Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Jean's Funeral on Glee inspired this post...

Would you believe that of all episodes that I choose to watch with Ty, it was one about Sue losing her sister, Jean? Her sister with special needs.

I could totally relate to how the Glee kids wanted to honour Coach Sylvester's unique and wonderful sister- "You told us that Jean was so special, so we wanted her funeral to be show the joy of her life, not the sadness of her death".

Maybe it was a way to inspire a conversation about Zack between Ty and I (yes!) or maybe it was to allow Ty to know that other people lose siblings too (which it did) or maybe it was to assure me that creating unusual funerals is okay and in fact, beautiful (yup), and perhaps it was to inspire this that I wasn't quite sure how I would write. While Ty and I watched, we were able to see so many similarities in the situation. It was sad, but lovely.

I'll start this story with the conversation Paul and I had the morning we left Zack's body at SickKids to come home to tell his brothers that he had died. While we took that long, sad drive home, we talked about the unique and beautiful ways in which we wanted to honour our precious son. We talked about the importance of celebrating his short life with the things he loved, the people he loved and the Elmo he loved. At the top of our list were ideas to allow Zack's littlest supporters feel comfortable enough to come to the service and to say goodbye to their beloved friend.

When we reached the Elgin Mills Cemetery (about 7 minutes from our house), we sat down with a lovely woman who helped us execute our plans and wishes. Our non-traditional ideas were welcomed and she gently introduced more ways to honour Zack.

When the day of the visitation arrived, we had already delivered bags of items to the Visitation Centre; toys, photos, artwork from friends, books Zack loved, and lots of Elmos. We walked into the room to see a wonderful tribute to our son. There were family photos, artwork, flowers with Elmo decorations, Zack's favourite toys, his hand and foot imprints and a t.v. showing his favourite Elmo episodes. We could hardly believe that every one of our wishes had be realized to create a beautiful room in which we could celebrate his short life, surrounded by amazing memories.

Off in another room, just in case the little friends did not want to venture near the casket, with the help of my besties Jill and Kathryn, we had an arts and crafts table. Kids could make necklaces, draw, or even colour Elmo pages to take home, give to Ty and Jayden or help decorate our art wall in the visitation room. The kids loved this area, but actually most of them were spending time in this room and in the other room with Zack and all of the toys that made them think of their little friend.

One of the most important things we did was to allow Zack's simple casket to be decorated with Elmo stickers and covered with handwritten messages from the people who knew him and loved him. When the visitation started, the casket was very simple and plain. At the end of the day, there was only one section, under our flowers, for Paul and I to write our messages to Zackie. We were overwhelmed with the messages, as we took time to read each one. Some people had written their memories, drawn a picture for Zack and wrote a message to our entire family. We knew that Zack's friends would miss him dearly, and we are so proud of all of the children for honouring Zack in this unique way. At times, the casket was surrounded by kids making pictures, adding stickers or just reading- it was amazing. We had found a way to allow the kids to say goodbye and participate in our celebration of his life. We were comforted by these notes and even felt as if surrounding Zack with this expression of love, would ensure that he never felt alone or lonely in his next journey. It was beautiful and special...just as he was.

Just as in last night's Glee "Funeral Episode", which honoured Jean's favourite movie "Willy Wonka", we celebrated with Zack's beloved Elmo. In everything we did in those days of goodbyes, we put Zack's wishes first. We did all that he would have wanted us to do for ourselves, for our boys and for those who loved him. I'm so proud of the way we honoured Zack and said goodbye to him.

I listened to Sue's words about her sister and the things she missed and thought of the ways in which I miss Zack. I miss the way he fed me Froot Loops, I miss the way he said "bababa", I miss the way he looked at me every time our faces were close together, I miss those late night cuddles and seeing him sleeping so peacefully. I miss his gorgeous long fingers and curly hair, I even miss GTube feeds and meds. Mostly I miss touching his precious face.

Sue explained her love for Jean so perfectly, "When you love someone like I loved her, there’s a part of you it’s like you’re attached by this invisible tether, and no matter how far away you are you can always feel them. And now every time I reach for that tether I know there’s no one on the other end, and I feel like I’m falling into nothingness. And then I remember Jean. I remember a life lead with no enemies, no resentments, no regrets and I’m inspired to get up out of bed and go on. I miss my sister so much it feels like piece of me has been ripped off. Just one more time I want to hold her. Just ten more seconds— is that too much to ask? For ten more seconds to hold her? "

I can't do that either. Hold him again. As hard as I try. So instead, I chose to live each day as Zack taught me. I put away the sadness, tuck it away for my mornings with Zack at the cemetery and focus on what the goal is of the day- to work in Zack's honour for his dream room, play with his sweet brothers and live our lives remembering him in each moment.


JackiYo said...


Amy said...

What a beautiful way to honor your son.

Kinga said...

Beautiful. Thank you.

Jodi Sonoda said...


Smita said...

Love this post...

Andrea M said...

Thank you for sharing this with us Heather. Beautiful....xoxo

Sherry C said...

Lovely just like Zack and his Beautiful Mom.

Anonymous said...

Very moving and beautiful


Sandra said...

Beautiful. Sandra xoxo

Crystal Huang said...

Really lovely post -- the episode of Glee was really touching and I'm glad that it helped you and your family discuss your son's passing and his funeral.

Lisa van de Geyn said...

So, so beautiful Heather.

Karina Tano said...

I love this post. You are an amazing mother. All of your boys are so so lucky to have you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It is an inspiration. That you gave everyone a chance to participate and send their thoughts and love to you, your family and your son in such a wonderful way at this tragic time, will have been the first step in the long process of acceptance and healing. As someone once told me "You never got over it, you just get on with it". Wishing you peace and a huge hug...

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Damon Marsh said...

Hi Heather. I think Zack would've been very happy with how his wake turned out, had he have the opportunity to tell you. You made his funeral remarkable and significant to those people who have been a part of his life. While it’s quite difficult to let go of someone close to your heart, saying farewell can really help someone in move on. And while he might be gone, he'll always be with you in your thoughts and in your heart. All the best!

Damon Marsh @ Inland Memorial