Saturday May 21, 2011 was the day we said goodbye to our precious firstborn son, Gideon.
It was a beautiful day. Beautiful because the Lord was there, through it all.
My heart wasn't just broken, it was smashed into dust. Can a heart that destroyed be mended again? Yes, I know God can mend it, but not without painful scars that are left.
Saturday morning I woke up in tears, bawling, not able to breathe, to get ready to our son's funeral. I was like a walking zombie. A walking, crying zombie. I was in a cloud of fog. I would just stand still, not knowing what to do and cry. I remember thinking "you have to stop crying for about 5 minutes so you can put on makeup!" I am so glad that someone invented water-proof mascara. I have a bracelet for my family. I made it from the really pretty beads. I started wearing it before I got pregnant with Gideon, It has a "T" and an "S" and an "A" for Avery, the baby we lost to miscarriage. I had bought a "G" for the bracelet about a month before, but never added it to the bracelet. Well, I had to add it. He had to go on this bracelet. So I sat, in my dress, fully in makeup, adding the "G" to this bracelet. And I wept. I didn't realize that this would be my bracelet for my children in heaven.
I remember looking at myself in my dress, and thinking I still looked pregnant. It was horrible. Todd was so handsome. We didn't want people to dress in black for Gideon's funeral. I wanted to see color. His life brought so much color to my life and changed me. He would never suffer or feel any pain, and so even though we were mourning, we wanted people to dress in color. Todd wore a red shirt, a black and silver tie (my favorite tie he owns) and gray slacks. I wore a black and white maternity dress that I had worn while pregnant with Gideon, and red shoes. I didn't want to wear that maternity dress, but I didn't fit back into anything I already had, except for a couple of black dresses I owned and I didn't want to wear all black. And the idea of shopping for something new was too much for me. I couldn't go to the mall and try on clothes when my baby was dead. I just couldn't do it. So I wore my maternity dress. The last time I wore I was filled with the life of my son, and Todd and I had a wonderful evening. So I felt it was right for me to wear it.
We left to make the hour drive to the funeral home and cemetery. I don't remember what Todd and I talked about, I know we talked a little about the day ahead. But what do you say as you drive to your son's funeral? What words can you say to his daddy to make it better? What does he say to his hurting mommy?
As we arrived, my parents and Todd's mom was already there. As was our best friend, Jason. Lots of hugs were given and already lots of tears. Not a lot was said, but what do you say? I felt better because we were physically close to the body of our son. Something about that proximity makes me feel better. Even today, when I am at Gideon's place, his plot, I feel better. Maybe because he and I were connected, our bodies tied together, his whole life. And because we were so close, it gives me a little peace to be near where he is.
It amazing how I can recall the emotions of that day so perfectly. I am sitting here, feeling the exact same feelings I did that day. There are no words that can describe it; sadness, disbelief, foggy, shock, pain, joy that my son is in heaven, peace, being ripped apart, and love. But all of those together cannot capture what was going on inside our hearts as we walked into the funeral home to say our last goodbye.
We walked inside and gave them the pictures of Gideon to set up. We had some of the pictures of Gideon printed and framed so people could see the beautiful face of our son. Only a few people got to meet him, and I wanted to share him with those who loved him and love us. I still have those pictures (and some more) and they hang in our house. I was told later by someone that he wasn't sure how he felt about looking at the pictures of Gideon. Until he saw them. Then he said that he thought they were beautiful. And indeed they were, because the subject of the picture was beautiful: our son.
I did a lot of standing and staring blankly and crying. I know Todd did a lot of crying too. As we walked into the chapel, I looked at the front of the room and bawled. This is where in just a couple hours time, we would say goodbye. The front of the room was beautiful. So many people sent flowers. I was shocked. I didn't know that Gideon had touched people enough for them to send flowers and plants. I was so thankful. I was so glad that we had this beauty in the front of the room, and had the pictures that I took of Gideon's hands and feet. I am extremely thankful that we had something beautiful to look at during the service and not just a blank wall. Todd and I spent time looking at each plant and arrangement, and reading the cards. So thankful for each one of them.
We had decided to have the graveside first, and then do the memorial service. We invited family and very close friends to the graveside. We knew it would be hard enough for our family and close friends to see his tiny casket and we didn't want that sitting at the front of a big room during the memorial service. We had a closed casket. We wanted people to see his pictures and to know what he looked like before; before they have to embalm and all of that. I hate the idea that they did that to my son's body. But I know that is not where my son dwells, he is with the Father. Knowing he isn't there, in that body, made it easier.
As people arrived for the graveside, each time someone would walk in the room, they would start bawling and wrapped their arms around me and Todd. It was like my heart was breaking into even more pieces. Todd and I held each other and wept. We wept with disbelief and extreme, indescribable sadness. How do you say goodbye to your child? We sat in the front of the room and with our arms grasp tightly around each other, wept and wept. That entire day, it was like Todd and I were tied together by an invisible rope, where he went, I would follow, and where I went he would go. We needed each other, physically near, to survive. However, sometimes we would have to walk away from each other. I know I didn't like it when he was too far from me. I think because I had to be far away from my son, I didn't want to be away from my husband. At one point, Todd was talking with his family in the chapel and I went and sat down in the front pew, near him. I just couldn't stand anymore. I was physically weak from grief. My 2 best friends and little sister came around me and hugged me as I cried.
I don't remember much about when people started arriving. I remember the emotions, but not the order of events. I remember hugging everyone who came in. I remember the emotions I felt each time I looked each person in the face. I remember their words and their embraces. I remember when one of my friends got there, Heather. Her husband was my youth minister and we are still friends. She was the first person, outside my immediate family and best friends who openly wept with me. She cried loud. She wrapped me in a strong embrace and we both sobbed. She was the only person that day, outside my family, who recognized that I had just delivered a baby and all the physical aspects of that. She has 5 children herself and so knows about having babies. It is physically draining to have a baby, and it hurts. Your body is sore and your hormones are crazy, and you start to produce milk. I told her that my milk had come in and it was very painful, physically and emotionally. It was hard to know that I was supposed to be feeding my son with that milk, instead I was wishing for it to go away.That milk should be giving nutrients to my son, instead the milk had nowhere to go, and so it built up and I had plugged milk ducts all over. It hurt every single time someone hugged me. Another reminder of what I had lost.
Imagine losing your son, just weeks before he was due to be born, imagine all of the dreams gone, imagine losing all of the hugs, smiles and laughter, imagine the pain you would feel. Just imagine it. And it is even worse than that. It is worse than you can fathom.
As everyone arrived, we did more hugging and crying than I even knew was possible. I cant even describe it. Each person's heart was open and vulnerable to the hurt. Each person who came beside us that day, blessed us in a way that I cannot even explain. The love and the pain that was mixed in that room was incredible. The love for our son, the love for Jesus and the pain of all that was lost. The hope for eternity, yet the pain of having to live in the temporal.
I was surprised at how many people came to his graveside. I don't know why it was so surprising, my immediate family alone (my parents, siblings, in-laws, nieces & nephews) is 25 people. then add my aunts and uncle, my cousins, Todd's parents and family, and our closest friends. There were over 50 people there (maybe more), 50 people for the "small" graveside service. Just a tiny glimpse of how many lives our son touched. How many people who love us and who love Gideon.
After everyone for the arrived for the graveside service, I was told it was time, the first step in saying goodbye. I held Todd's hand, and we walked to the gazebo that held the casket where our son lay. The weather was beautiful. It was not hot like it can be in May. The sun was shining and there was a breeze in the air. It was like God was giving us a small blessing that day. As we walked to the gazebo, I saw the casket sitting there. The place where our son's body was. It was so tiny, that casket. So tiny. To hold the body of our 2lb 11oz little boy. I am so glad we saw it a couple days before so the size wouldn't surprise us. Still, it was hard, because our son was in there. And I wanted to get him out! I had an irrational thought that if I could get him out of there, it would be all better. If I could get him out of there, Todd and I could take him and drive away and everything would be ok!! But I knew that was my grief talking. Todd and I held hands as we approached the gazebo. Both of us with tears streaming down our faces. Mommy and daddy, clinging to each other as they prepare to say goodbye to their first born son.
On the walk, we passed the place where our son would be buried, a small hole, covered by green material. His final resting place.
Gideon's graveside service was perfect. I know it seems strange to say that your son's funeral was perfect, but it was. I wouldn't change a thing about it. I was so blessed by it. The Lord was present and He was there to wrap His arms around us. Everything that happened at that service was amazing. Todd later said that, after the service started, it was the first day in a week that he felt any peace, that Gideon's funeral was filled with peace and hope. And he was so right, the entire day, the graveside and the memorial service were perfect.
We sat in the front row of the gazebo, right in front of the tiny casket. Todd was on my left and my parents sat next to me. Todds mom was next to my parents and Todd's father and his wife were next to Todd. My siblings and their kids sat behind us and then the rest of my family who could find a seat available sat. All of Gideon's family. Everyone else had to stand around the seating area. Lots of people surrounding us. Lots of love. Lots of people to say their goodbye.
Psalm 46 if you want to read it). No one at the funeral, but me and Todd really knew the significance of this song in Gideon's life.
The Lord is my refuge and strength
therefore I will not be afraid
though the mountains give way and fall into the sea
He will come and rescue me
The Lord comes to me at break of day
He reaches down to guide me in His way
though the oceans roar in this dark and stormy sea
He will come and rescue me
Hallelujah, He is with me
Hallelujah, we cannot be moved
Hallelujah, He is with me
Hallelujah, I rest secure
Be still and know that he is God
He will be exalted over all
come and behold His strength and majesty
He will come and rescue me
Hallelujah, He is with me
Hallelujah, we cannot be moved
Hallelujah, He is with me
Hallelujah, I rest secure
After she sang, it was our turn. Todd had written a poem for Gideon. Todd wrote most of it and I helped add a little bit of it. As we were trying to look for something to put into the service pamphlet (what I call "Gideon's playbill") all of the poems that other people had written didn't fit our boy. Todd said that none of them were right, and they were very "woe is me." Of course we are devastated that our son is gone, but our hope in the Lord is greater than that, and our son gave us so many amazing things in his short life. And Todd wanted to share that. And we wanted something special, just for him. Todd wanted to write something just for our son, he wanted to be able to do something for him, as his daddy. There are many things Todd will never get to do for Gideon, but he had to do this. So Todd wrote a poem for Gideon. It took him about 5 minutes to write it, the words flowed out of him like a wave. Flowed out of his heart; the loving heart of a proud daddy.
Thank you GideonThank you for showing us how deep a love can go
Thank you for touching the core of our souls
Thank you for showing your personality through your kicks inside mommy
Thank you for bringing such beauty in the world
Thank you for changing our lived and the way we see everything
Thank you for being the miracle that we desperately needed
Thank you for being you
We love you and will always miss you so much
---Mommy and Daddy
We stood to leave after our pastor closed in prayer. And my heart was breaking. I was about to walk away from my son's body for the last time. I held in sobs. If I had let them out, if I had let it all out, I would have had to been carried back into the building. I could barely walk as it was. If I hadn't God's strength and peace holding me, I would have fallen to my knees and grasped his casket. I might have fallen to the ground in a weeping mess of agony. Instead, Todd and I walked to his casket, and we rested our hands on it. Gideon and I were physically tied together for such a long time, and now I had to walk away, for good. Eventually, after a few minutes, I said "Goodbye" and Todd and I turned and walked away. That was one of the hardest moments of my life. Walking away from my son for good. That would be the last time we would be that close to our son's physical body. The last time our family would be in close proximity to each other. The last time. On this earth.
We walked back past our son's final resting place, past the hole that would hold his body. And in moments after we all walked into the building. Our son's body was lowered into that hole. So final. It was one door that closed. Its strange because I hadn't given much thought to him being lowered into the ground until later and I saw the mound of dirt. Then it truly hit me.
The funeral director is a family friend of ours, Will. He is married to my little sisters very close friend, Jessie and her mom, Kerry, and my mom are great friends. We went to church with their whole family when I was a teenager. And our families are very close. Jessie and Kerry were with me at the hospital and both of them held Gideon. So, it seemed right that Will, our friend, would be the one to take care of Gideon. Well, Kerry's son works at the funeral home and in my mind he is just a kid. (He is now 18). He was the one who actually lowered Gideon's casket into the ground and covered it with dirt. I am so glad that someone who loves me, and who loves my son was the one who buried him. Two people who took care of him at the funeral home, loved him. That means so much to me. So someone who cared about my son put him in his final resting place. If it couldn't be me, then I am so thankful it was him. I know it was really hard on him to do that, but I am so glad someone who loved Gideon did.
After we got back inside, everyone else started arriving. Lots of people. Friends from the church I grew up in, friends from our new church, friends from my job, friends from high school, friends from our college who lived out of town and drove hours to get there, friends we have met along the way in life. So many people came. So much love. Also, I know that at that time, we were being prayed for by hundreds of people who couldn't come to the service.
The room was filled with people. I hugged every person who I came across.I am so thankful for each and every one of the people who came to honor the life of our son. To each person who loves us and who loves Gideon. I hold a special place in my heart for you. I remember all the hugs and all the looks of hurt. Your tears meant more to me than I can express. As our friends and family grieve with us, it means so much. It means that our son will not be forgotten, that he is loved and missed.
I figure there were at least 120 (or more) people at Gideon's funeral! Wow. It amazes me to this day. So many people touched by the life and the death of our Gideon. Gideon had a bigger impact on the world that I could even see at that point. The chapel was filled with so many people.
So many people at the funeral for a baby who never breathed outside my womb.
I remember there was one moment as everyone was filing in, I was trying to kind of play hostess. I was talking to everyone, thanking them for being there and crying. There was a lull in people who were coming and I had nothing to do in that moment. No one to say hello to, no one to give comfort to me. And I just stood there, not knowing what to do. I blanked out and froze. I got very confused as to what to do, what to say. And I said "I think I am just going to stand here a moment." My friends who were near me said "Thats ok, Stormy." And I knew it was ok, it was ok to not know what to do. It was ok to stare off into space. It was ok to not have the words to say to people. The only thing I needed to do was grieve our son and say our last goodbye.
We were told it was time to start the service and Todd and I slowly, with tears in our eyes as we choked back sobs, we sat in the front row of the chapel. I was in awe at how many people were there. The entire chapel was filled. So many people there to remember the life of a little boy who died before he was born. Todd sat on my left side and my parents on my right, our family sitting behind us. Music begins to play. I selected the song "Glory Baby" by Watermark to play at this service. The song doesn't fit our situation exactly, it is about their loss through miscarriage, so their experience was different than ours, but some of the lyrics pierce my soul. "Miss you every day, miss you in every way; but we know there's a day when we will hold you, we will hold you. And you'll kiss our tears away, when we're home to stay. Can't wait for the day when we will see you, we will see you. But baby let sweet Jesus hold you, til mom and dad can hold you. You'll just have heaven before we do."
Todd and I held onto each other, I put my head on his shoulder and cried. Because even though our sweet boy is in heaven and even though we have memories of him and even though I got to hold him and snuggle with him, its not enough. I hurt. We miss him so much.
Our pastor got up and spoke, he prayed for every single one of us and prayed for me and Todd. He said "Gideon Zeller Mitchell was born in to heaven on May 17th 2011, he was 2lb 11oz and was 15in long." Hearing those words seemed so surreal. Our son was truly gone, and as these words were being spoken, we had to say goodbye.
Next, he read all of Gideon's family: First he said "Gideon Zeller Mitchell is survived by his parents Todd and Stormy Mitchell" That was heartbreaking. He was supposed to outlive us, not the other way around. My heart continued to break. He then named Gideon's grandparents, his great grandparents, Gideon's aunts and uncles and cousins.
I have the notes from the service, the notes that our pastor spoke from. I wanted a copy of them, and he gave me the originals. I wanted to go and look through them, and read them today, but it hurt too much. I just couldn't do it. So I will share this part of Gideon's service from my memory. I dont remember the exact bible verses he read, or exactly what he said, but I remember feeling the Lord's peace spoken as the Word was being read and as our pastor spoke.
Our Pastor told stories from Gideon's life. He told how Gideon loved the night life, how he would be up late at night with mommy. And he quoted a classic rock song, and everyone, including me and Todd, laughed. I am a night owl and so was Gideon, it was our special time get got to spend together. He told how Gideon loved Icees and that I drank them constantly during my pregnancy. He told how Gideon danced around inside of me at the Tim McGraw concert, he loved country music like his daddy. And he told how, just 4 weeks before, at my grandma's funeral, Gideon moved all around inside of me as the Word was being spoken, as the story of Jesus was being shared. He spoke about Gideon. He told everyone who Gideon was. Because he was a little person, with a little personality, with likes and dislikes. He was a beautiful little creation of God.
Our pastor told of our journey to get pregnant with Gideon, that it took 3 and a half years, and that Gideon's life, was a miracle. His existence went against all odds. He told how loved and wanted Gideon was. And he told how just 1 week before we conceived Gideon, God spoke loudly and clearly into my heart and said "The child I give you will bring many to Me." And our pastor explained how that even though his life was short, that Gideon's life will and has been used by God. And that, indeed, many people have been and will be brought to Him through Gideon's life. Our pastor told how Gideon's life served a purpose. That even though it was only a short time, his life was purposeful.
And he spoke of the resurrection. That one day, those of us who know Jesus, will walk again on the New Earth. We will be embodied again and will live forever. One day we will walk this earth with Jesus and Todd and I will be there with Him. And we will join Gideon there. All of this life is leading to that life.
I remember laying my head on my strong husband's shoulder with tears running out of my eyes, as my mom held my hand. I remember hearing cries coming from the people sitting near us. I know that most every single person in the room was in tears. A room full of people who have to say goodbye to a little boy before most of them even got a chance to say hello.
The service seemed to go by so quickly. Its like it went by in a blur, in just a short amount of time, I had to be ready to say goodbye to my son. I wasnt ready for that. I didnt want it to be over. I didnt want my son to be gone. But I have come to realize that no amount of time on this earth would be long enough. We said an ending prayer and the funeral people had us stand up and walk out of the room. Todd put his arm around me and mommy and daddy walked out of the chapel after saying goodbye to their son. I could barely look at the faces of everyone. It hurt too much. All these people who I loved, who loved us, who loved our son, staring at us with pained looks on their faces, looks of despair, with tears in their eyes.
We stood in the foyer near a table that had some pictures of Gideon on there. And everyone came and hugged us, I remember the faces of everyone. I remember their words, I remember their embraces. I remember the sound of Todd's voice talking to people. I would tell all the things that were said to us, but that would take so very long to write out. Just know that I remember. Very clearly, I remember. Some things that were said to me, I know were from the Lord, Him giving comfort.
It was as if I was moving through jello. Everything physical took effort. To speak, to hug, to give small smiles to people. I was overwhelmed and blessed by every person who came to love us. I cannot tell everyone what it means to me that they were there. Their hugs were reassuring. By the time we got done hugging over 150 people, my arms were exhausted. I could barely lift them. It took so much energy to hug everyone because every hug was a strong, emotional embrace. I could give nothing else. And I was very hot. I remember sweating and needing to fan myself.
After the line had dwindled down and most people were milling around and talking, Todd and I were standing and talking to some friends, and I realized that people around me were having normal conversations. It seemed so strange to me. I know that people have to talk, and I didn't think it was bad, it just seemed off. I mean, what else are people supposed to talk about? They talk about normal things. But because I was not normal their conversation seemed off kilter. It was like their lives got to move forward, but my heart was still with our son. They were the same, I am extremely different. They got to laugh, and laughter helped them to feel better, but when I laughed, it was hollow and actually made me hurt more. Everyone else got to go on living, while part of me died.
We said our goodbyes to everyone. More hugs and more tears. I got to talk one on one with 2 very good friends who I hadn't seen in a while. It took a very long time for everyone to leave, it was a couple hours after the service that everyone went home. Maybe some of those people didn't want to say goodbye either. Maybe they needed more time. One of my friends said that Gideon's funeral was the hardest day of her life. I know that it was one of the hardest days for me, and I knew that we had (and still have) many difficult days to follow.
And as most everyone else went on to their normal life, we got prepared to go on to our very not-normal life. The room seemed empty and lonely. My heart was lonely. And only our Gideon could fill that loneliness. We made plans to go have dinner with my parents, brother & sis-in-law and Todds father and step-mother. But it all seemed strange. A huge chunk of my heart was missing, and yet I was having to go and do normal things. After everyone was gone my body was physically drained. I was emotionally and physically empty. I couldn't cry at that time. I shed so very many tears that day.
Before we left, we walked to where they had buried Gideon. As we were hugging our friends and family, the funeral home put some of his flowers out at his plot and they would stay there until they started to die. I loved that there would be something out there, so that when people walked by, they knew that a family had just said goodbye. We took all the live plants home with us, and I gave one to each of my sisters and a couple to my parents and I kept a couple.
I have come to realize that its not dealing with his death that is the hardest part, its the fact that his life is no longer in my life.
We said our goodbyes that day. And it was indescribably difficult to have a funeral for our infant son, to say our last goodbye. Saying goodbye to him was the hardest thing I have ever done, but it wasn't saying goodbye without hope. We have hope for the eternal and we know our goodbye is not the end. We sob and grieve and ache, but with hope. Because we have the promise of the Eternal our goodbye is only temporary.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with the great expectation and we have a priceless inheritance-- an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by this power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as a fire tests and purifies gold--though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. -1 Peter 1:3-7