Visitation and Funeral

This entry recounts So Young’s visitation (March 1, 2013) and funeral (March 2, 2013), from James’s perspective.

We didn’t want to get out of the car.

I remember that we had listened to Justin Bieber on the drive over, and just before we parked at the funeral home, we listened to Sufjan Stevens’s beautiful rendition of “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

“Holy, holy, holy. Though the darkness hide thee…”

I turned off the car. The music stopped. Lindsay said she was scared. Nobody wanted to go in. I didn’t even want to go in. I had never heard of a “visitation” and had no idea what to expect. I said, “Let’s pray,” and we prayed that God would calm us down and help us say goodbye to Mommy. We were there to honor her. Let’s do it for her.

I dreaded the visitation and funeral, but they were much more meaningful and beautiful than I could have imagined.

We gathered as a family first — the four of us, Mom and Dad, So Young’s dad, her siblings, etc. One of my best friends (and my pastor) Kenji was there to minister to us. Many objects that were meaningful to So Young or that spoke to the person So Young was were on display around the room, including photographs, artwork she had made, and the old green Bible that So Young had given me the year we fell in love. In the dedication, she wrote that I should read it “cover to cover until the ink rubs off.”

Bible Inscription

Inscription from the Bible “So Young Park” gave me on July 18, 1993

We walked through the double doors to the room that held So Young’s casket. The casket was closed and surrounded and covered with flowers. I had never seen it before. Dad had selected and ordered it on my behalf weeks before. It was so perfect — beautiful and feminine. It was closed because I didn’t need to see her dead again to say goodbye, and the kids didn’t need to see their mother dead to know she was gone.

We stood in front of the casket. Some of us prayed. Some of us said words to So Young. Even I did this throughout the evening, as if she could hear us better there than somewhere else.

Soon guests began to arrive, and it was then that I saw the beauty of the visitation. I came to realize that I did not mourn alone. Many mourned So Young’s passing. Many were touched by her life as well. I felt so happy to see so many familiar faces, some that I had not seen in many years, that I had to subdue my enthusiasm. I was absolutely delighted to see all of you. You have no idea how much your presence meant to me.

Shannon had created a slide show with music in honor of her mom. I was surprised that people didn’t just mingle while it played. They really stood and watched it, many crying, even the throng of teens and preteens who had come to support Shannon and Lindsay.

I became a mobile receiving line as people approached me, wherever I was in the room. My brother arrived from California. I was beside myself with happiness at seeing him. It was so strange. He is the only person that created for me the same kind of comfort I felt when So Young was by my side. I kept trying to talk to him and stand beside the casket with him, but for the longest time I could never get a chance.

Kim arrived with her family. She brought the most amazing banner, which she had created at late notice in the hours since So Young’s death. I think she didn’t sleep either since So Young went to heaven. The banner hangs in my bedroom today. It is the most beautiful tribute to So Young I have ever seen: photos, scripture, hymns, quotes from So Young’s writings. Just amazing. She also brought gorgeous copies of So Young’s testimony and a large, blown up picture of her to place by the casket. Kim ministered to my girls the whole time she was there, comforting them with her words and praying with them. She stayed with us until nobody was there anymore.

I remember putting on my suit for the funeral the next morning.

I am dressing for my wife’s funeral. How do I look?

Dad let me borrow his overcoat, because the day was bitterly cold. I remember her doctor saying she would not live until the spring. It was if God was driving home the point: It is still winter. Well, I guess the doctor was right.

By some miracle, the funeral perfectly reflected what So Young asked for and would have wanted. She had given some pretty explicit instructions to about how she wanted it to be. We sat in our car two years before she died and discussed it all, waiting for another appointment with a brain surgeon. I took good notes.

It was to be a celebration, a happy event. Yeah right. So Young, don’t you realize how sad we would be? She wanted certain hymns sung. She wanted her testimony shared, funny stories about her told. Most importantly, she wanted the Gospel proclaimed at her funeral. She literally suggested an altar call. Kenji and I planned the service at my dining room table on Friday.

So many people came to the funeral. Almost 300. Again, I was delighted. I wanted to hug and high five people. I wanted to call to them across the room, I was so happy. But I tried not to act too happy or look around the room too much. How would it look if the grieving husband stood at the front of the church, grinning and pointing at people? “Hey! Wow! You’re here! Wassup?!”

All of So Young’s closest friends participated in the funeral, women who literally sat by her bedside and ministered to her while she died: Laurie, Linda, So Me, Jin, Kim, Sungjin, Grace. Each eulogy was personal and funny and proclaimed the Gospel in one way or another. We sang a lot of hymns. Kenji ended the service with a direct proclamation of the Gospel: “This is the message So Young wants you to hear…”

Her brothers carried her casket to the hearse. For some reason, her dad almost didn’t make it to the burial service on time.

It was bitterly, bitterly cold. I was shivering. It’s winter, right God?

God gave us the most beautiful snowfall while we buried my wife. Amanda and Ashton sang “Amazing Grace” by the graveside.

“The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine
You are forever mine”

I will never forget that day. We mourned together with joy and hope.

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4 Responses

  1. Someday I hope you will forgive me for not being there. Someday I hope to forgive myself for not being there, for failing you both when you needed it most.

    • Sara,

      You could just as soon have posted that you were there and why didn’t I say hi to you? No need to apologize! No regrets at all, please! Other than the people who walked up to my directly, I don’t know exactly who was there. There were too many people. You shouldn’t feel bad about that at all, friend. It was more important that you visited while she was alive, which you did and ministered to her.

      James

      • …I was totally there, why didn’t you say hi to me?!

        And in the end, she ministered to me, just like always.

  2. Added the picture of the Bible that So Young gave me and corrected my misquotation of her inscription.

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