My dad is my ultimate example of finding the positive in life. I’ve always looked up to him in that way. Still being open about the challenges of life, while finding the silver lining.

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If you are new to my site and missed my posts last year, you can read these before or after this post if you’d like:

I’ve done a lot of soul searching this past year. As I’ve seen relationships get complicated, and watched how others near me have dealt with their grief. I always felt I was pretty in tune with myself, felt I was going about doing things like relationships in a healthy way, but I’ve been punched in the gut a few times from those in my family as well as those outside of my family circle, and it’s forced me to look deeper inside myself and decide I need to do some things differently. Though I strive for positive and happy and joy in my life, and feel grateful that I’m able to see the glass half full in most instances, I don’t have it all together or all figured out, and I’ve hurt people along the way, unintentionally. Yes, I’ve been reminded of that. I most definitely don’t have it all together or figured out.

A year ago, when my siblings, dad, and I decended upon Utah to speak at my mom’s funeral, we were heartbroken, but we found joy in all being together. I’ve always felt exceptionally close to my siblings, though they were all brothers. I’ve never been INSIDE other families, but have observed a lot and asked others about their siblings, and felt after all of that investigation, that we have had a good thing, my siblings and I. But that week…that week challenged us.

My older brother and I were the first to arrive, and there were lots of details to attend to. Things you just don’t think about until you are the one there making the decisions. My dad was physically there, but he deferred to my brother and I to make the decisions.

  • Which flower arrangement for the casket?
  • What dress to be buried in?
  • The names of the two ribbons on the flowers on the casket, choosing between: daughter, sister, mother, wife (why not have no ribbons we asked?!?)
  • Which plot to be buried (10 feet from my grandparents projected spots or 100?)
  • Who should go in with us when we see her for the first time?
  • What name to put on her program? All 4 names, or the name my dad knew she preferred?
  • Who to speak at the services? Pray?
  • What to feed the guests after the services?
  • Where to have the services?
  • Where to stay while we were all there?
  • Arranging flights and cars for all of us coming in…
  • Whether or not to put strawberry earrings on, along with her white burial clothing

All of this done in a place that neither my dad nor any of my siblings lived, so relying on friends/the church congregation of my grandparents. My dad was trying to include them as much as possible, so we had the services at their church building, with their Bishop taking care of all the details. They lost their daughter. My 91 year old grandparents, lost their daughter.

So much of the decisions we were making was trying to please others…

I flew in on a Wednesday night, and my dad, brother, and I went to the funeral home on Thursday morning, thinking we’d see my mom, but finding out she wasn’t ready, and we’d need to come back on Friday. Papers to sign, credit cards to be swiped, decisions to be made. As the only daughter, it turns out I was in charge of some decisions that I didn’t want to decide. I kept declining to decide, but somehow it kept falling back on me.  Thursday night, I was horrified…emotional…I couldn’t sleep. Sick to my stomach and nervous to see my mom in the morning. My younger brother flew in from Tennessee late Thursday night, and my only comfort was cuddling his 4 year old red head daughter all that night as she slept next to me. Even though she kicked and squirmed and woke me up, I was grateful that she wanted to come to me, because I needed her. My husband and kids weren’t coming til the next night.

As her daughter, I was in charge of dressing her, and preparing her for burial, and inviting other women close to join in that process. It’s a tradition in our faith that I wasn’t fully aware of, because I’d never been a part of burying someone before. I did not want that role, I felt uncomfortable with it, and wanted to deflect to my sister in law, who became closer to my mom than I was. Though she kept deflecting back to me, I was grateful she wasn’t as concerned about the process as I was, because I needed her right by my side. My grandma kept asking me who else I’d like in there, and I was like…”I don’t know!”  I wished my grandma could have taken over also. In the end, my two sister in laws, my grandma, and my mom’s sister joined me, and once we found out she’d be in her burial dress, I felt much more ease, and then my brothers and dad and grandpa also came in. We were nervous to see her, but as in most cases, the anticipation was much worse than the actual moment.

Upon seeing her, we knew that her spirit…her personality…wasn’t there. It was her shell. Her earthly body lay there, but we knew SHE was in another place.  A place that we have strong spiritual confirmations that we will see her again.

Even though we felt peace, we were all a jumble of emotions. One of my siblings and I got into a bit of a heated tear-filled discussion, with our spouses waiting in the wings a short distance off, just in case they needed to step in. I look back at that event as healing. We each had unspoken hurt that came rolling out when we were in that emotional place, and I feel grateful we were able to shout it out, then hug it out. I’ve never been a fan of sweeping things under the rug, I’d much prefer to feel the initial sting of another persons truth, than to wonder why they are treating me differently. Grateful that we CARE enough to talk it out and come to an understanding with each other.

So many people eased our burdens during that whirlwind a year ago, and I can’t express enough how important it is to just DO something. It doesn’t matter what. Reaching out in small ways and large, are what can bless those who are grieving.

  • My moms sister and her daughters were so so amazing with the funeral food, arrangements, helping with my girls hair, bringing strawberry artwork to decorate the tables. It’s the little things that often stand out.
  • My dads brother and wife have always been like second parents to me, and they took us ALL into their home, even though it didn’t accomodate as well, because we wanted to all stay together and not be split up. They found room for us.
  • One of my dearest long time friends flew from Texas to Utah to be at the services there, and served as my personal photographer (though she’s not a photographer), catching all the moments that I knew I’d want documented. She is one of my few friends that I’ve met as an adult, that knew my mom well, loved her, and weeped out loud on the phone when I told her the news. I can’t express how much it meant to me to have her there.
  • My grandparents Bishop and ward congregation helping us with so many details, and feeding a massive group of people they didn’t even know.
  • My cousin Mikey who is like a brother to me, flying in from DC to be with us.
  • My friend Amanda who lended me her nice red dress, so I would wear red for my mom, her favorite.
  • Friends in Austin running a race with my girls that broke my heart I couldn’t be there (went ahead to help with funeral plans)

Here is a post I wrote on my sibling attempted new blog: 7 Ways to Serve a Grieving Friend on how people near and far reached out to show love.

Even last week, amidst a few calls and texts for those that remembered it had been a year (I didn’t post anything on social media or anywhere) 3 of my local friends remember and dropped off: flowers, a basket of sunshine (yellow goodies), and a warm blanket. It amazed me, the thoughtfulness, and that they even remembered.

Since my mom passed away in service for our church on a mission, and that tends to be a very rare thing, one of the 12 apostles in our modern day, came to officiate the funeral.  I was able to have private conversation with Elder Bednar and my dad which I will cherish, and introduce my children to shake the hand of a prophet of God.

I’ll end with a handful of pictures…I keep meaning to make an album of all of them, so in case I don’t, I’ll have the highlights here. Though we were somber and grieving and emotional at times, most of the pictures depict happy. I think sometimes forced, but we have the overlying understanding and peace that though we are a part for a time, and it feels so confusing, we have a greater understanding of joy that we will see her again, and that she is watching over us.

Last week, we remembered my mom with a family skype call where we each spoke about what we missed about her in the past year, and things that brought us happiness when we thought of her. I mentioned the beach ball family pictures…whenever I see them, they bring me JOY and think of her and how much she loved them. My brother mentioned that the grandparent with grandkids that I placed at the top of this post is his favorite. She was happiest with those little grandchildren that she adored.

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Sadly, my youngest brothers wife was 8.5 months pregnant and couldn’t travel, so she stayed home in Missouri with their 2 girls.

My dad and his missionaries that had already come HOME from their missions, they all showed up for the funeral, and even sang a song during the services (which my friend stealthly recorded for me). They needed to hear that my dad was OK, and he needed their love and support. I loved watching this. Fun Facts: The missionary in the bold blue suit was in the hospital with malaria the week I was in Ghana, and I visited him with my dad a time or two, so got to know him decently. Another two missionaries our family got to know are to the left and right of my dad in the top image below, we got to get to know really well while in Ghana, they drove us around, came to the house for dinner, and took my husband out on a lesson. I loved seeing them again.
mormon-lds-mission-president-talking-to-missionaries pallbearers-at-funeral

funeral

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Taking my kids in to see their grandma for the first time after she had passed away, and just before closing the casket. saying-goodbye-to-my-mom

family-and-friends-after-funeral-at-dinnerphoto-displays-at-funeral

Thanks for caring enough to read along!

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Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate your insight even though it can be so hard, the contention and strain is real, but the love and joy is too. Hope you are doing alright.

  2. This was a nice reflection on this special and complicated event in our lives. I have a hard enough time with this simple comment and you’ve beautifully captured so many important things about how we each face grief and trials in our own ways yet keep faith in God’s Eternal Plan. Love you Sis!

  3. I have to admit, this made me cry as memories flooded back. In 2009, my grandfather completed suicide and while I wasn’t pulled into a lot of the planning; I did help a little and helped with a lot of the “after the funeral” things that you don’t realize have to be done. In 2011, my dad passed away. Being the only child, it all fell on my shoulders. I would never wish that upon anyone. The decisions. Seriously!? Who would have that there were so many little decisions that had to be made. So. Many. Thank you for sharing – it truly does help others whether past, present, or future. xo

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Leila, thank you for sharing your heart. After I write these emotional posts, I just have to step away and often don’t look at comments intentionally for a while. It’s been a while! Seriously, it’s kinda horrifying all the details that take place, I can’t imagine the strain on you as an only child. Big hugs to you! I love the idea of my words helping others, so thank you for sharing that.

  4. Hugs to you, Kristen!