I’ve never minded being the center of attention at times – I’ve served as president of organizations, led worship at church, spoken publicly. But as we drove back home and my daughter and I scrolled through hundreds and hundreds of Facebook comments and messages on our phones, we could feel the swell of the wave that would carry us through the next days, weeks and months…and also overwhelm us at times. Our hearts were not the only ones broken…our Mark had traveled through life like a ray of sunshine, a friend to all he met. And the tragic and untimely loss of a young person touches even the hearts of strangers.
We’ve never been in a position of accepting so much help from others. Someone from church coordinated meals and another took on the task of taking in donations for the reception after the memorial service; friends in the neighborhood had decorated our front garden with more than twenty mums in VA Tech colors; another dear friend had set up a beautiful memorial – with more loving memories and messages written on hearts, dangling from a string – on our back porch. The memorial service “crew” was growing rapidly, people volunteering time, food and energy for the day that was swiftly approaching. Our home rapidly filled with flowers, plants, cards. Visitors came and went, crying with us and for us.
Our pastor, Matthew, and another dear pastor friend, Katie – who had known Mark almost all his life, who had been his Sunday school teacher, who shared the same birthday – said yes to everything we asked. Oh, the service is going to be at the high school, not church? No problem. When we met with them, the service took shape and expanded to include Holy Communion, which was just so, so right. With multiple pastors in attendance (who knew we knew so many?), serving the hundreds and hundreds of people who appeared to be coming would be possible. Videos and slide shows were created by Mark’s friends in tribute, the high school choir would sing exactly as we had requested – a song he would have known, so that fellow alumni – including Sarah – could also join in. All three of us knew we wanted to speak. And finally, on Thursday, three days before the service, we had the space and quiet to pull our thoughts together.