The pace of the performance is moderately quick with other groups standing in the 'wings' of the snack area waiting to take their place onstage. Our signature piece is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Theme and Variations, and we play that first and last on our program so that all twenty students can participate. During the performing of the other songs the students who do not know them either stand in rest position with their violin under their right arm, or they sit on the stage. Only one person is allowed a music stand and that is the honored advanced student who plays all the harmonies. We arrive early for tuning instruments and answering the inevitable last minute questions, then go onstage row by row and perform for twenty minutes. After the performance many people crowd us to offer sincere thanks for the good music and also for the sheer joy of watching children, ages 5-40something perform together. I love it!
Most years I'm so excited and pumped and generally in the Christmas mood for this event that I just eat up all the attention, the hugs from the kids after the performance, and then Muffin and I stay and shop til we drop. Today I was continually aware that I needed to leave the hall quickly after the performance so that we could take my violin home and arrive at Kathy's service in a timely manner. One of our reunion group sisters came to the church early and placed "Reserved for Acts 29:1 Reunion Group" papers in the seats near the front. I texted them on my way to the church and Muffin parked as close to the door as he could. We had three minutes to spare when we were seated with all the other ladies wearing green.
Last week Kathy asked her pastor, David M., their friend (and ours), Larry B., to officiate her service. She only told us that she and her husband "made arrangements". David spoke to the congregation at large. Larry spoke to the family in particular. You see, Larry has been there. It was thirteen years ago that we stood with him and his first wife, Lana, as she died with cancer. We believed for her healing too. He spoke to that in the service and I needed to hear what he said.
I loved Lana. She taught my children so many things. She was their choir director at church. Their VBS instructor. Their camp counselor. And at school she was Kak's kindergarten teacher. I still remember songs she taught in that class and books they read. The best way I can describe Lana is that she reminded me of Ivory Soap. If you looked inside, at any layer of her, she was 99.9% pure all the way through. What you saw on the outside was what she was on the inside. Today Larry talked about one event of which I was unaware. The day she received the diagnosis that the cancer had returned she said "Damn it! I am so angry about this!" It's the only time in 29 years of marriage to her that he heard her use that word, and he thought she was angry at God, and just couldn't handle that. When he asked her if she was angry with God she looked at him as if he had lost his mind and told him that of course she wasn't angry with God, but at the cancer.
Larry also told of a night when he went to the grocery pharmacy to look for laxatives that would allow Lana some measure of comfort for the damage that cancer had done to her entire digestive system. He totally lost his composure when he realized that he was standing in the non-prescription aisle of a grocery store looking for a cure to cancer. Going to his truck in the parking lot, he cried out to God in anger and frustration and desperation and hopelessness. Afterward he heard the Lord say, "I love you, son". I needed to hear that.
Over the past years it has been hard to lose friends--Lana, Chris, Marlene, now Kathy, and many others. But it is devastating to also lose their families. After a beloved wife or husband dies, so many spouses are uncomfortable continuing in the same church because it is difficult to "move on" past the hurt. So they leave us. And we have to move on without everyone in their family that we loved deeply and stood with in very difficult times. And most of all, we never see them renewed and happy when the grieving is past. When I saw Kathy's family today, with Larry on the podium, I was acutely aware of that.
After Kathy's service we jetted across town to a little Lutheran church where respects were paid to one of my Mom's dear friends, Shirley. She bravely fought against acute leukemia for slightly more than one year, was in the hospital for two days, and went to be with Jesus twenty four hours before Kathy. Her family was dear to us. She was dear. Shirley and her husband supported me in my music performances and our family in all our celebrations and griefs.
Immediately after the second service I experienced a sensation of whiplash--from Christmas levity to two funerals--and a peaceful heaviness that remains.