Remembering Doria

One Father's Journey after the Death of his Daughter

“You’re Doing So Well”–The Sweet Illusion of Shock

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Tomorrow is an interesting day with a couple of milestones. Tomorrow is Becky’s last day before her Zoe leave. That’s a mark that we didn’t hit last year, so it’s kind of a nice bit of progress for this pregnancy.

Tomorrow is also the anniversary of Doria’s funeral. For “some reason,” that day seems to come to mind easily right now. Funny how that happens. Here is the most important thing that I remember about that day: It was the easiest day of this entire process. I can’t think of anything easier than funeral day. Obviously, a lot of tears, but the day was easy. This is why:

1. We saw a vivid picture of the hordes of people supporting us. The funeral was awfully well attended, and that was powerful and encouraging to us.

2. We started the day by visiting the funeral home for our last time with Doria’s little casket. We didn’t have the nerve to open it, because neither of us wanted to risk changing our last memories of Doria before giving her over to the funeral home. We sat and cried mostly in disbelief that this was happening. It was real, but not completely real yet.

3. That went more quickly than we expected, so we made a lunch date. It took 10 months before we ate there again, but we had a nice lunch.

4. We bought a cake and had it delivered to the funeral. We got to give on the sly, and that was fun. That kind of thing was us. We felt normal doing that, and we were giddy about it. There was some unintended comedy when the delivery people got to the church, but that made the cake scene a little sweeter.

Funeral day was easy. I still smile when I think back to that day. I cry, too, but with a smile. It was beautiful and it was easy. It was easy because we were still completely in shock. We needed to be in order to get through those first days and function. I’m grateful for shock, because it’s so necessary.

Thinking of it really led me to think of something that might help those who want to help grieving people. It’s so easy to base our evaluation of grieving people on how they look at the funeral. If we don’t wail like a TV funeral, then everything seems to be OK. In our case, it wasn’t possible visibly to see that I was really only running on adrenaline. I had been so focused and busy on getting towards funeral day that I was really just swept up in the whirlwind of events. I was spending time grieving, but I had no idea what it really entailed yet. I had held Doria’s body in my hands. I knew she was dead, but it was nowhere near real yet.

From a faith standpoint, it was easy. I was bothered that Doria died, and that God chose to let it happen, but it hadn’t really sunk in yet. A favorite passage that I’ve taught at a Bible college in Jamaica (http://www.fairviewbbc.com) happens in Hebrews 3 and 4, talking about the rest awaiting people in Christ. I wrote this quick little note for the back of our funeral program, and I found it easy. I don’t think I even blinked in the process, because I wrote at an amazing rate. This is the easy note:

Becky and I want to thank you for joining us today as we
mourn our loss and celebrate the wonderful gift God
gave us in Doria Charis. Our time with her was
short, but it has been a blessing we will never forget,
and a love we will never regret. After 10 years of
marriage, understanding that children were not an option
for our little family, we were gleefully shocked early this
year to find out that we were expecting our little gift of
grace. Over the next few months, we learned lessons
about love that we never even imagined, and we
watched God provide in stunning ways for our little
miracle. We loved the perfect pregnancy and the hopes
for our future time with her. Even though God had a
better plan that involved bringing her home, we rejoice
over every minute of these last few months. We are
grateful that our little Doria never had to experience
pain, and we anxiously await the day that we get to see
her in our heavenly home.

That was easy. I had no troubles and no doubts as I wrote that. Simple, straightforward, not a problem at all. That was sort of like the explanation Gloria Gaither gives in the first couple minutes of this video:

It was easy, because I didn’t know what I was getting into. At that stage, nobody really does. I knew that my daughter died. I knew that was going to last. I had no idea at all how that would affect my confidence, my ability to function, my faith, my outlook on life and every part of it, or anything else. It’s impossibly to know until it’s in the rear view mirror. I was living in the sweet illusion of shock, and that made funeral day easy.

That’s the trick if you want to help somebody early on. Don’t go for the easy visual once-over or a surface level conversation. Take the time and talk to them. Build that relationship to the point that they’re willing to trust you and talk to you. Find out what’s actually going on. The both of you might find out what they actually need.

But no matter what, don’t just take a quick glance and assume that everything is OK. Nothing is OK as early as funeral day. We just don’t know it yet, because we’re living in the sweet illusion of shock.

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9 thoughts on ““You’re Doing So Well”–The Sweet Illusion of Shock

  1. Excellent advice: “Don’t go for the easy visual once-over or a surface level conversation. Take the time and talk to them. Build that relationship to the point that they’re willing to trust you and talk to you. Find out what’s actually going on…don’t just take a quick glance and assume that everything is OK.” Nothing is OK.

    I think that it’s not uncommon for bereaved parents at times to appear to be “doing okay” following the death of a child. The patterns of automatic response are deep in us and there is a blessed numbness protecting us from the full impact of the loss. We’ve all heard instances of soldiers continuing to fight even though they are terribly wounded. It’s as if the wound doesn’t exist and doesn’t affect them at the moment. It’s only later that the full impact of the horrendous wound is known. The same is true, in my opinion, with bereaved parents. We initially soldier on, not realizing the depths of the wound because we are so numb. We go into a basic coping mode and rely on those automatic response patterns that are deeply engrained in us. What else can explain being able to actually do all that is involved in burying one’s child? So many important decisions to make in such a short amount of time – choosing a casket, a burial site, what to include in the services, what clothes to bury your child in. It goes on and on. It’s a lot to deal with.

    At Jason’s memorial service, I remember standing in a “greeting line” with my family in front of the church, talking to and sometimes comforting a bulk of the 500-some attendees. I don’t know how we did it. We were not okay; we just may have appeared that way. I would venture to say the same is true for other bereaved parents and their families. They appear to be okay, but they are not. Everything has changed; nothing will ever the same again.

    Good post. Thank you. Thinking of you today.

  2. You are so very right about this. I am just now realizing that getting through Lucy’s death was just the beginning. I thought her death was the worst and then I would gradually feel better and better. I had no idea! I’m six months out and I now know I’m still probably just in the beginning stages of the grief I will feel. I haven’t even had to get through a Christmas without her! I am thankful for those first few days and weeks of adrenaline that kept the pain at bay. It was a gift.

  3. You know, that is so true.

    I performed a song I wrote at Michael’s funeral and it was easy. The week leading up to it I spent worrying about whether I could keep my sh*t together while singing, if I could get the words out, if my fingers would fumble the chords, etc etc. But when I started playing, it was easy.

    It was the day AFTER that was hard….

    • We still aren’t convinced we moved the day after the funeral. I remember sitting down on the couch after waking up, and really nothing after that.
      It was like being an empty clump of lead with a big lead weight sitting there. Just a total nothing day.

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