I got up early today to walk at the community center before Shane had to leave to get some work done. The community center has Christmas trees lining its halls to raise money for Riley Hospital. They are cute. Lots of work went into them. I was admiring them when I remembered that a friend had told me that she had seen one by a funeral home with names of loved ones who had passed away this past year. I wasn't sure if it was the funeral home that handled Ella's cremation but I thought I'd look for it.
As soon as I saw it I began to read the names. Without looking at the name of the tree sponsor, I knew it was the same funeral home. A few weeks ago Shane and I attended a remembrance service at the funeral home. It was a beautiful service. We were given an ornament to honor and remember Ella and all the names of the people they had served that had passed away in the last year were read. Each one was read individually. If it was a baby it was read like this:
"We remember infant Gabriella Hartman"
There were six infant names read. I remember them all.
The first name I saw on the tree was one of those sweet little names read at the funeral home that day. I began to look for Ella's name. It didn't take me long to find it. It was a hard walk this morning. I was glad that I was the only one there because my tears wouldn't stop. I even sat down by the tree for a while and talked to God.
(blurry pic, taken from my camera phone)
Today the grief is raw and open. I've been able to keep it pushed down by plans and lists and baking and going, going, going. But today I saw my daughter's name on a tree because she died this year.
It's probably weird to say, but I love that funeral home. Ok, that's definitely weird! Maybe I should say I love the people who run it. The director is a kind hearted soul who remembers names and faces and acts with such grace and gentleness. We made our plans for Ella before she was born so we knew who would be coming to get her from the hospital. The night we had her, Shane called him and we began our goodbyes. When the director came in the first thing he did was compliment us. "Congratulations, she's beautiful." Those words were the perfect thing to say to this proud mama. She was beautiful. Then he prayed with us before he left with her. I could not imagine giving my daughter to anyone, ever. But the way that this was handled and the peace we had, made it ok. It was a clear sign that God was with us that night.
The day of the remembrance service I had such a hard time holding it together. It was a great service, but that was wasn't why. The songs were touching, but that wasn't why. I saw this man who owns this funeral home and all I could think about was "He held my baby. He was the last person on this earth to hold my daughter. He was with us. He knows." I felt connected to him in a way that is like no other. I cannot imagine the job that a funeral home director does day in and day out, and I don't know if all places are like this one, but I do believe that some people have a true gift from the Lord to be able to take such awful circumstances and serve with grace and love.
If I would have seen a tree like the one in our community center before I had a daughter that died, I may have felt a little awkward. Like a whole tree of dead people's names? That's not a very Christmas-y thought. But when I saw the tree and found "Gabriella Hartman" this morning, I was so thankful that she was remembered. That's what that tree is for. Not for those of us who haven't suffered loss but for those who have. A kind and gentle reminder that those names are important.
If you know someone who has had a loved one pass away this year, acknowledge it. Slip a note into your Christmas card to them, send them an email, a text. Let them know that you remember. It will mean a lot to them I promise.