This post has been half-written for a while. Its been a puzzle in my mind how our grief and celebrations of Summer’s life have covered all ranges of emotions. Sometimes I have felt like I was flippant and I am not grieving enough. Other times I feel like we are the only ones in the world to know this pain and nobody can relate. Both positions are completely off-base. Moments of grief and the memories I have been pulling from bring up all kinds of emotions.
Over the few days of Marie’s services, Summer’s visitation, and funeral… I felt the full range.
The funeral was one of the hardest moments of my life. Something about sending her down that aisle in the church sent my head and heart into deep sadness. We had been surrounded by friends the night before at the visitation… But that walk behind her down to the very front pews of the church felt like a very lonely walk. Angela had a firm grip and I am not sure how I did not buckle myself. I don’t really remember if I was able to see clearly as we processed behind her casket.
The mass was done well and I am thoroughly pleased at the job done by Father Andrejek. I will say that his normal confident tone was a bit off and I wondered if funerals are tough on him as well. There are some services that even a priest cannot get used to? Probably projecting… But he didn’t seem like his same old self during that mass. I felt like Father had his A-Team of Deacons for the service. I recognized every one of them and did not get a clear moment to thank them all.
Joe and Carla did readings and the Redell family brought up gifts during the mass. It was all very nice.
I did say I wanted 1000 people at Summers visitation… And I think we were short of that goal. But that was not a big deal.
I was so pissed when I made that statement. I was so mad. I was rage blogging and I think my ulterior motive was to show the world that Summer’s life mattered. It mattered to more people than just us. The world needed to be there to see this tragedy with us. It was purely selfish on my part to demand a “showing”.
I don’t regret it. But I do feel like my emotions took control and I was sure this would make me feel better. It didn’t. But it was a hell of a distraction.
August of 2016, a friend of mine passed away very suddenly. Her name was Samantha Hou and she was arguably too young of an age to die. 41 years old. Sam had made friends with Summer as one of the “moms” who ran the Pokemon League at The Game Room in Washington IL. I also knew her husband Jim from Scouting and his ownership of a 4runner (Of course, he was a customer!)
We were not the best of friends, but I knew Sam from Fort’s and we had become friends through Summer. Eventually, we made plans to have a family dinner and game night together at the Hou house in Morton. We had a grand night of “sushi” themed food based on social media nonsense. I had made a bacon-wrapped sausage and cheese sushi roll on the grill and we mimicked that for the dinner. Summer and I made rice crispy sushi rolls with Swedish fish toppers to complete the look. After dinner, we played “King of Toyko” as a big group.
It was a grand night and one I will always remember. Total fun with parents and kids.
I don’t remember how long it was after that dinner and when Sam got sick and passed… But it didn’t seem like that long of a time. We chatted online all the time and I would never have pictured her as someone who would get sick and die at a young age. 41 with two teenage kids… That’s too young.
When we went to the visitation in Morton I was overcome with pain and anguish. The vision of the boys sitting in the front row while their Dad, Jim was shaking hands and talking to people had me in tears. Those tears continued all the way through the line and eventually to me shaking Jim’s hand. I was bawling. Jim smiled and said “It’s OK… Sam would be happy you came, she liked you guys a lot!”.
I walked away with pockets soaked in wet tissues. I could not understand how Jim was so cool and collected during such a time of hardship.
Greg from Henderson Funeral Home had called us and said to show up early that day as he had heard through the rumor mill that it was going to be a big crowd at Henderson’s for Summers visitation. Angela and I had a few minutes with Summer before the rest of our immediate family showed up to be there before the doors opened to the public.
Angela and I had a moment together and hugged in front of Summer’s open casket. I made some petty, small adjustments of Summer’s bracelets and was content that she looked presentable. This, as I said before, was not the vibrant and beautiful girl that I was watching grow into a woman. This was the tough remnants of the warrior who busted her ass to get through her diagnosis. I knew this version of Summer very well from our last year in intense treatment. Battle-worn, but still a beautiful young lady.
We had a few people, (very smart ones!) who started trickling in at 3:30 to give their condolences. Those first few folks were a blur. I don’t think we had any idea what we were doing. We shook hands and said “Thanks” a lot.
The mood was professional and somber as the room was barely occupied. Music could be heard on the audio system and cattle rails seemed like overkill.
That changed very quickly. By 5 PM… We were in a pretty decent crowd of people. It was a grand mix of people from all of our lives. Summers friends from High School, College, and even St Jude were there in force. Angela’s friends and coworkers and a lot of Delavan folks from the Baptist Church came up. Of course, I had coworkers and folks from all facets of my career at Fort’s. I was extra surprised by the friends from years ago that made the trip from all over the state to pay respects. Even some childhood friends that I had not seen in 30-plus years! (Richard!)
Going into that room at 2PM… I was sure that I was going to be that same guy that couldn’t get through a visitation of a casual friend without crying and crying. Somehow… As we shook hands with friends, strangers and family. I became Jim. At one point… Nate’s Grandfather was standing away from the casket as he was tearing up and crying. I was not crying with him. I was consoling him and thanking him for how awesome his family is.
Strength was being transmitted through the masses of people in the room to us. There were some many lovely people at the visitation that it was hard to be consumed in grief. Words of consolation were then followed up by what an amazing person Summer was. We were hit by wave after wave of support from all of these people.
I remember while Angela and I were standing in line how my family members and friends would ask if we needed a break. Do we need some food? Water? Drinks? I kept looking towards the back of the room and started to realize that this group of people was now stretched through the chairs, the “bank” dividers, and into the foyer (I later found out it was outside the building as well). There was no way I could step away and use the hospitality suite to “chill out”. Even wearing my “church” shoes with numbing pain could not convince me to take the bait and step away.
Throughout the night I kept looking at my watch. Time kept ticking away, hour after hour. When 7 PM showed up… I was thinking, are we going to get all of these people cleared out of here by 8 PM? When 8 showed up and I wondered the same thing for 9. Then 10 and finally 11.
Our final visitors were shaking our hands around 11:10 PM. I was exhausted, but we still felt like we needed to stay and clean up the room. Greg and his wife had been very kind throughout the whole night to not make us worry about the crowd. But, we felt like the mess we left was inconsiderate on our part. We were assured that it was fine and to get home for some rest.
The funeral service at St. Josephs in Pekin was at 10 AM and we had to be back at the Funeral home at 9. There was not much time to rest.
My lips were cracked and my throat was sore from all the talking over the last 9 hours. I realized before bed that all those people asking us to step down and rest were probably hitting us up every hour over the 9-hour span we had in the greeting line. Those hours went by in a flash.
We had the reception for the funeral mass at Maquets Railhouse in Pekin. I don’t recall seeing much of the crowd in attendance at the funeral, but I knew that it was a decent size. I had lamented that if half the crowd that showed up for the visitation made it to the Railhouse… We were going to be way over the seating allowed by Maquets on the newer east side of the restaurant.
Summer worked at Maquets for a few months when home from SIU and had a great time. She absolutely loved working with the other waitresses and the staff manager Kami. Not that she had a lot of jobs, but she declared in the past that it was her favorite job she had ever had.
I was talking to Chris and Chrystal Durand when they came by the house to bring us food and supplies in the days after Summer passed. We were lamenting that there was not a banquet hall or someplace to go in Pekin. I even said to Chris, maybe I can convince the Fort’s to let us use the store as a get-together spot for the mob of people after the service.
Chrystal and Kami are pretty tight. I think they were talking about it and formulating a plan before I could get my wits together. Kami reached out to me and made the offer to use the room and that Dustin would supply Italian beef at no charge. Guests would have to pay for their own drinks.
I’m telling you. This is one more example of the love and support we have from Summer and our friends. Dustin and Kami stepping up on this saved us so much time and energy (Both of which were in short supply). This was one more thing we did not have to worry about.
As it turned out.. We had a lot of people show up to the restaurant. Our group took some tables on the “regular” side of the restaurant, while our blocked-off side turned into a standing room only. We had a lot of folks who walked in and turned around to leave once they saw the crowd. I felt bad, but overall, I think we accomplished our goal of having a place to socialize after the 2 days of intense ups and downs.
The tears from the funeral service had now dried and I found myself hugging lots of people while holding a cold beer in my hand. Maquets, surrounded by family and friends was certainly the right place to be. Summer would have been very happy. I know that with certainty.
This week, we got the nicest card from Terry in physical therapy at St. Jude. I love thinking about those days when Summer would drag herself into his area for a workout. Good day or bad she toughed it out with Terry. He was certainly one of our favorite people during treatment.
I said it during treatment, and I will repeat myself… I miss being in treatment. I miss being in the chemo regimen. The security of knowing we had a timeline and a plan was one of the few constants during this past year. I would go back and do it all over again. Every appointment. Every PT visit. Every day we sat on the couch at Target House together. Every coffee at Rambling Joes. Give me those 9 months anytime versus the end of treatment and release.