August 19, 2013

The Final Goodbye

I had never touched a dead body before.

Photo Credit:
I've seen a whole bunch of them.
Prayed for the people crying over them. 
Cried with those who are crying over them.

But never laid my hand on one.

The first deceased person I ever touched was my first mom.

I held her hand at hospice after she passed, and touched her face ever so gently. 

I took a photo of her hand in mine with my iPhone.  I will not post it here or show it to anyone. It is precious to me and remains just for me. I told her I’d never post her name here on the blog and in keeping with that I don’t post her photos either even though it’s just her hand.

What She Wanted

She requested to be cremated and to have her ashes scattered over the mountains.

They did not do an embalming or full dressing but they did what they call basic care, to make her as presentable as possible for the immediate family only viewing.

I knew how important it was for my brother, who had not seen her. But I already realized ahead of time how significant it was for me, too.

There’s a Time and a Place

One thing my adoptive parents taught me was that, "There's a time and a place for everything." I have, fortunately, remembered this wise lesson and chosen to live by it.

Time and again I’ve shared here on the blog that I get to choose who I’m going to be. I've let no one else make that choice for me. I believe strongly that one must be wise and discern proper times and seasons for things. 

 I never said anything to Judy after February 28 about how I felt about the secrets she carried with her to the very end.  On that night inFebruary one of the things she told me was that only two people had known my father's identity and now they were dead. And she said she was the only one left and would “take his name to the grave..." Neither of us realized at the time that she would pass away, just five months later!

I am still numb. 
I have to keep reminding myself, she is gone now.
It's surreal. 

And it hurts so much that she's not here.
One thing I knew for sure was that I wasn’t going to ask Judy about the secrets she chose to keep about me from me, when she was fighting cancer. And I especially was not going to discuss it with her at her bedside, as she lay dying.

As much as I desire to know and rightfully deserve to have knowledge of my paternal family, it just wasn’t the time nor the place to bring it up to her again, as she was facing the fight of her life.  

Yes, I’m very much a time and place kind of gal. 

 Never Again

I never asked her for this again after February 28. Even in our letters following that dreadful night, I never asked. 

When she wrote me the first letter following our falling out, and  it wasn’t what I longed for, God led me to write her the six page, single spaced letter, pouring out my heart in love. 

He directed me to do it as if it were "the last thing I’d be able to say to her.” Is He amazing or what? This was BEFORE any of us knew she had cancer. God was so good to direct my path.

This is part of the reason I have been at peace with my response to her all through these difficult 10 weeks. I know I have always responded rightly. I have nothing to regret. God was so amazing to order my steps like that! He will direct our paths, if we just trust Him and we are open to His voice.

Any moments I had on the phone with her once she got sick weren't  to ask her for his name. Nor did I expect or ask anyone else to. 

Any contact I had with her was simply for the purpose of loving her  -- although at the time I did not feel the love in return. This is why at the end of one of our calls a few weeks ago, Tom said,"We love you...I want you to know WE do love you, even though you only feel love from one of us right now."

 He knew how much it would mean to me to hear that.

Process Resumed

After it was discovered she had cancer, I willingly interrupted my process of recovery in therapy, to have contact with her before I was ready. Again, I needed to discern the time and season. Did I need to recover from the trauma faced? Yes. But more important, I needed to try to contact my mother during this time of crisis and do what I could as far as it depended on me to bridge the gap.  

After last Friday when she passed away, I knew  I would not only have to pick up the process of recovery that I was going through, guided by Melissa, but also additional recovery now that she has passed away.

It's a huge blow.
No matter what transpired between us, she is deeply loved and missed. 
And always will be.

That will never, ever change.

The Last Time Ever I Saw Her Face...

The funeral director ushered us into the viewing room set up for the immediate family. It was a very simple set up, designed only to confirm identification for the funeral home, and give us closure as a family. She was dressed in a basic white t-shirt, and covered otherwise with white linen. Her hair was styled similar to her typical way, although my sister pointed out they parted it on the wrong side. Her make-up was understated, only foundation and lipstick which was her custom. 

Everyone wept immediately upon entering, seeing her laying there in the simple wooden container we had decided upon for cremation. They had wrapped some linens around it to make it more casket-like. Everyone had their time with her separately while others waited and we had our time together. 

I sat on a couch across the room while my sister had her time alone with her. During this time, Merry (Tom’s daughter) was making conversation with me. She was trying to help and comfort me, but I gently let her know, I could not chat at the time. It was a really critical time for me to quietly process. I knew I needed this for my recovery.

When there was an opportunity to go to the casket alone, I took all the time I desired.  Others were across the room but I very softly talked, more like a whisper. I know it was just her physical body – her soul or spirit were not there but it was symbolic for me and very important. I shared with her how I felt about what transpired on February 28, and the months following up to the present day and the choice she made. 

 (I will write more about this last viewing and what I chose to say, in the future.  In fact it’s going to be the subject of my contribution to Laura Dennis’s upcoming book release, “Adoption Reunion Conclusions.”)

I needed this moment.

It didn’t hurt her…she wasn’t even really there anymore, though it felt to me like she was. I could touch her, as I was saying the words.

Many of you who read here regularly realize the double trauma and loss that I've incurred, without me saying it prior to this. There was an outpouring of private notes to me right after she died. Some of these were from first mothers, who were angry that she went right up to the end with the secret, and never reconciled as far as it depended on her. Those of you who have written, I understand the reason for your anger. I am so grateful for your love and care. I have felt your arms wrap around me from all over the world. Know that I continue with therapy, the help of the community and leaning on the Lord, to move beyond this disappointment. 

I will write more about things I discovered about my mother's love for me in the days ahead, but for now I will just say, I do know for certain that my mother loved me. She loved me intensely. More than I ever realized while she was here! And yet, she was broken -- an unhealed first mother, who never became strong enough emotionally to share information that was jointly ours. 

What Day is It?

We woke up the next morning and my sister said, “Deanna, is it Sunday?” 

“Yes,” I answered.

The days and hours were starting to run together.

We planned to have lunch with Tom, Merry and our brother. But Tom got so nauseated from the severe pain with his broken arm, he was unable to dine with us. We met in the parking lot of the restaurant for a few minutes and talked and Tom headed home to rest in hopes of being strong for the funeral.  

My brother and sister and I planned on going  in to the restaurant to have lunch, but my sister was so overcome with grief, we decided it was best to go back to the hotel and rest. 

Did you miss me, too?

Between periods of rest, my sister and I worked on the DVD presentation for the funeral. As we sat our separate beds with our laptops going through photos of the last 67 years of our mother’s life we came across a certain photo. It was of she and Aunt Jeri when they were just a few years old, dressed alike, sitting on the front porch of their home. 

“I wish we had pictures like this of us,” my sister said wistfully. “You know, dressed alike, and growing up together and doing things. I wish so bad that we had that, Deanna…”

“I know,” I said. 

I’ve often wondered if my sister felt the intense loss that I have felt in not knowing each other the first 25 years of her life. 

Last week I got my answer.

My sister grieves beyond description at the loss of our mother. 
And, she also grieves over time  lost in the past, as sisters. 

It is time we can never regain fully again, but by God's grace, we're trying to make up for it! 
Photo Credit: Deanna Shrodes; Entrance to Bliley Funeral Home, Richmond

The Last Goodbye

The night of the visitation and funeral finally came. 
I say finally because it was so painful, it felt like an eternity. 

She died on Friday and the funeral was on Monday. The days in between were excruciating emotionally, and I was processing it without my husband or children near me. (They didn’t arrive by train until just after noon on Monday.)  

Yesterday, my friend Joanne said to me, Deanna, until the funeral comes, it feels like limbo. That's how it felt like for me when my Dad passed away. You are facing reality but can’t really move forward emotionally at all, until that day is passed."  

My siblings and I got dressed early and headed for a meeting with the officiating pastor  prior to the visitation. Aunt Jeri, Tom and Merry also attended.  

Pastor Rob Dawson of First Baptist Church in Petersburg, VA was in charge of the service.  Aunt Jeri quickly informed him that I'm also a minister.  Pastor Rob and I discovered that we know a lot of the same pastors and had quite a number of friends in common. He asked if I, or anyone in the family, wanted to have any part in the service in speaking, and I let him know that at this time, I needed to “be” not “do.” He understood perfectly, sharing that last year his 25 year old son unexpectedly passed away and he found himself in the same broken place. Our hearts went out to him.   


Right before the funeral Tom said he needed to step outside. It was so cold inside the funeral home and he said, "I need to step outside and thaw out a bit before the service starts." I was concerned to let him go outside alone. He was still dealing with the unfixed broken arm, and on painkillers just to be able to function. I didn't want him getting off balance or hurting himself again so I said, "let me go with you."

As we were walking out the door I said, "Tom, are you alright?" He said, "I don't think things will ever be alright again, Deanna."

My heart broke.
This man gave everything to my mother.
So much to me.
So much to all of us.
And he still gives.
And yet he is in such physical and emotional pain.

I wish I could take it away.

God is in the Details

What a masterful job Pastor Rob did. All that he said in the service spoke to me from a very deep place. Most of all I remember his genuineness. God definitely sent us the right person to handle the service, and our family. He just oozed with compassion and greatly impacted all of us.

Just yesterday, I was talking to Tom and he said that amazingly he ran into Pastor Rob again yesterday, out and about in the community. He said, "Deanna, what are the chances in a city of millions that I would see him again so soon?" 

Actually, there's a huge chance, when God is in the details.  

Tom spoke of how wonderfully Pastor Rob ministered to him. 
This means the world to me.
I am glad he is meeting people who are "Jesus with skin on."

Two Classy Ladies

All throughout the visitation and after the service, people embraced me warmly. In addition to expressing sorrow for loss, so many people approached me to say things like, “You and your mom look so much alike! We just can't get over it!” and “You and your sister are just lovely.” One couple who are close friends of my sister approached me and sweetly said, “Just so you know, your story is such a miracle!”  I just smiled through my tears and said, "Yeah, I think it's pretty special too."

I wanted to pass the table one more time with the box and the yellow rose, as well as look at all the other flowers that were sent. Among them was an arrangement send by my adoptive father and my stepmother, Kay. 

Arrangement from my Dad & Kay

And imagine the way my heart was also warmed to see an arrangement from Gayle and Bonnie saying, “We love you, PD. Always here for you. Gayle and Bonnie…your faithful minions.” 

Arrangement from Gayle & Bonnie
As I was making my way through one last time by myself, an attendee at the funeral who is no relation to me approached me and said, “I just want you to know, your mother and I were close. She shared with me about what you had asked her for months ago -- the knowledge of your father. I want you to know I don’t have that information. And she felt very, very strongly that you not have it!” 

If you think I was shocked by this conversation… you’re right.

Like I said, I’m a time and place kind of girl.

I couldn't believe I was hearing this at my own mother's funeral.
I try my best to respond, not react.

Taking a breath and steadying myself, I said, “I had no intention of asking you for the information.”   

“If I had it,” she went on, “ I wouldn’t give it to you anyway! I’ve known her longer than you.”

Well, at least that was true. She had known me for all of an hour, since we were introduced for the first time in the funeral home parlor. Needless to say, I usually don't go right to addressing someone's paternity in the first hour after we meet. Or ask them their bra size. Or when the date of their last period was. Or anything like that.

Once again, I get to choose who I’m going to be.  
It ain’t easy sometimes, folks. Just sayin!

On a lot of days I choose Godly Deanna when I just want to be take-off-my-high-heels-and-earrings-and-throw-down-Deanna. 

A few moments later, someone else approached me as I was leaving the funeral home for the last time and said, “Can I just say, you and your sister are two incredibly classy ladies?”

Yes, you can say that.