One moment your life is laundry, correcting test papers for your students at the college and for your homeschooling students at home, and doing dishes, and the next moment it becomes, autopsies, casket choices, clothing for a funeral,and burial versus cremation. People descend upon you and there are too many questions. A sudden death leaves a family incredulous. A funeral for Daniel ? How could that be, why he's never even BEEN to a funeral. How could he be gone ? He is healthy. He just saw the allergist. He runs everywhere ! How could this BE? Do we have life insurance ? For a CHILD ? My husband and I and our three children at home were in shock. I reminded all of them that when Daniel needed us, we had all been there doing something constructive. I did CPR and Dad aided, Stephanie called 911 and conveyed information and directions expertly and got the epinephrine injections we kept for anaphylactic emergencies here on the farm. Matt opened farm gates and remained available to direct the ambulance toward the house. Adam had just left with his new fiancee Lori to Christmas shop and returned immediately when called.
We were blessed that we were all there, all available, and all tried desperately to keep him with us. In the blur which follows, a funeral home asks questions and places notices in a newspaper. They file paperwork and begin the process of a death certificate. Then everyone you have ever known descends upon you from all parts of the country. This is good because you are not alone and this is bad because it interrupts your grieving and processing of your loss.
Daniel's funeral could not be a funeral. As a homeschooling student in a rural place, he knew people of many different ages. He would speak with people who were five, and people who were seventy-five. He was well regarded and known by many people in our rural county. Many young children were likely to come to the funeral, and it could not be a dark, dismal, frightening event that would color their views of funerals for the rest of their lives. So Daniel's funeral became a "Celebration of His Life". It was a remembrance of the very fine person he is, what we recall about him, how really scary bright he really is. (Once again, he exists, and this accounts for the present tense used here.) We spoke about things he liked and many of the funny things he said. We had large pictures of him everywhere courtesy of our very talented daughter who is a university student in art, who is quite the photographer and had taken many wonderful photographs over the years. Although we had a very wonderful minister, and our family contributed greatly to everything I said, I did the elegy, which was lengthy and had many people laughing out loud. I told about the time Daniel had lamented that the tooth fairy was "woefully inadequate" because she had failed to pick up his tooth for almost a week, and of course,he had forgotten to mention this to me. We told about how he had taught himself to read at three in order to use the computer the way he wanted,and play computer games. We spoke of how even though he was only 12, wished to attend Virginia Commonwealth University and take Kinetic Studies, only he wanted to do this now, and not at 18. We talked about how he gently and dutifully washed down our alpaca Isabelle, when she was dying of a brain tumor last summer, and we were awaiting the vet. He continually sprayed her underbelly with cool water to keep her comfortable following seizures, just as the vet had indicated we should. At the funeral, we presented Daniel with his high school diploma signed by both me, and by Governor (Lawrence) Douglas Wilder, who had penned homeschooling law in Virginia in its infancy when he had been in our state's legislature. Daniel would have liked that very much. Then afterward, most of the funeral attendees went to Daniel's favorite Chinese restaurant.
In the first week that followed, it was almost as if he hadn't left. His coat and shoes were there, his chores weren't done, and his favorite foods were there. We felt him with us, and we thought that perhaps we might survive. We drew strength straight from God (because none of US had any really) and we waited to hear from the experts doing different parts of the autopsy. How had Daniel, a perfectly healthy twelve year old died ? My money was on an aneurysm. In all the years of being a nurse, I had never seen anyone collapse and die like that, without it having been an aneurysm.