I’ll never forget that quiet drive to the airport to pick up Daniel as he flew in that Saturday night. Leah, Jordan and I sat out in the car in silence and in continued disbelief of what was going on around us. As we sat there, we saw families and friends hugging each other as if it was all just in complete slow motion. It made us stop and think, “It’s true, you really never know what’s going on in the person’s life that could be standing right next to you.”
As family started to pour into the house over the next few days, everything started to become more and more real. I’ll never forget seeing my Aunt Cindy walk through the door. I was standing against the wall and as she walked over to hug me I just lost it.
I’ve always heard people say how terrible it is that people have to deal with funeral arrangements while also trying to figure out what the heck just happened in your life. Let me just say, they highly underestimated that statement. When a death is unexpected, you’re trying make sense of it all, not pick out what color casket or flowers you want to be displayed. As mom, dad, Daniel and Aunt Cindy headed to Tampa to take care of the funeral arrangements, my cousins Lindsey, Sara and I got word that we had to create slideshow of photos of Rachel for the funeral. I’ll never forget looking at them and saying, “where on earth do we even start with something like this?”
We started pulling photos from around the house, photo albums and as we laid them out on the floor we all three just sat there and stared at them. As we started adding them to the computer I remember just staring at the screen thinking, “how do I edit this and what do I do?” I’ve done this many times before and couldn’t even wrap my mind around any of it. I want to take you back to when I talked about the time I saw Rachel 3 weeks before the accident. That night we had dinner, somehow we ended up talking about literally everything. Even what songs we would pick to play at our funeral (yes, no joke). As we were making the slideshow I had a flashback to that conversation and as weird as it sounds, it’s almost as if it was a sign that was there but of course I would not have seen it in that moment.
The night before the funeral I had this terrible feeling in my stomach and knew what was coming the next day. I had to face the fact that all of this was real and I had to see her laying there. At one point that night, Mom, Dad, Leah and I all crawled in the bed together and just laid there. We knew that the next day wasn’t going to be easy and we sat there sobbing while also praying for strength to make it through the next day.
Leah and I were in the backseat the next morning as we headed to the church in Tampa. We held each others hand and stared out our windows still in disbelief while also feeling this huge hole in between us. The stomach pains were getting worse as we got closer. As I stepped out of the car at the church, I saw my grandmother and sadness consumed her face and my heart broke. As the family walked up to the doors to go in, I literally felt like I was about to throw up everywhere and as the door opened, I saw her laying there in the casket at the front. It felt like the longest walk of my life as we walked up to front. As I got up to casket, I took a deep breath, stared at her beautiful photo sitting there and then looked at her. It was an immediate feeling and peace that overcame me as I said out loud when I saw her, “That’s not her.” The Lord had immediately poured an instant peace over me as I realized it was just her shell. The second thing that came to my mind was, “Oh good lord who did her hair?!” I could hear her saying to us, “Seriously, what’s up with this people?” (yes, you find humor any where you that you can during the fog). Funny thing is, that Leah and mom both thought the exact same thing.
As people started coming in the church, I saw Rachel’s friends Ashli, Taylor and Hannah walk up. Hannah’s face walking down that aisle was something I’ll never forget. I went up to her, hugged her and said, “It’s not her kiddo, just know that.” I started having that flash again where I felt like I was watching everything happen from the corner of the room as the church started to fill with people left and right. We took our places for people to view Rachel and give us hugs as they went down the line.
I’ll never forget mom and dad’s face while we were standing there. Their eyes were filled with sadness but also had this incredible strength that poured out of them. I remember seeing people constantly pile in the church and the line kept getting longer and longer. Before you knew it, 2 hours went by that we had been standing up there. As we sat down and the preacher walked up to the podium, I had this feeling like everything was a dream. A terrible dream. As the shut the casket I wanted to scream, “Wait! This isn’t right and please wake me up!”
Our friend Matt Beach gave a speech while sharing stories of when Rachel worked for him at one point at Chick-fil-A. He shared the story “everything you do matters.” It just reiterates that we are all here for a reason and God put us here according to His ultimate plan. What he shared was perfect and it really hit me between the eyes in that moment as I’m sure it did with many people in that room. He ended the story with the song, “It is Well with My Soul.”
After the song, it was dad’s turn to speak. I’ll never forget watching him walk up there and as he turned to face the crowd you could see the pain in his eyes. The Lord definitely had his hand on him as he spoke with such grace and truth through his words. I’ve always been proud and had a lot of respect for him but nothing could compare to watching him speak the way he did in the darkest moment of our lives. He ended with saying, “I truly understand what the phrase ‘In God We Trust’ means now. I know 100% that my daughter was saved and is sitting there with Jesus right at this very moment.”
As dad walked away, it was my turn to speak. Leah at first didn’t want to go up there but I reached out my hand to her and she grabbed it to walk up there with me. As we turned to look out to the crowd, my breath was taken away from seeing the church completely filled as people were even lining the walls and stretched all the way out into the parking lot. I always knew that people loved Rachel but it completely warmed your heart to see all of these new and old faces that were there that day.
Our cousins and family friends grabbed her casket and headed out of the church. As we followed behind and as I passed everyone I could see the sadness in their eyes as we walked by. As our family got into the car, all we could do was stare at that car in front of us where Rachel was. As we started to drive off, I’ll never forget just staring at that casket and thinking, “This isn’t real, what on earth are we doing here?!” My second thought is that Rachel was giggling at the fact that we were all following her as she was at the front of the line… (if you know Rach, it’s oh so true!)
As we made our way to sit under the tent, they handed us the flowers to lay on her casket. I had an immediate flash to a few years before when our grandfather passed away. I was sitting beside Rach and she leaned over to me as we got the flower and said, “Paw Paw is totally not going to like this color flower…” We both laughed with tears in our eyes and made our way to place the flower on his casket. Now I’m having to place a this on hers as I flashed back to reality.
I remember looking over at mom and dad as strength still poured from them as they sat there in silence. There was a small breeze and the sun was coming through just right as I saw the tears roll down their cheeks as our cousins laid the flowers first on the casket. As we made our way to lay the flowers, all four of us decided to lay them at the same time. As we placed them there, that’s when it hit me that she’s really gone. We just went from 5 to 4 in the blink of an eye.
As people started to make their way to their cars after it was over, Dad stayed back with a few others and watched them place the casket in the ground. I was about 30 ft away when I decided to turn around and watch. I was standing there and felt two hands grab mine. It was my cousin Lindsey and Sara who stood there with me as we watched from a distance.
After watching the casket be lowered into the ground, I finally understood why some people feel like they have to jump in the grave after their loved ones. No, not because of your unreal pain and sadness but because you don’t have the comfort of the Lord and knowing where your loved one is. I knew in that moment that Rachel was not here and that I didn’t have any ties to this grave site. That might sound weird to you but I promise, if you’re a believer then you know exactly what I mean.
As terrible and sad as that day was, I couldn’t help but be so proud of my sister and who she was because it was evident how loved she truly was by everyone. We headed to her house to be around everyone but in all truth we didn’t feel like being around everyone at that moment. Just three weeks before, I had stayed in this house and we were laughing as we walked up the stairs. As I walked into her room with her close friends, I remember everything was left as it was and it smelt just like her. None of it felt right, it was slow motion and felt like a complete dream to be honest with you. We didn’t stay but 45 minutes which felt like a lifetime. As we walked out to leave through the garage, I saw her guitar sitting there and it hit me that I needed it. We bought it together a few years before when we lived together. We were determined to learn how to play and then one of us would get a banjo to add in there. (I’ll share what I did with the guitar later…)
As we drove home, I could feel the anger starting to come over me and start asking the question of “why did this happen?” I wasn’t angry at God, I was angry at the situation.
That night I read these two verses and it’s exactly what I needed to hear:
“You may face illness, family crisis, death or personal defeat, yet when you put your complete faith in God you have done His will.” Mark 10:46-52
“Trust completely. That trust will erase fear and bring faith. And that faith will pave the way for Jesus to do His best work.” Luke 5:18-20
I posted this the day after the funeral. I wanted people to see this and see just how amazing that laugh of hers was. I sat there in the floor of my room and watched it 5 times while laughing and crying. Enjoy. And yes, Rachel is loving the fact that I’m taking one for the team right now with sharing this…
If you have questions and want to know how my family and I are making it, don’t hesitate to contact me. The truth that you need to know is that the ONLY way to make it through the storm and know that you will see your loved ones again is through Jesus. I’ve never been afraid to share my faith but even more so now I know the time is now to truly open up and share with others.
This is just the beginning of what our family went through but the worst part of the storm was over. And to be truthful, that was the easy part for me compared to what was to come. Stay tuned.