"Should I wear my new lace turquoise dress, or does it look too cheerful?" I questioned myself as I readied for Audrey's celebration of life this morning.
I settled on a black and white polka-dot dress and scurried out the door.
Heaven forbid I be late.
Thirty minutes before the service started, I pulled into the parking lot of the church.
I parked my car, noticing nearly every spot was filled, and sat a moment. I finally took a deep breath and tried to compose myself. I knew it was going to be hard.
I had already been reliving so much of Catelyn's death within the last week and I knew that this event would dredge up more memories one of the hardest events of my life.
I got out of my car.
As I walked towards the church, I noticed the bubbles dancing in the air as they left the machine producing them. "Ooh, Catelyn would love this, and I bet Audrey does too," I thought to myself.
I entered the church and saw many of the familiar faces who grieved alongside us before.
It was different today, though. I felt like an intruder at this funeral. I was worried that my presence would detract from those most affected by Audrey's death. Even though Audrey's mom called me two days ago to ensure me that I was, not only welcome, but, also still a part of the family, and encouraged to sit with them at the visitation and service.
I found some amazing people, friends of the family, who offered me to sit with them. That felt more comfortable, so I accepted.
I tried to look at the bulletin in my trembling hands, in an effort to lessen any unexpected surprises. I couldn't focus.
Audrey's sweet smiling face was on the cover. I tried to ground myself a little by placing my feet flat against the floor, pressing them firmly into my shoes, and taking a cleansing breath. It didn't work, but was worth the try.
I looked up and saw Audrey's parents and brothers at the front of the sanctuary. I noticed her tiny coffin covered by a beautiful quilt, just as it had been at the visitation the night before.
I remembered a few items placed in Catelyn's coffin. A blanket, a plush baseball, perhaps a toy kitty cat? The exact items suddenly seemed blurred in my mind.
Music began playing. As Audrey's immediate family exited the sanctuary, I noticed the funeral director close the door to the sanctuary. The procession would begin momentarily.
I froze. Immediately I felt a wave of guilt. Audrey is my niece, and yet I wasn't capable of partaking in her service as a family member. Why? What was wrong with me. "It's probably for the best," I thought. "I may become overwhelmed and bolt anyway."
The family entered. Mother, father, and brothers, followed by grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and others. I watched them all walk gently past me. I could feel their brokenness within my own heart.
We sat down.
The pastor began speaking. I tried to focus. We read a unison prayer. Then it was time for special music.
I smiled for a moment. I knew the couple from my own church. The female musician actually helped with Catelyn's funeral music. I thought about what a hard job it must be to pretend like you aren't hurting as you perform at any child's service, let alone two within one family.
We said an adaptation of Psalm 23.
Then Edelweiss was sung. (Yes, the song made famous by "The Sound of Music".) I have heard this song at many a Swiss funeral, but never has it crushed me so. The first round was sung in German, and I thought, "This will be okay." I no more than started with "Edel" and began to lose my composure. I had sung this very song for Catelyn on sleepless nights when she was an infant. Tears poured down my cheeks, as if someone had turned the handle on a faucet.
The pastor provided a lovely story about two caterpillars readying to turn into butterflies. I felt the older one was Catelyn, even though the pastor indicated that one was a boy.
Soon the service was over, and the blanket covering the casket was removed, folded, and handed off to Audrey's parents.
I remembered receiving Catelyn's blanket.
I watched as my sister and brother-in-law and their family exited the building. I remembered the anguish I felt when I was in their shoes.
The crowd exited into the parking lot where a butterfly release took place.
What a lovely way to say goodbye. As I turned my back to the crowd, I caught sight of one butterfly dancing and fluttering amongst the bubbles. I felt that was a shout out from my dear sweet girl and her cousin.
I sought out many of the people that I knew. We shed tears, hugs, and kind words with one another, and before I started to turn into a soggy bowl of mush, I walked to my car.
Feeling as though my own heart had shattered, I called my dad to comfort me. He listened to me cry for awhile, and then reminded me I wasn't alone. When I was finally less emotional, I let him go and began the drive home.
It was so hard watching people I care so deeply for having their hearts shredded to pieces.