Today is the final milestone for me and my family in this year of “firsts”. One year ago today, we gathered at Salado United Methodist Church to honor the lives of Elizabeth Anne Herro Dowdy, Fischer Phillip Dowdy, Benjamin Samuel Dowdy and Hayes William Dowdy and worship the risen King. I wanted to share with you my thoughts on that day, for many that follow this blog were not physically there. To the many folks that were in attendance, many were not able to see/hear/experience some things in the service due to the large number of people that were in attendance. So today, on this one year anniversary, I wanted to put down my memories of that day before time begins to dim the crispness.
Due to Elizabeth’s passion for the book Grace Based Parenting that John and I had purchased for her and my daughter Lauren at a conference, Sam wanted to give out copies of the book to families in attendance that day. When we decided to do this, it was Wednesday afternoon, the funeral was the next morning and I had no idea how we were going to get that many copies of the book. I stepped out of the church and made a call to Family Matters which is the ministry for Dr. Kimmel and Grace Based Parenting. As God would plan it, the person that answered the phone that day was Michael Tooker. And I remember telling him: Michael, I don’t know how to really say this, but to just say it….and I told him about the accident, losing Lizz and the boys, how much she loved Grace Based Parenting and could I get 250 books in less than 24 hours to Salado Texas? At the time, we thought only the church would be filled at 500 (God had other plans obviously!), and decided 250 books would be plenty. Family Matters put them on a plane and fed-exed them to me. They arrived without a hitch at the church before the service the next morning! At the end of the homegoing service, every single book was gone! I prayed over those books that they would go to families that would read and raise their children in grace based homes. Family Matters is another organization that gathered that day to pray for our families. Family Matters has also continued to pray for us over the past year. I have been honored to get to know and work with the amazing people at this ministry.
We arrived at the church early to meet those that had come to pay their respects and love on our family. We had brought our favorite pictures and displayed them in the room for people to see while waiting to share their condolences. There appeared to be a never ending line of amazing people. In fact, we never got to all the people in the line. Part of me wanted to stay all day and just hug and share stories about Lizz and the boys with everyone that came to share that day with us. But the clock was approaching the beginning of the service and we were moved to another room to wait. It was there our family, friends, and those special people that Sam had asked to carry my daughter and grandsons to their final resting place gathered. We shared stories, laughter and tears. We were then led into the sanctuary where we would take our seats on the front row of what would be something as a Mom and Nana, I never thought I would ever have to experience.
The church had so many flowers. More than I have EVER seen……no exaggeration…….ever! More than any wedding, more than any funeral I had ever attended. They covered the entire front of the church. They were up on the platform, on the floor, out the sides, all around the three caskets that were at the front of the church. We filed in and took our seats and started the service. Sam and the Dowdy family sat on the left of the aisle and Elizabeth’s family sat on the right. Close friends and family and those that were pall bearers were sitting behind us. Elizabeth’s Dad, Jeff Herro, spoke first. He talked about miracles and how we experience them everyday and to not forget that. After he finished, I was to share my thoughts. As I walked up the steps, I remember praying to Jesus to calm me and give me the words to talk about my daughter and not break down and cry…..not now….not when I needed to talk about her. I remember saying as I walked up the steps to the microphone: Elizabeth, this is for you. I knew many were there that didn’t know my daughter. And I wanted them to have a sense of who she and the boys were when I finished. When you bury your child, there is an intense desire to want to have people know about them, about their life no matter how long/short it was. I will never forget taking the steps up to the microphone with Elizabeth’s copy of Grace Based Parenting and turning to see those that had gathered. There were no seats left in the sanctuary. It was filled to capacity! I saw many of my co-workers standing against the wall and others lining the back of the room. I could see people in the overflow room where we had just hugged and welcomed people in the line before the service. I saw people standing out of the sanctuary, in the foyer and down the halls, and spilling out in the parking lot on a hot August day. Friends, Family, Co-workers, people that didn’t know us at all, but wanted to come pay their respects, and then I saw the DPS troopers. They were standing in the foyer. They had come to honor the lives of the ones that they had to respond to. Let me just pause here and say that we have some amazing men and women that serve us through law enforcement. This event has taught me that some of them have very difficult jobs. Responding to the accident call on July 30th, had to have been one of those difficult days. To Trooper Sorto, I will be forever grateful for your professionalism, your dignity, grace and honor you gave to John and I during those days and weeks after the accident. After the service, I found out that besides the sanctuary, overflow room, halls and foyer, they opened up the additional building beside the church and had piped in the sound/visuals. In all, they have estimated there were upwards of 1,200 people in attendance to pay their respects to Elizabeth and the boys. To help put that in perspective, the Salado 2011 census has the population of the town at 2, 161. It truly was an overwhelming sight. There were more people in that setting than I had ever spoken to in my life that day, that is for sure. But I remember the calm in my heart and the overwhelming desire to share about my daughter and my grandsons. So, with Elizabeth’s well used Grace Based Parenting book, and my notes from early that morning I began. (Due to the length of this post, I am posting my eulogy separately….See “A Mother shares thoughts about her daughter and grandsons lives”)
My daughter Lauren created a videography of favorite pictures and songs. As I stated earlier, singing “Seek Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with your God” during the song of Courageous was very moving. (Please read Day 28: Courageous)
Then two pastors spoke. One of them was Lizz’s favorite pastor who had left Salado Methodist to go to another church but came back and blessed us by honoring her. The second was Pastor Travis. He talked about all the scripture and sayings that Elizabeth had around the house. He referenced the chalk board drawings that I had previously referenced in my eulogy. We then were led in worship by the worship leader at the church, Will. As I have covered in my previous posts we sang the following songs as a congregation: You Light up the sky, White Flag, 10,000 Reasons and I Still Believe. (Please see those previous postings for more thoughts/reflections on those songs).
Sam’s Dad spoke about losing a daughter 14 years ago, and how you will have different eyes and view the world, people, events and your priorities differently. We listened to a song that he wrote for his daughter.
At the end of the service, the recessional was Mercy Me’s “I Can only Imagine”. When the song began playing, they began moving the flowers in order to take Elizabeth and the boys to their final resting place. As I stated previously there were so many flowers, that “I Can only Imagine” began re-playing. Lisa Herro turned to me and asked if we should help them move the flowers and I agreed. I didn’t think I could bear to hear the song repeat another time. I remember Lisa and I got up and started moving the flowers so we could exit the church and proceed to the cemetery.
The casket flower sprays that the Dowdy’s picked out were beautiful. They were all in sunflowers, Elizabeth’s favorite flower. Within Fischer’s spray was his Incredible Hulk oversized hands that his Lolly (aka Lauren) bought him. Within Benjamin’s flower spray was his Spiderman Mask and toy. As Ben would say in his two year old voice: Man, mommy, Man! (Man was Spiderman!)
And I think we all remember Sam. How very difficult that service was for him. The Bible talks about wailing and crying from the depths of our soul. I now know what that sounds like. We witnessed that on August 2, 2012. The pain in Sam’s cries as we went through the service were very difficult for us to bear.
Sam’s grandfather, Robert Dowdy officiated at the grave side. He talked about when Jesus returns for his children and that we will meet him in the sky, and those that have “gone to sleep” before us will be the first to join him. I remember the heat of the day and standing under the tent looking around at those that were with us. I remember seeing Elizabeth’s Lexington elementary school principle, Ms. Bricker, who smiled and blew me a kiss. There were her Sephora friends. There was a previous co-worker that had driven down from Dallas to attend…..so many of Elizabeth’s classmates from Lexington were there, and so, many, many more. There was her pastor that baptized her at First Baptist Church Lexington that I had not seen since I had moved from Lexington. I can’t express how much that day meant to me and my family. So many to show up and love on us, cry with us, stand with us and pay their respects to Elizabeth, Fischer, Benjamin and Hayes. It illustrated in a very real way what my daughter and grandsons meant to so many which was a beginning to our healing after a loss of such magnitude.
There were close to 200 cards that John and I received with people sharing their thoughts, condolences and prayers to my family. Many of the cards that we received after the funeral spoke of the spirit of God that was there that day like none other they had ever experienced. A friend of mine whose parents were there and was a retired minister said they had gone to many services over their long years of being a minister, but had never experienced what they experienced that day. Photographers that had taken pictures of family events brought some of their favorite photographs as memorials to our family. There were the financial gifts to Elizabeth’s favorite charity, Methodist Children’s Home in Waco that totaled upwards to $15,000! Then there were the food and meals that people brought to the Salado house for many days and weeks that followed.
And so, here I am. Starting the second year of this journey tomorrow. My thoughts are this: I have grieved every single day for 365 days. I have cried every one of those. With God’s help, I have leaned in and felt and faced the winds of pain, suffering, and adversity. It has taught me that when we are weak, God is strong. God is faithful. God shows up with just what we need at the right time. His grace, his wonderful grace is sufficient. And always to HIS GLORY!
I also feel I am standing on a threshold. Praying that God will show me where this path is going…..or at least show me the next step. Grief is not something you get over…….it is something you go through. God is helping me re-define my life after last year. What is my “new” normal going to be? I don’t know. But this I do know……God is still holding me in the palm of his hand. And as I stated earlier, I wanted to be a pro-active griever and so I face year two of the journey with some goals…..to take better care of myself. To go to the doctor, dentist, eye doctor, you name it. Some of these health visits, I haven’t done in two years. I know, I know. It’s been hard though…..just going to work and surviving has been exhausting and physically painful. And secondly to begin to exercise. I am blessed in this area, because I have hired my IronMan daughter Lauren Dowdy to be my trainer. EEEEEEEEKKKKKK!!!! Watch out world!
And since music and worship has become such a huge part of this journey, I have selected a song that describes where I am on this day……It is Well with my Soul. It is the same words that are on Elizabeth’s memorial wreath cross and the same cross that is on my door. If you don’t know the story of the hymn I want to share it here, because it makes the words and meaning even more powerful:
At the very height of his financial and professional success, Horatio and his wife Anna Spafford suffered the tragic loss of their young son. Shortly thereafter on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed almost every real estate investment that Spafford had. In 1873, Spafford scheduled a boat trip to Europe in order to give his wife and daughters a much needed vacation and time to recover from the tragedy. He also went to join Moody and Sankey on an evangelistic campaign in England. Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead of him while he remained in Chicago to take care of some unexpected last minute business. Several days later he received notice that his family’s ship had encountered a collision. All four of his daughters drowned; only his wife had survived. With a heavy heart, Spafford boarded a boat that would take him to his grieving Anna in England. It was on this trip that he penned those now famous words, When sorrow like sea billows roll; it is well, it is well with my soul. Philip Bliss (1838-1876), composer of many songs including Hold the Fort, Let the Lower Lights be Burning, and Jesus Loves Even Me, was so impressed with Spafford’s life and the words of his hymn that he composed a beautiful piece of music to accompany the lyrics. The song was published in 1876. For more than a century, the tragic story of one man has given hope to countless thousands who have lifted their voices to sing, It Is Well With My Soul.
A grieving father and husband who through it all gave glory to God. This version has David Phelps singing with his amazing tenor voice. I cling to the promise in the last verse:
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
Please click to listen: It is Well with My Soul
And lastly, this next year I will focus on ways that I can continue to honor the life of my daughter and grandsons. I have already started on some special things…and am really excited about those, but will save that for a future post!
Thanks for reading this till the end. I know it was a long post, but was very important to do this.
It is well……..