This is a summary that I sent several friends that had prayed for the service. Kinda long and, obviously, you don't have to read it. BUT, if you replied to this post, you are part of this message. Seriously:
My nephew was born severely disabled and was not supposed to live out of his teens. He fooled everyone. However, the past decade has been one operation/hospitalization/scare after another. More than once I asked our Creator why He would allow Terry to continue in his pain.
Terry cannot talk and eventually could not walk. His mental capacities were probably that of a three year old but, after listening to the tributes at his funeral, he may have surprised us all.
I got word from my sis last Sunday that it appeared that this time Terry was not going to make it out of the hospital. Terry had been in a home most of his life and the past twenty years at The Lexington Center just outside Albany, N.Y. His birth father was a defensive lineman at Florida State and one of the “Magnificent Seven” of the early sixties. It became apparent, at the age of three, that my sis could no longer physically control Terry and feared for the safety of her one year old daughter who sometimes got the literal brunt of Terry’s outbursts from pain. He had several corrective surgeries for clubfeet and hip displacement.
Tuesday morning Barb texted me that Terry had passed the night before. She asked if I could do the funeral on Thursday. I have done several funerals in the past but none quite like this. What do you say about a mentally impaired child? How do you lead a service where the immediate family has been nonresponsive toward the gospel for decades?
This is where you come in. I could not be more serious. As best as I can say, without a hint of piety, that the day Terry died, his death, my sister, niece, and nephew’s response, the funeral, and the sermon, would have been a total train wreck if not for you.
I will also say, as expected, the enemy pulled out all the stops to derail all of this. I can only imagine what it would have been like if you had not prayed.
First, let me share the funeral service. Originally, it was thought that it would be just the immediate family (5 of us) and maybe a representative from the home. One hundred showed up. They had to scramble for chairs. It was all the caregivers from Lexington. At the last moment, one of the members of the home was going to sing two songs. She had a guitar and her voice. Bracing myself for an onslaught of my ears (yes, I am a music/critic snob) she began to work through some very difficult chords before singing, it was my first hint that I might be in for a surprise. Her opening song was, “Georgia On My Mind” by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorell. It also happens to be my favorite “ballad” ever. When she began to sing, I audibly gasped (embarrassing) and goose bumps raced up and down my arms. Not sure if I ever heard a rendition so sweet and with nothing more than a guitar for accompaniment. In fact, The Lexington Center has its own band and website (Flame the Band - Flame). The African American girl in front was the singer. Shame on me!!
I received excellent advice/verses, as well as mega prayers for the service itself. I suppose it will look/sound somewhat self-serving but if you email me, I will send you an attachment of the service and sermon (homily), if you are interested. The verses given me were incredible and helped put some excellent, timely, and relatable bookends on the service. Even the verses that were sent to me that were not used helped form my thinking for both the service and the homily. They may even seem somewhat out of place but were, I believe, God-given inspiration for the needs and comfort of my family. Both my sis and niece were riveted to what I was saying. My nephew looked straight ahead. When I concluded the sermon, we had a tribute section for others to share about Terry. I realized that most of the people attending the funeral were basically hard working, blue-collar, underappreciated caregivers who ministered to those in the home. Public speaking was probably not their strength but one of the managers got up and shared what Terry had meant to her. Remember that Terry could not talk. She said, and I quote, “This job is hard, but every single morning I can tell you, as I drove to work, how I looked forward to seeing TJ (his nickname) and getting one of his famous hugs.” He evidently had a fan club, including hospital staff as well. Tears were flowing down as she spoke. In fact, I don’t think there was a literal dry eye in the house.
When my nephew shared, I finally lost it myself. My nephew, Jay, is a successful entrepreneur, like his father. He’s handsome, athletic, and the father of twin girls. Unlike his uncle, he is also quiet. As he began to share, he talked about his unusual relationship with his brother. How they had a special bond. When he would come home to visit Terry, after growing up and leaving home, he said that Terry had a way of “centering him”. That is, he would no longer be the striving entrepreneur, the go-getter, and the image-maker. Terry had a way of bringing it all back home and back to the simple basics. Terry may not have been able to communicate verbally, but he made it abundantly clear what worked and did not work with him. Quite refreshing.
The night Terry passed –
Over dinner, the night before the funeral, just the five of us gathered together and talked. My sister was able to unload, and express her sorrow, fears, questions, and even hilarious moments with Terry. Jay was able to share about his twin daughters and wife and how that was the driving force in his life. Nice. Kate, my niece, then talked about when Terry died. In a story too long to go into, there were some documents, court orders, and judges’ permissions that needed to be sought before pulling the tubes from a person in the state of N.Y. who is mentally incapacitated.
Kate shared that the nurse asked Barb and Kate to leave the room while they intubated Terry and cleaned him up. When they returned, the first thing Kate noticed was that the color returned to his face. Secondly, the almost permanent grimace from the intense pain was gone. Kate related that while she was at the hospital that week, Terry was in constant pain. He would half open his eyes, and look intently at his mother and sister, with a look that implored them to do something about the pain. Both told Terry they were working very hard to do just that. He would then close his eyes and go into sort of a drug-induced sleep, only to wake up when the pain became too much.
This was all gone. Terry was still breathing. They talked to Terry and his eyes opened. Kate said this time they were perfectly clear and focused on them and the eyes expressed great relief. I’m not making this up, friends. My sister reminded me that Kate is not one to embellish a story and especially when it dealt with death and spirituality. He closed them again and quit breathing. This part I don’t understand but will just repeat what they said (regarding the physical process). He quit breathing but his heart continued to beat for a very long time. Barb, my sis, was staring intently at his wrist. I’m guessing she was watching the pulse in his arm. However, Kate was looking directly at his face. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, his eyes opened. This time they opened wide, very wide! Kate said he was staring intently ahead with great curiosity and excitement. Kate said (and this is a direct quote). Terry! Where are you going? Where are you going Terry?! He then closed his eyes and his heart stopped. It happened so fast that when my sister looked up, he had already passed. I have no doubt it was an angel. No doubt whatsoever. And why did Kate say, “Where are you going?” Where did that come from??
This is the first time, ever, that my sis and niece have been so receptive to that kind of spirituality? My own father’s passing did not have any of that response. That’s when I lost it and tears flowed from me at the dinner table. After the service, I specifically asked Kate to repeat those last moments with Terry so I would have it right.
Thank you for standing with us in this most difficult time. I’m not sure I have ever been to a service quite like that. It is also been a long time since I have experienced such direct, personal, and strong resistance from The Dark Side.
I can say, unequivocally, this was a community effort. It would not have happened without you. Thank you and thank you, again!
Tom and Ann