Saturday, September 18, 2010

The First Viewing

Mom, 8 months pregnant with me in 1973.

This is the sixth post in this series.  Please see The Preface for further explanation. edited 11/9/16.

I had been warned.  My mother-in-law tried to prepare me to expect an uncontrollable flow of emotion that would be simply indomitable when I saw my mother's dead body for the first time.

I knew I didn't stand a chance because my mother-in-law was the epitome of the Southern lady, a true Steel Magnolia, a Girl Raised In The South. If she was telling me to be prepared to lose it, how was I gonna make it?   

My husband took the kids to the hotel pool while I went with my father, brother, sister-in-law, and sister to the funeral home. We didn't want our children to be frightened by mommy "losing it."

When I walked into the small anteroom to the viewing room, I was set to have a free-for-all cry.  I placed the stack of photographs along with my purse on the little table at the end of the alcove. I didn't turn my gaze to the left—I wanted to keep my eyes from the large opening into the room. I didn't want to see my mother until I had two mini packs of kleenex out and in my hands. I barely noticed that everyone else had walked on through.

Tissues at the ready, I squared my shoulders and turned to the left, slightly surprised that my mother wasn't immediately there. I walked in, turned to the left again, and there was Mom, lying peacefully.

I had expected dread, fear, horror, but the only thing that came was incomprehensible warmth and joy that grew in waves as I looked upon my sweet mother.

Mom! It was Mom!

I noticed nothing else in the room. Everything else seemed just strange blurs on the outside of my vision. Mom. Mom was all I saw, and I wasn't scared! My heart raced, but there were no tears or screams, just an overwhelming desire to be near her. 

Joy and thankfulness flooded me as I looked down at my mother's gorgeous, peaceful face. I actually smiled when I looked down on her in her coffin. I reached out and put my hand on my mother's icy hands, but the cold didn't bother me. Instead memories of my mother's hands making dinner, baking birthday cakes, sewing Easter dresses, and braiding my hair, came flooding in all at once.

All I felt was gratefulness and love. I adored my mother and was unspeakably glad that it was this woman and no other who birthed me and raised me, even if another woman might have lived for decades longer. 

God had been so immensely good to me in giving me such a gracious, godly woman for a mother.  His lavish love was apparent in all Mom did, and I knew His lavish love had not dried up.

I bent down and against all reason I kissed Mom ever so slightly on her forehead.  Then I softly whispered, "I loved you, I loved you, with all my heart I loved you and thank you for everything and I love you and I miss you."

I slowly stood upright, and as I did the room came back into reality with my dad, brother, and sister mourning. But the warmth and love didn't leave me. The tears wouldn't come until much, much later in the night because there was a strength that came from seeing my mom. As much as I wished she could have lived longer, there was an awe-filled thankfulness for who she was.

If it was just shock, then shock is better than any drug and should be considered a gift of God in and of itself. I believe that the extraordinary experience in the viewing room was the result of so many friends praying for me. I didn't deserve such a transcendent and beautiful experience; it was a gift of grace.

Rather than feeling defeated, my faith was bolstered. Any time the pain of losing Mom came crashing in, my faith looked back to that time in the room when it glimpsed what is truly real: The stone was indeed rolled away; death was unquestionably conquered. Jesus is victorious; we have nothing to fear.

© 2009-2015 Emily Woodham

1 comment:

  1. Emily, this is so beautiful it made me cry. Praise God for the peace and strength He's given you. People often remark how Christians behave so differently at the death of their loved ones. I think this post offers ample testimony that it is not a self-induced denial of emotions, but the overwhelming, transcendent peace of God that takes over at these moments. I really believe we encounter God more profoundly at these junctures of life.