The week after Charlotte’s death, our home was filled with our closest family members. It was comforting to me that we weren’t alone. Yet, I longed for us to all be gathering for a fun holiday or vacation or something. Something else, just anything else but this. I wanted to close my eyes, shake my head and snap out of the nightmare. But the new reality wasn’t going anywhere and it still isn’t.
Having both of our families under the same roof for a prolonged period of time was a first for us, let alone under these circumstances. I really wasn’t anxious about it, though. It went so beautifully. God knit us all together and I think it all really glorified Him. Everyone weathered that stormy week so well. Everyone just did it. It wasn’t by our own strength; it was of His. God used each person’s giftings to minister to Pete and me in incredible ways. With vulnerability, some explained that they didn’t know what to say/not say, or what to do/not do. But by being WITH us, they were and did just what Pete and I needed. I can’t quite adequately express my gratitude.
I learned that though it felt uncomfortable at first, it was good for me to provide jobs for our family members to do. That may sound odd but we could only talk and cry so much. There’s this human phenomenon to it; it’s like we all want to do something to make it all better but no one can. Instead, God provides us comfort through doing accomplishable assignments. Peter and I found that there was something healing about having tasks to do and it was no different for our family members.
My dad has always been a “fixer.” I knew he ached to fix the pain and loss we were experiencing. But he couldn’t. But he was so present. He asked me if there was anything tangible he could do for us. Knowing my dad was always a great painter, I hesitantly asked him if he wanted to paint our master bathroom. His face lit up. Mind you, this was after my parents came up just that weekend before to help us paint our bedroom before the baby arrived. Nevertheless, he wanted to keep helping us. He did an amazing job and blessed us beyond words.
My mom spent time with me and took me shopping for some new outfits. We also shopped for bedding for the nursery that Peter and I were planning to eventually convert into another guest bedroom. We strolled through Marshalls and SteinMart. We didn’t always say much but we were just together. She listened. She was present. That was the best gift of all.
I remember this certain song came on while we were shopping. It was Rise Up by Andra Day. I really like the lyrics. Here are some of them: “And I’ll rise up. I’ll rise like the day. I’ll rise up. I’ll rise unafraid. I’ll rise up. … In spite of the ache. I will rise a thousand times again.” (Rise Up by Andra Day) I realize this isn’t a Christian song. But I think of how with Jesus and because of Jesus, I am an overcomer. It’s not because I am so strong but because He is. A verse many people have referenced shares this sentiment that, “…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 NIV
Music has a way of triggering my emotions. After hearing the song while shopping, I stopped dead in my tracks, trying to catch my breath, and then broke down in tears. My mom held me. She told me how deeply sorry she was. I needed that. I needed her.
I asked my mother-in-law and Holly to take care of the decorations for Charlotte’s memorial. I gave them my vision that I wanted all white accents with soft lighting from candles and sweet, little bouquets throughout our home. I knew they’d get it. Boy, did they ever. They nailed it. The memorial looked even better than I’d hoped. They even weeded in the front of the house (something I hadn’t done being pregnant in 90 degree, Virginia weather) spread some mulch there and put a hanging basket of white and pink flowers in the front garden bed. Our home looked warm and inviting for our kind guests that’d be arriving soon for Charlotte’s memorial.
Over dinner one evening, I asked Danny if he would be willing to lead worship at Charlotte’s memorial. Danny has this incredible voice and plays the guitar like it’s second nature to him. Peter and I thought it’d be so meaningful if he’d play. Danny accepted the invitation with great humility and honor.
During the hospitalization, I had the song, “It is well” stuck in my head. I grew up singing that song in church and it kept playing as if on repeat in my mind. God did that, I know. Peter told me that he had the song, “How He Loves” playing over and over in his head when we were at the hospital. Thus, we thought it made sense to have those two songs at her memorial. We also wanted to affirm our trust in Jesus, so we added, “Great is Thy faithfulness” to the list, too.
I remember one day, I want to say it was that Thursday before her memorial but I may be getting my days mixed up, but I hadn’t seen Danny for awhile. He and Holly were almost always at our place that week. Holly told me that he was back home in Williamsburg practicing for the memorial. He practiced for like eight hours! I was so honored and humbled by that. Holly practiced a lot with him too, I later found out. She even sang with Danny at the memorial. I’d never heard her sing before but Danny told me she had a good voice. He was right. Wow. Later hearing the two of them together at her memorial was amazing.
My father-in-law drove three hours to pick up Lizzie at college. She had just started her first week of classes at Iowa State when this all happened. He, Lizzie and Caleb then turned around and drove another seventeen hours to Richmond, all in one go. They arrived at our place first thing the Friday of Charlotte’s memorial, August 26th. Their selflessness and devotion to family were amazing. Again, just having then WITH us was so comforting.
After taking a little nap, Caleb mowed our lawn in the sweltering heat. Josh blew the leaves, cleaned off the deck, and made Peter food (Peter isn’t the best at remembering to eat). They were all so thoughtful.
Funny enough, Peter and I bought a new bed for the guest bedroom that week. Crazy, for sure. He really wanted to have a bed for his parents to sleep on instead of an air mattress. And we were working to convert the nursery into another guest bedroom, so we figured, why not. The bed arrived the morning of Charlotte’s memorial and all the guys helped out with that.
My father-in-law also helped troubleshoot our fridge that conveniently stopped making ice. My dad helped Peter build shelves in the garage. Everyone was so great. And our house never looked better. On the other hand, it had never looked worse to me.
My cousin, Todd, flew in from Colorado to be at the memorial. He arrived Friday afternoon. Pete and I were blown way. Todd has always been a special influence in my life. We’ve always been close, even though we don’t live close to one another. It was just so unbelievably kind for him to fly so far on such short notice to be with us. Words really don’t do this justice.
Mike and Morgan came back down to Richmond after just being with us when I delivered Charlotte three days earlier. It was amazing of them. Mike and Todd helped string these cute, bistro lights on our back porch that I had wanted to be done for awhile now. They did this all in the oppressive, Virginia humidity. Gosh, it was so hot.
My Aunt Missy came down from Ohio and was so loving. She brought all these delicious pastries and cared for me and Pete so well. She and my mom, Morgan, my mother-in-law, Lizzie and Holly did such a great job getting our place reading for Charlotte’s memorial. Everyone did. Morgan gave me this sweet plaque in honor of Charlotte that I hung up before our guests arrived. I loved that. I know there are countless labors of love our family did for us that I am sure I am forgetting and countless more than I’ll never know about. There just really is nothing like family. Thank you, Jesus, for family.