Late last week, a dear friend of our family passed from this life into the arms of our Savior. She was an extraordinary woman who served the church every Sunday in the Special Friends ministry – a safe classroom filled with soft inflatables, sturdy toys, and best of all: Ms. O.Z.’s never-ending smile as she welcomed and loved the special needs children of our church. Because of her, parents like my husband and I could attend the service together. Before Ms. O.Z. came along, we would attend separate services while one of us stayed home with our handicapped son. It worked, but was anything except ideal since we wanted to worship together.
Until her cancer diagnosis, Ms. O.Z. served every single Sunday, even though during the week she also served her own handicapped son. God gave her a heart for children like her son because we all saw how she loved our kids! She understood them, and had endless patience even throughout the lessons each week. She knew some part of those lessons, somehow, would stick. God would see to it, and she obediently presented the material in the simplest, most engaging ways.
For her funeral, her loving family wanted to celebrate her life by inviting all of the Special Friends kids to be honorary pallbearers. They were to march behind the casket, a little parade of those Ms. O.Z. loved so well.
I wanted to honor that, as did all the parents of the special needs kids from our church. But I was worried, too. I had a fairly accurate picture of what the service would entail, and knew it would be difficult for my son to sit quietly. Have I mentioned one of his favorite sounds is a hearty string of “raspberries”? I couldn’t imagine family members offering memories of O.Z. competing with my son’s noise from the audience. And although I voiced my hesitation about bringing him, everyone I spoke to assured me Ms. O.Z. would have wanted him there and I shouldn’t worry a bit about anything. We all wanted to honor Ms. O.Z., and she certainly was familiar with his sounds.
But I still hesitated. And do you know what? God knew Ms. O.Z.’s favorite time of year was winter. She loved snow! So on Sunday, the day before the funeral, God let the snow fall . . . and fall . . . and fall. Over 19 inches at our O’Hare Airport! Which of course led to school closings on Monday, the day of the funeral, even though the snow had stopped and roads were being cleared. If I wanted to be at that funeral (and nothing was going to stop me) I would have to bring my son along because he was home from school. I could only imagine Ms. O.Z.’s reassuring grin, telling me to stop worrying and that everything would be all right.
It was more than all right. He sat quietly in the warm sanctuary, looking a little tired until we sang Amazing Grace, one of his favorite songs. He swayed his head along in perfect timing. And then . . . he fell asleep! Straight up in the chair, but there he was, peaceful, quiet, not a single, solitary raspberry until near the very end just before the casket was being taken out. He added a few sounds like a proper farewell, then fell in line with the other kids Ms. O.Z loved.
I don’t know why I wasted any time worrying. God wanted Ms. O.Z.’s life to be honored. I’m sure as she stands before His throne He greets her with “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” She was also reunited with her own handicapped son who passed away just last year, now fully healed and sharing eternity together. No worries, Maureen, she whispers to me . . . God answers our prayers.