A lot of large and important decisions must be made relatively quickly following the death of a loved one. There are many practical aspects of death that must be addressed. It’s bizarre to make nearly “business-like” decisions after death has stopped your world from turning. But you have to. So you do.
We chose to have Keller’s perfect body cremated. My sister found a funeral home that offered this service as well as an official death certificate. Having a death certificate was important to me. I needed some official document proving that Keller Norman Bartlett lived, even if recording his death was the only way to legally do so.
Going to the funeral home was an interesting experience. I am thankful for those who dedicate their lives to helping others say goodbye to loved ones. It is a job that has great potential to reach out and hug all of humanity and love them in their darkest moments. It is an incredibly selfless and mighty work.
The funeral home itself was rather macabre. The building was musty and the floor creaked with each step. The lights were kept low and an eery ambiance was cast through purple and yellow stained glass windows. It was almost as if the home was trying to manufacture sadness and sobriety. It made both Nathan and I feel uneasy. In our hearts, death is not something that needs visual and artificial aids in order for the audience to realize the somber finality of it all.
Everyone we worked with was kind and professional. We were asked if we wanted to purchase an urn before leaving. Honestly, looking at the urns made us shudder a bit. None of them made sense for Keller. We declined, and it was then I decided we should paint pottery.
Aside from my parents, our families had gone home. My parents had been busy pouring all the love they had pent up for Keller out on Mary. She was loved up while Nathan and I took care of practicalities, and took advantage of the quiet to mourn and draw closer. Not long after Keller’s memorial service, Nathan and I took Mary out to paint pottery. Nathan and I chose a small lidded box for Keller. Nathan would paint the lid, and I would paint the box. We let Mary choose anything she wanted to paint. We told her it would be her special thing we would keep on her shelf to always remember baby brother. She chose a little boy playing baseball. I think that is just so darling. I was expecting her to choose something bizarre like a lobster, but she thoughtfully picked a little boy. She has gifted us so many precious moments that I will for always treasure deep in my heart.
We were the only ones in the pottery studio. I think it was a Tuesday afternoon. We all sat and painted. There were no rules. There were no dim lights or mood lighting. It was a bright and cheery space. No one had any idea that the pieces we painted were heavy with significance and loss. We painted anything we wanted. Each little piece expressed a tiny bit of our love for Keller. Everything about that time and space was right. It was a “Keller moment”. It paid tribute to him in the best way we knew how.
Tomorrow is Keller’s first birthday. We have been at a total loss in how best to honor and celebrate his life. Our love for him cannot be fully captured in any one event. It’s been difficult, but I have accepted this. We have decided to spend the day as a family. We will have a picnic, eat birthday cake, and let Mary release a balloon so Keller can have some party decorations up in Heaven. (Mary let me know that God is making him a vanilla cake with sprinkles.) We will spend the day singing the hymns so closely tied to Keller’s life. We will play at the park and watch Mary’s toddler joy and imagine Keller crawling up beside her and flashing her smiles of big sister admiration. It will be our “Keller moment” – the best way we know to pay tribute to our son. We (Nathan and I) will stay up till 11:57 p.m. and light a candle for our boy. A candle to represent the light his life has shown in the middle of total darkness. We will listen to his memorial service and weep with our community all over again. We will praise our Lord for the incredible things He has done through Keller’s life. We will petition to our God for continued comfort, trust, and healing. We will pour our hearts to our God because we deeply long to hold our son again.
I imagine throughout our lives we will have many “Keller moments”. Quiet moments focused in on showing our love for our boy. These moments will join up to a lifetime of “Keller moments”, and even though he was never with us, Keller will keep on living and shining the light of Heaven. That’s Jesus. And that’s awesome.