Mama's First Easter in Heaven

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sunday will be my mother’s first Easter in heaven. No, that’s not true. Every day is Easter in heaven, and she’s been celebrating since December 15.

Mama donated her body to the University of Michigan Medical School, so there was no funeral. Instead, my brothers and I planned a memorial service to fit into our families’ existing schedules, which is what Mama would have wanted.

We celebrated Mama’s earthly life and death on March 16 at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, Michigan, where she sang in the choir for more than thirty years. That’s Mama on the far right of the picture.

There were several things that I found memorable about her memorial service. I’m very happy for Mama, but my eyes did tear up when the choir sang. As I looked that way, I noticed that Mama’s empty chair was draped with a robe and a stole. Afterwards, someone told me that they had looked for and used the robe with her number. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.

Seeing the robe also affected my niece, Rachel, as she sang Mama’s favorite solo—“I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked” by Geoffrey O’Hara. When Rachel got up to sing, she noticed the empty chair with the robe and stole and choked up. She recovered by the second verse and made it through the third, as well, with one small falter right at the end. I hope she realizes how affecting her performance was.

I have the memorial bulletin with the skeleton of the service, but there were a couple of other incidents that I want to remember. One was at the beginning, where Mama’s pastor walked over to the baptismal font and poured water into it while noting that Mama had been a child of God ever since her baptism. Rev. Knieriemen said something like, “perhaps in a Presbyterian church,” noticed me shaking my head, and asked for the denomination. I was pretty sure it was Congregational but I wasn’t positive, so I was glad that my younger brother answered the question.

My younger brother also gave the meditation. At several points, Gordon said, “Presbyterians [or Calvinists] believe . . .” We were raised Presbyterian, and Gordon is a Presbyterian minister. But I married a Lutheran and joined his church, and we raised our children in that denomination. I even have a Lutheran minister for a son-in-law. So whenever Gordon said “Presbyterians believe” or “Calvinists believe,” the Camps and Ills all thought, “so do Lutherans,” “so do Lutherans,” “so do Lutherans.” When asked about it afterwards, Gordon said he thought Lutherans might agree but he didn’t have time to look it up and he wanted to make sure he didn’t misrepresent what we believe. That’s a worthy intent, but we still kidded him about it.

The only other glitch in the service came with the first hymn, which was “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” We grew up with the tune “Diadem,” and that’s what Mama wanted. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication somewhere. The organist played, and the congregation sang, the more common tune “Coronation.” But it’s still a great hymn, and I’m sure Mama no longer cares which tune we used.

Memorial services are a good way to bring closure to family and friends, but there is no closure for Mama. She’s living an eternal Easter.

And that’s something to celebrate.

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