Sunday, January 29, 2023

Friends in Heaven

I got ready for the funeral and thought of the strange timing. Do you ever think about that? What you were doing on this exact day two years ago, four, ten, twenty? Some days might be unmemorable while others could be exhilarating or sad. It can be difficult not dwelling on some of the harder days, when you knew life had reached its lowest …

It’s just that my son died twenty years ago, on Jan. 30.

Now, in 2023, I prepared to play at another funeral for a dear friend who changed my life after my cancer diagnosis. I’d gone to visit Layton Funk when treatments felt at their worst. We’d been talking for months online, discussing mortality and hardships, sickness and the afterlife. And after meeting him at the hospital where he lived, I left inspired. He had quadriplegia. How could I possibly feel bad for myself when I could walk and move my arms, paint and drive a car? A car accident robed him of everything over a decade before—yet, he remained positive and encouraged me to do the same.

I thought about both Layton and my son, as we drove to the service. I’d worn my best skirt, something I bought in Italy, just in case Layton decided to attend his own funeral. I didn’t want him haunting me for not dressing nice.

It’s strange how coincidental timing and such can transport you to the past. I remember when my son, Zeke, died during this time of year. I’d been so worried because he was a baby, and he didn’t really know anyone on the other side. It probably sounds ridiculous, but when I get scared—really scared—about death, I always envision my best friend, Adam, or my grandma waiting for me. I actually dreamed about it once: My grandma had on her red-checkered apron, and she held her arms out to me, so excited to show me around the afterlife. She practically glowed, just excited to see me. 

But my son wouldn’t have that. We had to take him off of life support. When he stopped breathing, I felt like I would die too, like I’d never be able to breathe again. Mainly because I didn’t want to keep living, not in that instant anyway. And I wondered who would show Zeke around Heaven. 

My thoughts turned back to my friend, Layton. It’s strange because I’d been practicing my violin before the funeral, and I got this distinct feeling like Layton was there, listening. And that he’d met Zeke! 

Anyway, the funeral service for Layton went beautifully. His family is so witty and fun. Even during the service, they knew when to be serious and when to make it a little bit lighter. I found myself wishing I could present them with adoption papers—I wanted to adopt the whole lot of them because I saw where Layton got his great personality.

Anyway, it came time for me to play. I can’t stand and play anymore because the pain from the tumors in my spine is too bad. And even with pain medicine, it hurts my neck to hold my fiddle. But no one could’ve pried the instrument from my hands because in that moment, I felt such power and love fill me to the brim. The only way to get rid of power like that is to play. 

I sat behind a bunch of flower arrangements; I wanted people to feel the music and not see the person playing. Then I forced out all of the emotion and sadness and gratitude for Layton, life, love, and friendship. I thought about the people I’ve lost and the love that I’ve gained. And I played with all of my soul, and I know this might sound far-fetched, but I swear Layton stood by me as I played. And I know he knew how much I loved him and appreciated his friendship. 

When I walked back to my seat, a bunch of people sobbed, even Trey—my teenage boy—leaned over and whispered, “I don’t know why, but I couldn’t help crying. That song you played, was overwhelming. I’m so glad I got to meet Layton, but I’m sad he’s gone. You know, we went there thinking we’d cheer him up. And he’s the one who changed our lives.”

“You’re right,” I said. “But I think he’s happy now. I really do.” I suddenly felt so much peace that Layton was healthy. His body didn’t seem broken anymore. And oddly, I got that same feeling that he’d met my son. 

I thought about Zeke then, that beautiful baby whose soul must’ve been too perfect for this world. It’s interesting that he was on life support, just like Layton and that they almost died on the same day just decades apart.

I don’t think these moments are coincidences anymore. Not really. To me, odd moments are simply opportunities to help bring us peace. I always worried Zeke didn’t know anyone in Heaven, but now I remember friends and relatives who have passed since his death, and I have faith they’ve met each other. 

So today, as I reminisce about two years ago, four, ten, twenty … I’m not sad anymore. I have peace that people die when they’re supposed to. Maybe we don’t understand it now, but we will someday. In this moment, I’m grateful people like Layton and my son aren’t trapped in imperfect bodies anymore. I think they’re enjoying the afterlife. And when they’re bored, maybe they occasionally stop by when they’d like to hear the fiddle.

From now until Feb. 2, the Kindle version of my memoir about Zeke, THE GOLDEN SKY, is available for free download on Amazon. It actually became a No. 1 bestseller for women’s memoir. I’m so grateful Zeke’s memory is living on. 

You can find that here:

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