On Tuesday afternoon, the day following Kim’s death, I had to go to the funeral home. My father went with me. My three children, now all in town, accompanied us.
When it came to making plans for the funeral, my son, Paul, stepped up and helped me with the unwelcome and inescapable logistical decisions. In hindsight, I am so proud of him. Kim would have been proud—but not surprised.
After a laborious meeting, making some initial decisions, and completing paperwork, the funeral director invited us to follow him down a hall. We entered a room, and I found myself in a stark and sterile place—a room full of empty caskets. We had to select a casket. After a few minutes of wandering aimlessly through the room looking at various caskets, I became overwhelmed with the relentlessness of the pitiless cascading reality. I turned to my daughter, Emily, and said to her, “What am I doing here?” Twenty-five hours after I learned of Kim’s death, I was standing in this room full of caskets. Pain was beginning to pour in upon me.
“…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
There is an aspect to loss that distorts and warps reality. It’s simply difficult to grasp it all. Acceptance has to catch up with the new uninvited and unwelcome reality. It’s good to be surrounded by family and friends to walk you through it all.
A few weeks after Kim’s death I was sitting in my den, and I flashed back to the moment when I was abruptly told of her passing. The event replayed in my mind, although I wasn’t even trying. It was an unsolicited replay of the memory.
I observed that the room looked different in my memory from that fateful day than it looked on the current day. In my memory, the room was elongated. The place where the policewoman or paramedic stood to break the news to me seemed skewed when compared to what currently was before me across the room. I wondered out loud, “Has my room been rearranged?”
I remembered Leigh Ann had been sitting next to me to my left. However, in my mind my couch seemed different. Later, my pastor was at the other end of my couch sitting in silence until it was appropriate to speak. In my mind, he seemed to be at the far end of the room. The couch seemed stretched out, longer.
In retrospect, I realize shock was literally distorting the perception of my experience. My memory of that day is concrete and distinct, but it’s a warped and skewed snapshot in time. In essence, the power of shock created an alternate reality in my memory bank of the very same room.
“We live life as if it were a motion picture. Loss turns life into a snapshot.” Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss
Shock, especially a sudden onslaught, distorts and warps perception. This is why I heard repeatedly over the next few weeks from several trusted advisors, “Don’t make any major decisions.” But, I kept thinking to myself, “A casket and a funeral are pretty major decisions, but I didn’t get to delay those decisions.”
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. …I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11, 13