Late one night, toward the end of the summer of 2005, the phone rang.
"Hello?" It was my sister-in-law, Monica. "Mom and Dad's house is on fire. They are out and safe but the house is in flames."
The house, and most everything in it, was destroyed; either burned up, damaged by smoke, or damaged by water.
The next day, after the house cooled down, we walked through it. Mom and Dad were both sleeping and a fire started in the ceiling and within moments the house was filled with smoke. Walking through the house seeing all the damage, we were so grateful that they were safe.
Sitting in the driveway and on the front lawn were all of their things. Just things. But I had to grieve some of those things. Not the things themselves, but the memories attached to them. The chair that the kids remember Grandpa sitting in with them; the rocking chair, the gifts we had given them throughout the years. All of them "gone."
A few weeks after that, we all got together to go through the things that were salvageable - at least somewhat. We were sorting in anticipation of having a rummage sale.
My mother-in-law had a lot of books. I started going through them; throwing away the ones that were damaged beyond anyone wanting to even open them. I was also told, "if there are any books you want, you may take them." Nobody else wanted any of the books so as I sorted, I also "shopped."
I found some treasures in those boxes.
You see, my mother-in-law loved the Lord. And she loved to read books that brought her closer to the person that God was making her to be. So in these boxes of books, I found books that she had read. But those weren't the real treasures.
I also found Bibles. My mother-in-law's Bibles; with notes in them written in her hand-writing. A sheet with notes on about how to pray for your children, little notes with different scriptures or quotes on.
A little less than one year later, my mom-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer.
This has been a tough week.
I was at my brother's house celebrating his son's 5th birthday on Sunday and I couldn't help but think about that same Sunday (not the same date, just the same Sunday) two years earlier when we were at this same house for the same little guy's birthday party.
Clint received a phone call. His dad simply said "you need to get here."
We said our goodbyes to my family and headed back toward home. Let the dog out. On to my husband's parents' house.
It was a quiet drive, no one really spoke; we were all deep in thought and a couple of us for sure, were praying.
It was an emotional night. Our youngest kids who were with us, then 11 & 9, said good-bye to their grandma before we left. This wasn't your normal good-bye. It was a heart breaking, gut wrenching to watch, good-bye. We knew, and our kids knew, that this was their last hug, kiss and "I love you" from their grandma.
We went home late that night with plans to come back first thing in the morning after the kids were off to school. We spent that day with Clint's family at his mom and dad's house, sharing time with mom, talking to her, reading her Bible to her, singing to her, just being with her. That night, more sad good-byes - we just didn't know how many more we were going to get. She had deteriorated so much that day that we expected to get a phone call during the night.
We planned to go up again first thing in the morning.
As we were getting ready to leave the house on Tuesday morning, the phone rang. Hearts dropped and fear came across Clint's face. Again, it was his dad. "Son, you need to get here soon." We left within minutes.
When we arrived, immediately, Clint, his dad and his siblings went into Mom's room; each one of them had their chance to say their "peace" and they prayed together as a family for the last time.
From the sounds coming out of her and her physical appearance we knew she was within moments of going home. At about 2:40 pm on May 8, 2007, with her family gathered around her bed, a wife of almost 48 years, a mother, and a grandmother, left her temporary home and crossed over into eternal rest, peace and glory to be with her Creator.
Tears were shed in heaven and on earth in that moment. In heaven, tears of joy; a good and faithful servant come home, a journey complete. And on earth, tears of sadness; longing, and emptiness. Even though we were confident of mom's final destination, our hearts ached for what was gone and what would always be missing.
And this week, hearts still ache.
The treasures from THEN are even more precious NOW. The words written in her hand-writing THEN are priceless NOW.
I'm not big "keeper" of treasures myself; I don't scrapbook; I don't have memory boxes. Maybe it's cynical, but I don't keep things that remind me of other times, places, events or people simply because I don't want my memory attached to a "thing." It's hard to not be a keeper of treasures; reminders of someone or a special time. In Matthew 6:19 Jesus tells us not to waste our time on earthly treasures; here on earth, those treasures can be easily destroyed and then what? Rather, we're to "store up" heavenly treasures, treasures that cannot be held or defined by matter.
Maybe that's part of the reason that Clint's mom and family decided to have her cremated. It's maybe why Clint and I have never visited the cemetery where his mom's ashes are kept. We know that she's not there. We don't need to visit that wall to remember her.
I intentionally went to the cemetery this week to get a picture. It was a bit odd, I guess, to look at the space where her ashes are held. I still felt no attachment to the place or the remains.
We know mom is not there. We know she's experiencing all of God's glory.
We miss her so often, the obvious things like holidays and birthdays. But we also miss her in the every day things wondering if she would be proud of us, proud of our kids, proud of how we are raising our kids.
We hope in Jesus, we know that we have been established, anointed and sealed by God (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) and we know that mom is now a citizen of heaven (Phil 3:20) and because of that, there is not a final good bye...