After having gone home for a couple days to check on things, we arrived back at Winn's parents' house one week ago today, at 3:30 a.m., an hour too late. Sherill was gone. They told us that the last several hours were very painful for her, but that at the last breath she leaned forward and let out a huge smile.
Her body was still warm when we went into her room to say goodbye. And it was gut-wrenching. Even as we kissed her head and touched her delicate fingers, almost panicked at the idea that soon her body’s warmth would turn to cold and dryness, we knew that she was no longer here.
We sat in the living room together as the mortician came to take her body away from us. And then life without her began…
Friday ~ We all tried to get a little rest that morning. But as exhausted as we were, sleep refused to be had. Winn and his dad and siblings went to the funeral home to make funeral arrangements and write the obituary, then to the flower shop to choose a casket arrangement. We began to pour over old photos, trying to choose ones that would depict the sparkle in her eye when she smiled, the joy that she brought to everyone, the closeness that she shared with her family. And as we stumbled around the house, we would stop and weep at the sight of her wig on the counter or her prayer shawl on the chair or her shoes by the door.
Saturday ~ Funeral arrangements continued. Reminiscing continued. Tears continued. We searched high and low (in four different cities) for the perfect pink dress shirts, ties, accessories to wear to the funeral, wanting to honor her 16-year battle with breast cancer, a battle she fought with strength and courage, even humor and smiles. A battle she fought for so many years, far beyond the doctors’ predictions.
Sunday ~ The 17 of us attended church together as a family, a hole in our hearts and in the pew next to Gary where Sherill would have been seated. And then someone brought us dinner, as countless dear people had been doing for weeks, and continue to do. In the afternoon we went to the funeral home to see Sherill’s body. She looked so pretty in her soft pink sweater with a delicate scarf around her neck. Gary and the kids agreed she should not wear her wig (she most often went without it, never one to fuss over appearances), and her short white hair, that had just begun to grow out again, was just right. We all stood back as Gary bent over her, admiring her, missing her. And then we surrounded her casket and even the grandchildren touched her affectionately as we all commented on how lovely she looked, how they got her lips and cheeks just right, what a nice job they had done with the pink nail polish that Winn’s sister Kendra sent along to the funeral home. And how peaceful her expression was. After a long while, Emily suggested that we could all use an ice cream cone, and so we stood in line outside at Grahams for almost an hour in the sun and warmth of early spring.
Monday ~ We spent the day ironing clothes, getting haircuts, and setting the disheveled house aright as we prepared for more family to arrive. That evening we received somewhere around 400 hugs from people that stood in line for hours at the visitation. It was comforting to see so many whose lives Sherill has touched.
Tuesday ~ Family and friends came from across the country (and a few even watched internationally via the Web) to celebrate Sherill’s life with us, filling the church to the brim, a sea of pink just as the family had requested. During the funeral, sweet voices sang of Jesus’ love and beautiful photos told of the memories we hold close to us. And afterward we had a huge feast, Sherill-style, with food and chatter and laughter. In the afternoon Aunt Patti came over and ordered us to sit and relax while she cleaned the house. We sorted flowers and opened countless notes of encouragement and gifts of sympathy.
Wednesday/Thursday ~ We began to contemplate getting back to everyday life, not wanting to and yet wanting to. We went out for lunch, for the first time without her. Sherill was cremated, and Gary brought her ashes home, each of her children receiving a small urn to keep. Loyal friends continued to care for us. One neighbor even stopped by and offered to take us on a guided tour along an old railroad bed on his property. We chose our walking sticks and set out through the trees, crossing an old bridge, spotting several deer, and ending at a pond with the sun just setting on the water. The fresh air and exercise were a perfect gift from this kind neighbor.
Friday ~ Today we left for home. It was hard to do. The next time we pull into their driveway, Sherill will not be sitting in her chair by the window. Her voice and smile will not greet us. Only a week, and yet so much has changed.