January 12, 2014

A time to say goodbye

The day of Emmett’s burial for me was the hardest one yet. I am not sure if it was the long drive and the silence in the car . . . or the fact that I knew the whole way that we were going to put his body in the ground.

The drive was five hours. His family had requested that he be taken to Bear Lake, Utah and I knew that is what he would have wanted. I had totally forgotten to calculate the time to stop and nurse my baby into the drive. I hadn’t really had a chance yet to get on a real schedule since he was born. We were already running late. The funeral had been the day before, and my body felt like it weighed a million pounds. I could barely walk, let alone . . . drive all of my kids and my little sister Abbey five hours in the car. Why hadn’t I changed this in the plan? Why had I thought I could handle three emotional days in a row without a break?  I started to wish I had given myself a day after the funeral to rest. We had found out right before the viewing that Kaleeya, who was nineteen months old, had pneumonia so I had left her with my mom and stepdad. I didn’t like leaving her or them, but I also didn’t like the thought of her getting sicker because of my selfish desire to have her with me.

There was no fog around the car . . . but the fog in my mind was like a state of darkness. I could not think at all. The roads were a bit snowy, and I am pretty sure if it had been any other day I would have turned around and gone back home. I didn’t like the feeling of being out of control in my mind and driving in the bad weather. They were a scary mix for me that day.

I don’t remember ever pressing the pedal in the car. I don’t remember filling it up with gas. I have no idea if the oil had been changed. I really don’t even know if I turned the steering wheel. I don’t know if we said any words to each other that whole drive. I still can’t recall if the kids even said a word. I know that Angels drove my car that day. They kept the gas tank full. They pushed on the break and the gas . . . and somehow we made it to Bear Lake.

As we got into town, I could see the rows of trees that Emmett had planted the summer just before we met. He was so proud of those trees. They had grown taller now, and were so full of life. There had never been a time we had passed them that he hadn’t told me the whole story about how hard it was to plant them all by himself across the whole field. He had worked for days to make sure the row was straight and each tree was in its right spot. They stood tall, almost mocking me. Reminding me of every time we had laughed as we drove by them.

We pulled into the cemetery about an hour late. I could still see the trees, this time now up on the hill from the cemetery, and the view was spectacular of each tree. Everyone had been standing out in the cold snow for an hour . . . waiting for us. I had been crying the whole way and my make-up was everywhere. I had planned in my mind that I would be able to change and get presentable . . . but here we were in sweatshirts and jeans and snow boots. We got out of the car and began trudging in the snow to join the mass of people surrounding the casket.

It was freezing. The snow on the top of each headstone sent a chill down my spine. I wanted to scream. This wasn’t real. This wasn’t my life. These weren’t my kids walking in the cold snow to say one last goodbye to their father. This couldn’t be real. This had to be a dream. When was I going to wake up? When was this cold chill going to turn warm again? Everyone was watching us. I hated the stares, and yet I don’t know what I would have done without each set of eyes motioning me to keep walking.

One of Emmett’s best friends, Casey, dedicated the grave. It was a precious, tender prayer. The bishop there thanked everyone for coming and let us know about a luncheon they had prepared. Then he said we could take a minute alone to say goodbye.

My kids had begged and begged to see his body at the viewing, but I had not let them . . . a decision I felt strongly about at the time. Because of the bullet hole in his forehead, they had to use so much make-up that it didn’t even look like him at all. I, a grown woman, had even wished I would have just let his face be a memory in my mind. Once you see a person as a body, you don’t ever forget it. I had hoped the kids would understand my feelings, that they would be able to find peace, and that I had made the right decision for them.

The kids were still pretty upset at me for not letting them “say goodbye.” As we walked over to touch the casket one last time, the three oldest began to scream and shout at me. “Mommy . . . please . . . open this box!” They crouched down and tried to look inside the cracks. Then they started shouting through the holes, “Daddy! Please wake up . . . DADDY . . . please if you can hear us . . . OPEN THIS BOX! Mommy won’t let us say goodbye to you, Daddy. Please Daddy. We need to see your face.” I am not sure how long they yelled at me . . . and at Emmett . . . to open the box. It felt like a lifetime. They pounded on the top of the casket . . . sobbing. Their cries pierced my heart. They didn’t understand. They thought this moment was something I was keeping from them. All they knew was that their daddy’s body was in that box, and I was the one who was keeping it shut.

I felt horrible. I felt like a really bad mom. I was failing them. It had only been one week, and I was already messing up. I was filled with guilt . . . like somehow, I had done all of this to them. Each pound on the casket was like someone was drilling in my mind the fact that I had not only lost my marriage . . . but that I was going to lose my babies too. Maybe I should have just let them “say goodbye.” Maybe it would have all been easier for them if they had seen his face one last time. I will never know for sure. It has definitely been a tender topic at this house, and a very emotional one for us all.

I don’t ever wish this moment on anyone. Burying the body of a soul you love is so hard. And that day, I realized that making decisions that affect others’ grieving process was not easy either. These five children depended on me to be strong and help them through the road of healing that had not yet even begun. I still think I made the right decision. I hope that someday, when they look back, they will be able to see that I did what I thought was best for them.
I remember that afternoon, Emmett’s cousin, Angie, saying, “It’s a pretty crazy club we belong to.” She was referring to the death of her mother and other loved ones that had impacted all of our lives. That was an eye-opener for me.

We are all going to lose things we love. Death is inevitable. It is a constant—which in one way or another— we will all face. It is a club for everyone who has lost a loved one. It is a feeling you only understand when your roadmap of life presents it to you. It can come on any day and in any way. It comes to us all. The only thing that is not certain is when it will come. When will the last talk we have with our parents be? When will our last kiss with the ones we love be? When will we, ourselves, take our last breaths? We will never know until that time comes.

That truth is one that has made me really ponder who I want to be in life. When I stand at those crossroads . . . those moments when we must choose a path . . . I can tell you with all my heart that the finality of death will be in the back of my mind as I make my decisions. I will pray for guidance that my choices will be those of virtue . . . that my legacy will be one of honor. Death will come to us all. We will see its power at some point in the lives of the ones we love, and some day it will come to us. It is my prayer that we will meet our Maker in a moment when we are proud of our lives, that we can look into His eyes and He will say, “Well done.”


Tracie said...

Ashlee this just tears at my heart! One day your babies will look back and they will know that the decisions you made were out of love for them and their father. You should be proud of the way you have chosen to live this life, to share this sweet testimony of our Heavenly Father and his grace. You have put my life in a new perspective and made me want to strive to be a better wife and mother but also a better daughter to our Heavenly Father. I am sure that he is proud of you and the choices you have made. He loves you just like your earthly father does but with a perfect love that we cannot comprehend. Your testimony will live on through the ages of time bearing witness of the love that He has for his children. And I can't thank you enough for sharing it with all of us.

Anonymous said...

We have never met, yet you have touched my heart. I wanted to tell you that I love you, my heavenly sister. I pray that you will continue be comforted, and always feel His Love. Know that you are never alone. It can be so difficult to watch others make poor choices especially more when it affect you and yours directly, and you have been amazing through this turmoil. Your children are truly blessed in having you as their mother. I can only imagine how your tears must have poured as you were writing your life moments. How your heart must have ached. We feel it with you, and we all are rallying in spirit beside you. Hang in there! With love, Susan

Anonymous said...

A friend shared your blog on facebook and I am amazed at the courage you have to share such difficult moments of your life. Your faith is amazing and inspiring! I want to be just like you in all my trials! Thank you:)

camDew said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I have been inspired and uplifted to Stand a little Taller and believe more in myself and my Savior. His love for us is astounding...beyond our imagination. Thank you for reminding us. What is a healing experience for you is a support and healing to others as well. We are never alone.

Anonymous said...

You are an absolute inspiration and are wise far beyond your years. I pray for you and your beautiful family.

AFHMOM said...

Ashley you are A tremendous Mom!

Anonymous said...

I have spent several hours today reading your words and feeling my heart ache for you and your babies. We don't know each other, but I feel so many things for you...love, compassion, admiration, and even joy to see you have found happiness in marriage again. I have endured some of the things you have experienced, though without the tragic ending. I am inspired by your faith and your strength. Your children are blessed to have you, as you are for them. I am so touched by how you are living your life. Carry on and upward, Ashlee.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story it's what I need tonight. You are such a strong Daughter of God and such amazing mother!!!!

Unknown said...

I remember when me and Kendra's dad died I was 12 she was 9. It was a closed casket. I remember being so angry and hurt cause they wouldn't let us see him. I didn't understand for years until I saw a friend in her casket and it didn't look anything like her. That image never leaves. I'm so grateful that when I think of my dad I see him as he was. Your kids will thank you one day. You are amazing I'm so very proud of the strength you have shown and the beautiful woman you have become. Lots of love sent your way to you and your family.
Brooke (Kendra Colter Hinkley's older sis)

Unknown said...

My dad died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was still legally married to a woman I barely knew. I told her I wanted to see my dad one last time and she said "oh honey you don't want to see him he blew up his head" it was not until he was in the ground that I talk to the detective and he said "you had every right to see him he only had a small hole in his head" not only did this woman prevent me from seeing my Father she would've had me believing the rest of my life that my father basically had no face left, and it was so untrue. So all I got was to put my hands on the casket and cry. You did what you felt was right at the time, kids are resilient. This is my first time hearing your story. I am so sorry that the world was such a cruel place for you for a while. May your life be peace from here on out.

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