Church at a Funeral

11 weeks is not enough.

I went to a funeral today…

I’m not a fan of funerals…

It breaks my heart to see the hurt and pain of loss in anyone’s eyes. I just prefer not to feel those emotions, if I’m being honest, so I avoid funerals if I can.

But I went to a funeral today. The funeral of a baby boy named Shepard. He was just 11 weeks old. He is the son of a dear friend of my wife, named Ali. We’ve known Ali since college, and she is one of the sweetest and most joy-filled people I’ve ever come across. Her children are the same…

Not quite a week ago, little Shepard passed away. I’ve struggled, every moment since, with these emotions of shock and fear…anger and confusion…pain and empathy…relief and gratitude…selfishness and guilt…

Those last two almost kept me from attending the funeral…

I was afraid to see what a family looks like that lost their baby. I was afraid because I have two of my own and I do not have the strength to deal with that kind of situation.

But my wife was stuck out of town on business and I wanted to be her representative. I knew it killed her to not be here for it, and I wanted to somehow show strength and support for her dear friend who always is there to do the same for us.

See, a month ago, I went through a crisis of sorts. A crisis of character and spirit, where I felt abandoned and uncertain about things in my past and future. In the week that followed, I was being pulled a lot of different directions by a lot of different people. I allowed myself to get pretty over-extended. I was emotionally drained. I wasn’t eating or sleeping enough…

I was empty.

But one evening, at the worst of this week, I came home to see Ali’s car in the driveway. I walked in the door and the first thing I heard were these soft, sweet baby noises!  My son came running out of his room with a huge smile on his face, so I asked, “Buddy, what is that sound I hear coming from your room?!” He replied, “Daddy! There’s a BABY here! A cute baby!” and ran off again. I chased him to his room and there was Shepard and Ali! They were both flashing the trademarked Walston-Dodd smile across their faces. They knew what had been going on and decided to bring my wife and me dinner and let Tripp and Kaitlyn meet Shepard.

They didn’t stay much longer after I got home, but I loved my chance to be around Shepard. I loved how my kids looked at him. I loved his smile and his little sounds….

I loved that Ali was so thoughtful to try and take care of me by bringing food, but I have a confession:

What she doesn’t know is that the restaurant only put my wife’s food in the bag. So after all her thoughtfulness and effort, there was no food! HAHA!

But on that day it most definitely didn’t matter. See, I lit up when I heard Shepard’s voice after I opened the front door. I was as excited to see him as my son had been! Like I said before, these are some of the sweetest most joyfilled people I know. And THAT was what I needed that evening.

Not food. Not restful silence.

I needed something as pure and innocent as that baby boy’s smile! I needed joy! And Shepard was overflowing with it.

I thank him for that…

So I went to a funeral today…

And God was there.

The love in the room for Shepard and his family was almost tangible. You could feel it all around you. So many lives touched by the memory of such a young soul. So much faith and hope in the room.

But the real magic came when the family addressed the people in attendance. The grandfathers spoke of what they remembered of their grandson. What they wished they could have gotten to see. How they long for the opportunity to see him again…

One of Shepard’s grandfathers said, “Shepard was a blessing to anyone who met him, and I’m sorry that more of you in the room didn’t get the chance to. But if you could have met him, he would have blessed your life too.”

I don’t know that his grandfather will ever see this post, but I want him and anyone else to know that those words are very true. Shepard was the bright point for me in a dark, dark day. I am so thankful to have met him.

But then Shepard’s Father spoke… I don’t know Derek well, but I ached for him. I prayed for him when I walked into the chapel. I prayed that somehow someway, in the coming days and weeks, that God would give him strength and comfort…

As it turns out, I should have prayed that prayer for myself… See, Derek looked out on the sea of green (Shepard’s big bro decided his favorite color was green!) and saw the people that had come to try to show him strength and support. But he also saw our pain and confusion and sadness. He saw that we were struggling and chose to improvise…for our benefit!

To put our minds at ease, he told us about the moments where he said goodbye to his son. Moments I could not imagine having to deal with. Moments I can’t even begin to understand. He explained how he has had his ups and downs with his relationship to God over the years, but on that day, as he did what no father should ever have to do, he said he never felt stronger! Never walked taller in his faith and beliefs! He knew what Christ’s love and sacrifice had done for us all and for Shepard and he wanted us to be comforted…

I thank him for that…

I walked into that room praying that God would begin to give them strength and comfort in the time to come, but He’d given them strength and comfort in the time already passed.

I thank Him for that…

Shepard…you are loved! You are missed!

4 thoughts on “Church at a Funeral

  1. I just found your blog on FB after another friend of mine posted this from you. I had seen the posting of the passing of Shepard and I cried when I read the first one. I cried when i read yours. While I haven’t lost a child, I’ve lost many others, a husband who died much too young at age 38, leaving me with two young sons ages 8 and 6. During dark times of my life I’m amazed at the number of people who uphold me but also amazed myself when I was able to uphold some others during those times. Shepard’s family is truly living a spiritual life to be able to give you light in your dark times. I can tell that God is doing good works though your words and life and i appreciate that you are sharing that with others.

  2. I am Derek’s aunt. I usually do not write anything in Facebook. But you took the time to bare your soul in such a beautiful and moving way. I share many of your thoughts. Thank you. Thank you, for writing so eloquently what grief and tears have clouded many of us from expressing. God bless you and your life.

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