Sunday, September 7, 2014

all things now living

It all happened so fast.
A hand on my arm. Mom's soft voice rousing me from my slumber. "It's Oma." She was somber. Whatever I was dreaming vanished in a heartbeat. It was 5:00am. Too early for casual news.
"Is she gone?" I asked haltingly.
"Not yet, but soon."

The morning was calm, but laden with significance. Measured. Decisive. My parents had already been up for hours, checking for flights, speaking with nurses long-distance, and considering options. They caught us up and we helped them with the decisions. How does one pack or plan for a journey of unknown duration? Just in case, should one bring funeral clothes? Dad looked through his files trying to find the instructions for his mother's funeral, just in case. They weren't there.

It was Father's Day, and this was not the plan. We were supposed to have a family breakfast with the whole crew. Then Danny and I and the kids would continue our journey westward to meet our moving truck at our new home in Oregon, leaving my parents, my brother and his family behind. A new plan emerged: we would drive my parents to the airport on our way out of town. They would fly to Bellingham, rent a car, and hope to make it to the hospital in time. Meanwhile we would drive as fast as we could to Oregon, unload our truck, and head north, either to see Oma, or . . ..

We ate breakfast together as planned, and prayed and cried (in that order). It was a precious time. Then we loaded up and left, with our hearts in our throats. I called the hospital on the way and asked the nurse to bring Oma the phone. She struggled to breathe and to talk, but sounded grateful to hear my voice, as I was to hear hers. I tried to calm her agitation by telling her that she could just rest; there was nothing left for her to do. Nothing for either of us to do, really, but rest and receive what was given. It was Wyoming, hours later, when the tears started flowing and wouldn't stop.

My dear Oma. My strong, independent, and witty grandmother. She was one of the bravest people I knew, and yet how I wanted to stand beside her and squeeze her hand and help her be brave one last time.

My parents enter the memorial service for Dad's Mom
It didn't take long. The next morning I awoke in our trailer somewhere in western Wyoming to the sound of my cell phone buzzing. Oma had slipped away in the night. The next days were a whirlwind. We finished our drive "home" in one day. While we waited for our truck to arrive the next morning, I prepared a slide show for Oma's funeral and gathered my thoughts. Dad asked for ideas of hymns Oma liked, because he couldn't find her list of favorites. Neither could I.

Oma's brother, nieces, and nephew sing
 "Great is Thy Faithfulness"
With the help of friends, we unloaded the truck in just a few hours, and in a few more hours I had located all of our funeral clothes. Early the next morning we drove the 6 hours to Bellingham and reconvened with my parents and my brother, who had flown in with his family. A few hours later the service was underway, ready or not. The next morning we loaded all of Oma's things on another moving truck and drove it back to our new home, exhausted. Oma had died late scarcely 3 1/2 days earlier, and now my own home was filled with memories of her.

It was a few days or even weeks later that I opened one of Oma's boxes and found her hymnal. Inside the back cover, as I might have guessed, was a list of hymns she wanted to have sung at her funeral (you think about things like this when you're 93). We looked them up, but none were songs we actually sang at the service. Then came the inspiration -- wouldn't Oma be honored if we taught those hymns to her great-grandchildren? And so we began.

Each evening after dinner we read a Psalm and then sing our hymn together. I don't know how these things work, but if Oma can see us now, I'm sure her heart swells at the sight of Easton (age 6) singing with gusto. These hymns may have been picked out for Oma's funeral, but they were written for the living, not the dead. In this new home, gathered around my grandparents' table, our faith is being formed verse by verse.

Let all things now living, a song of thanksgiving 
to God the creator triumphantly raise,
who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
who guides us and leads to the end of our days.
His banners are o'er us; his light goes before us,
a pillar of fire shining forth in the night.
'Til shadows have vanished and darkness is banished 
as forward we travel from light into light.

His law he enforces, the stars in their courses,
the sun in its orbit obediently shine.
The hills and the mountains, the rivers and fountains, 
the deeps of the ocean proclaim him divine.
We still should be voicing our love and rejoicing
with glad adoration our song let us raise
'Til all things now living unite in thanksgiving, 
to God in the Highest, Hosanna and praise!

-by Katherine K. Davis, 1939

Today would have been Oma's 94th birthday, but I would not wish her back. Her creator guided her gently until the end of her days. No shadows darken her path now. As we hold her memory in our hearts, we turn to face life head on, joining the growing chorus of those singing God's praise.


  1. Beautiful tribute! I will look forward, someday, to hearing you all sing your Oma's hymn together!

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your Oma, Carmen! Knowing members of the next two generations of her family as we do, she must have been one incredible woman.