My mind is hazy now, the fog of grief still present, still clouding my memory. I don’t remember when Kara’s attendance at church started waning. What I remember is waiting for her Sunday text, her invitation.
It would come with a ding: CAN YOU COME SIT WITH ME THIS MORNING?
The rush to get there quickly would begin, sometimes dropping the baby at church to be loved on by our church family. Sometimes I brought her with me to snuggle in bed with Kara or practice crawling on the floor of the familiar room.
These mornings were sacred. Kara often slept, dozing on and off, her phone buzzing on the nightstand. Sometimes I would be charged with smoothie making or bread toasting. Most times there were tears as Kara spoke her heart—her dreams for her children and Jason, her to-do list full of ways to love others before Jesus called her Home, her questions of Heaven, her reluctance to say her goodbyes.
One morning I sat next to her reveling in her Karaness. She was talkative, full of plans. She spoke of her upcoming retreat with Jill to write Just Show Up. And then she spoke the words now imprinted on my mind: Will you help me plan my funeral?
I wanted to laugh, to dismiss the idea that she would die. But her diminishing body, the dark circles under her eyes, her labored breathing…it wouldn’t be love to turn away from what was becoming obvious, to ignore the imminent moment of her Father picking her up early from the party. I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t going to happen, not if I wanted to love her well.
Fear, awkwardness, discomfort gripped me. I took a shallow breath, reached toward her and put my hand on her bony knee, and squeaked out my response. Of course. Whatever you need me to do, I will do.
She started to explain why she had asked, why she wanted to spare Jason and her folks from making these impossible arrangements, but she didn’t have to; I’ve planned funerals. I’ve chosen music, run my hand over rows of caskets in a trance of disbelief, sat with a pastor to discuss details.
I stopped her: It’s okay. I get it. I would be honored to do this and love you and your family in this way. I allowed a smile because the tears were already there. It wasn’t a secret: this was awful.
A few weeks later, another ding: CAN YOU COME OVER? CAN WE PLAN?
It was the middle of the week, I had both babies. I schlepped them over and Mickey greeted us. Come play with Nanny Mickey, she invited them, and I ran up the stairs.
Kara lay in bed, frailer but not dimmer. Her Karaness brightened up the gray day. Jason is going to the store to get apples for our friends so you can drop them off since they live near you. She smiled, and I loved her delight in her scheme. Jason left. Quick, we don’t have long.
And then we did it: we planned her service. Her memorial service. My heart somehow felt removed, detached. Surely this woman whose big love was affecting thousands at this point would never leave. Surely the medication would kick in. Surely the doctors would think of something else. Surely God would give us our miracle.
I wrote everything down, asked questions about things she had forgotten, clarified uncertainties. I made lists of people to assign tasks to, copied numbers from her phone, made suggestions. We worked quickly knowing Jason would be back soon. When we heard the front door open, I closed my notebook and smiled a secret smile. We were in on it together—loving big.
The day Kara died, I watched things unfold and knew it was coming. Sitting in church, I took pictures of Kara’s parents in the row in front of me loving on the kids for Kara. I texted her pictures of Jason preaching and Aaron singing so she wouldn’t feel like she was missing as much. But instead of texts in response, I got other kinds of texts and then phone calls. Though no one said it out loud, I understood the time was nigh.
After I hung up the phone with Jason later that day, I dug out my notebook. It was time to love big, to just show up.
It is surreal to write about this opportunity I had to love Jason and Kara by just showing up. It seems strange to think that I was able to help with this task that Kara chose for me. But that is how I know that God was present—Immanuel. God with us. I never could have organized and executed Kara’s memorial service, much less planned it, without Immanuel. In God’s grace, I was able to just show up and God was glorified.
As Jill mentioned in a previous post, we want to hear from you, too! We want to hear your stories of how you have just shown up for someone, how someone has just shown up for you, or maybe even a story about how you needed someone to just show up, but they didn’t. If you have your own blog, please post your story and use the link-up tool to link with us! We encourage you to read each other’s stories to learn, encourage, and further build our community. If you don’t have a blog, please simply leave a comment with your story.