Friday, January 10, 2014

A Funeral and Farewell

one day we surprised Nelson with his favorite team's jersey and matching ones for our boys

"Nelson, Nelson, I love my Nelson ... Nelson, Nelson, he's with Jesus." This singsong refrain drifted from the back patio as my two youngest sons zipped back and forth on their scooters. It was Monday evening and just twenty-four hours before, our life had suddenly shifted into fast forward with heartbreaking intensity.

I was returning from the home of one of our church families Sunday evening when Pedro called. He had been urgently contacted by Jacqueline, another church member and precious sister in Christ whose husband Nelson was battling cancer. Pedro asked me to please stop by and see how we could help. I was the first to arrive at her home and soon we were joined by her son, daughter-in-law, newborn grandson, and a paramedic friend from our church.

Much later that night, I wrote these words on my F*cebook status: "Very unexpectedly, I found myself in a holy place this evening. Present at the moment when a child of God closed his eyes on earth and opened them in Heaven. Praying for Jacqueline as she says not goodbye, but "see you soon" to her life companion."

I never anticipated being present in the room when a beloved husband and father drew his last breath, but I was. There also was Jacqueline; her son; and Solange, our paramedic friend whose calm and compassion were invaluable in those final moments and the hours that followed. My husband arrived literally moments after Nelson left this earth and spent over 30 of the next 48 hours at the family's side. Papers were obtained, services rendered, and around 11 p.m. Sunday night Nelson's body arrived at church for the beginning of  a traditional Chilean 24+ hour "velorio" (viewing or wake.) A small group of church members gathered to support Jacqueline in those late hours until close to 1 a.m., only to return again at 9 o'clock Monday morning along with friends and family members who began to arrive from other places.

Throughout that long day, a crowd of people ebbed and flowed. At lunchtime, Jacqueline insisted that "the pastor's family" go to her home for lunch with her son and daughter-in-law. As awkward as it felt to be singled out in this way, we knew it was a means of expressing appreciation and for that reason accepted the honor. For reasons only God knows, He allowed Pedro to be very involved in this family's life during Nelson's final months. During her testimony at Nelson's funeral, Jacqueline described it this way: "My church put at our disposition a pastor for any need we might have, twenty-four hours a day." 

For his part, Pedro saw it as a privilege. And he passed that privilege on to our sons.

Owen, Ian and Alec may not realize until they are much older the gift that their father gave them in their friendship with "Tio Nelson." When Pedro would visit, he would often take the boys along for company and to bring smiles to Jacqueline and Nelson. Sometimes they would watch television, or play with the couples' dogs, or simply entertain with their brotherly chatter. From what I understand, they were a welcome distraction for Nelson. Yet along the way they, too, were learning invaluable lessons about sacrifice, compassion, friendship and commitment. 

In a post entitled "Someday, I Hope They'll Understand" I wrote about one opportunity we had as a family to bless Jacqueline and Nelson just before Christmas. In some ways, it asked a lot of our kids and I wondered if they learned the lessons I hoped it would teach them. Now just a few weeks later, as they said goodbye to Tio Nelson and the boys attended a viewing for the first time; as they hardly saw their daddy during several days of intense ministry; and as circumstances required them to spend almost all day Tuesday at church for the funeral and family dinner (guests gathered once again at 9 a.m. and did not depart until 7 p.m.) ... 

I was proud of my children. They did well. They waded into new waters and showed genuine concern and asked sincere questions and we hope, grew in their understanding of God's sustaining grace as evidenced by their Tia Jacqueline through this trial.

I was proud of my husband. He was kind and caring, sensitive to the family's wishes, and bold to share the gospel as Jacqueline desired. He took additional time to counsel a troubled couple after the funeral. And after it was all over, as bone-tired as he was, he made time to spend a fun evening with one child who manifested most his need of Daddy during those busy days.

I was proud of our church. Though Nelson's homegoing happened while Pastor Hugo and family were away with a group of young people at camp and many other church families were absent due to summer vacation and travels, those who were available were truly available. Their presence that first night despite the late hour; their practical ministry through last-minute cleaning of the church; and later their preparing and serving a meal for the family on the day of the funeral, was an invaluable help and a testimony to unsaved visitors.

I was proud of Jacqueline, and proud of our Lord. The peace that only God gives at times of loss cannot be explained away. It flies in the face of the traditional displays of grief, not because there are no tears but rather because the tears are without fear. We said "farewell" because we know it is true. We know that Nelson is "faring well" in the presence of his Savior, no longer suffering and more whole than he ever was on this earth. The verse printed on his funeral program rings true -

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. 
He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live."
John 11:25

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