A Father’s Tribute To His Son

My husband gave a magnificent tribute to his son, Lohr, at his funeral. He spent a lot of time that week, writing down what he wanted to say. He wanted to write it down, not only to consolidate his thoughts, but also to have something to lean on should he find himself overcome with grief at the time of delivery. I saved a copy of the talk and my husband gave me permission to share it with you.

As you can see from his talk below, my husband is a deep thinker, very wise, and has great love for people especially those who are close to him.

Sonny:

“I was a very imperfect father for Lohr, but I loved being his Dad. I could get very frustrated and annoyed with him but at the same time, he would tell you, that he got very frustrated and annoyed with me. But the path of love is a thorny path. As the scriptures say, “Love hopeth all things, is patient, and endureth all things” and so both of us had to endure a lot of stuff!

Anyone who truly took the time to get to know Lohr would know how truly sensitive, intelligent, creative, and how wonderful his sense of humor was. He also liked to raise a little hell, maybe a lot of hell! But his friends would know that more than me, being his dad, but I found out sooner or later.

I just can’t help loving him. His sweetness was always before my eyes. I just saw so much goodness in him and yet so much sadness. Lohr always had such a struggle to fit in. Lohr’s death is such a hard, hard thing to get my head around. Lohr, to me, was the iron man surviving the toughest of times. He is my hero.

Lohr lost his battle with depression just like anyone would lose their battle with cancer. But because of how our society perceives mental health issues, he had even a harder battle to wage.

Think about it. People who have cancer are in and out of hospitals, trying to get whatever treatment they can, even experimental treatment, and take medicines that make them deadly sick. They are supported, honoured, and treated as heroes for their courage and tenacity as they battle their disease. While people who battle depression with the same courage and tenacity are seen by many as hopeless members of our society.

I can never imagine the pain that Lohr must have felt to be able to do what he did. Again, people with diseases battle the pain that takes away their dignity and quality of life! Imagine yourself being so young with the stigmas attached to mental illness, battling just to be accepted as ‘normal’.

I remember how he would express to me, whilst working at Eddingtons, that his medication would make his hands shake and when he tried to serve a patron with his shaking hands he was given a look that made him feel like a freak. I told him that I loved him; God loved him; and to hell with the world! It is not easy to say ‘to hell with the world!’ because the world has such a grip upon all of us. It defines how we should look; how much we should weigh; how smart we should be; how rich we should be; how we should feel; and what we should think.

I have come to the conclusion that there are three things that give us a chance of loosening that grip:

  1. A kind word;
  2. A loving touch;
  3. A smile of affirmation that says I care who you are and you have the power within to decide how to define yourself. Yes, smiles that validate the goodness, the sacredness and the beauty that lies within all of us.

I believe with all my heart that God knew Lohr’s pain even better than Lohr. And that the heavens wept for him.

Romans 8:38-39:

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I know that even the dark demon of depression has not separated me from the love of my son. For those of you here who have loved ones near and dear to you that have been battling depression, please treat them as heroes.

I testify that Christ is the tender shepherd and through the power of His atoning sacrifice He will soothe and heal all of Lohr’s pains.

I love Lohr so very much but I know that my Heavenly Father loves him more. And even though it is hard to trust his care to another, I know that he is now in a place of eternal kind words, loving touches and smiles of affirmation which communicate to him how much he is loved and how free he is to decide for himself who he is.

I am so honoured to have the privilege of being Lohr’s earthly father. I know that he loved his family and friends so very deeply. He was, and is, and always will be my beautiful, beautiful Lohr.

Love You,

Dad”

The Burial at Oakland Cemetery

In America, people usually have the funeral services within a week of their loved one passing. In England there is a much longer gap between the two events. I don’t know why, so if anyone can enlighten me, I would be very interested. In America, there is a regular embalming process.

Lohr passed away on a Monday night in March 2010 and we held the funeral services and the burial on the Friday. (See ‘What He Left Behind’ for further details). That week was a very busy time; so busy that one didn’t have time to think too much and to grieve.

Tuesday morning, we were woken up early with a telephone call. The caller was asking if we would be willing to donate Lohr’s organs. This call deeply distressed my husband. If the organs were going to be donated, we had to be asked as soon as possible, but with Lohr’s death being such a shock, the call made my husband extremely angry. He had been up most of the night sobbing until he fell asleep exhausted. Then was woken up early by this call.

We spent the first few days finding a plot to bury Lohr. My husband’s father was buried in Oakland Cemetery and he wanted his son to be buried near his dad. We were able to find a plot about eight yards away from his dad underneath a beautiful tree. Oakland Cemetery is the resting place of over 50,000 people of all walks of life and is historically significant in Minnesota.

I drove my husband to the cemetery on the Wednesday after his son died. My husband was in great emotional pain and distress. On the way, I felt Lohr’s presence very near. He was very concerned that his mother and father were in so much pain. I felt him whisper ‘Tell my dad that I love him’. I hesitated to tell my husband. I’m sure he would think I was nuts. But the feeling persisted. I let my husband know, but on recalling these events to him a couple of months ago, he did not absorbed the information at the time.

We spent a lot of time at the mortuary. Sonny went to visit Lohr as often as he could that week before he was buried. The morticians did a great job of getting Lohr ready. He wore a white shirt and the white trousers that I had hemmed. The mortician had closed the eye that had been slightly open. He looked very peaceful. It seemed surreal that he had died.

Each evening we came home to find food on our doorstep. One day we found this tiny vase with a single pink carnation in it. That meant so very much to me. I still have the vase and it fills me with great love every time I see it.

My son, who lived at home then, looked after himself for the days that we were busy. He got himself off to school and got his homework done. He didn’t have to cook as our church family had provided food everyday in abundance. He, at least, was eating it and my husband was eating a little. My daughter and grandson flew in from Connecticut for the funeral.

All too soon, the day of the funeral arrived. Funerals to me are the hardest part of the whole grieving process because it is so public and I am a very private person especially with regards to my emotions.

We had the funeral services at the funeral home. We had two rooms. We used one room for the viewing and we used the other room for the service. Initially it was going to be a closed casket service, but Sonny and Annette changed their minds on that decision during the week.

My husband was speaking at his son’s funeral as well as Annette, Lohr’s mother. I was holding up well, supporting them, taking care of all the communications with everyone including the morticians, and the little details. I did okay until the movie with the music was put on.

Some kind friend of Annette’s had produced a short movie of about four minutes or so. The movie showed photos of Lohr growing up and a two or three short videos of him.

When Lohr was little, my husband would sing John Lennon’s song, ‘Beautiful Boy’, to him when he went to sleep. The movie played John Lennon’s recording of this song throughout it’s duration.

The movie was put on in the viewing room on a repeat cycle. I was pleased that it was put on later in the proceedings because I started to loose it a bit at that point. Music does that to me.

We had a lot of guests come to the funeral. A few of Annette’s family came and most of Sonny’s family were there. Sonny’s work colleagues came from St. Paul. I was working in downtown Minneapolis at the time and was surprised when my team turned up. A lot of Lohr’s friends came to say goodbye.

When the music went on, I had to leave being the hostess to our guests and walk out to compose myself in the foyer.

My husband did really well when he spoke at Lohr’s funeral. Annette had a harder time but she got through it. It was an honourable service. As soon as Annette had finished her talk, she left with her therapist. She was very distraught.

As the service concluded, my husband said goodbye to the mourners. The morticians closed the casket and the took Lohr out to the car. We travelled from Plymouth to Oakland Cemetery, in St.Paul.  It was March and we were in Minnesota. The snow was deep on the ground. I had changed out of my dress shoes and into my boots. When we got to the cemetery, they had cleared the frozen snow from around the grave and the grounds leading up to the grave.

This for me was the most harrowing part of the proceedings. Watching my husband carrying the coffin of his son from the hearse to the graveside. My husband’s friend walked me to the graveside and stood with me whilst Sonny escorted his son. The tears began to race down my face (just as they are doing now as I write this). My tissue did nothing to stem them. My heart ached so much for my husband and for all that was happening at that moment.

My husband is the most gutsy man that I know. As a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood, he dedicated his son’s grave after some short words from the Bishop. Then the mourners left. My husband took a few minutes and then we went back to the car to attend a small meal put on by the ladies at the church for our immediate family.

As I drove away, I saw them lowering the coffin into the ground in the rear mirror. It was all I could do to see through the haze of tears. My heart was fit to burst.

What He Left Behind ….

On March 11th, 2010, I was sitting in the back of our car. The car was parked in a car park near Ridgedale in Minnesota. I was listening to the anguished cries of my step-son’s mother as she yelled down the phone at the coroner’s office.

“You will not touch my son!” She exclaimed. “He is my son and I don’t give you permission! When can I see him?” Not satisfied with the reply, she got angrier and angrier, completely engulfed in her distress and grief.

Eventually, she hung up. She gave my husband my cell phone. “You call them,” she cried. “Don’t let them touch him!”. My husband was gentle with her, reaching beyond his own grief, to comfort her and help her with her pain. “They have to. It’s the law.” He said gently. “I’ll find out when we can see him”.

He dialed the number on the cell phone. “Hi, this is Sonny Wren, Lohr’s dad. Yes, he was brought in last night. When will we be able to see him? Yes, I understand. You need to know the undertaker we want to use? Okay, I will get back to you on that as soon as possible.”

Lohr’s mum grabbed the phone. “You will not cut up my son!” She cried. “I forbid it!” She slammed the phone shut.

My heart ached for them. I would feel the same way about my child. I reached out to touch their shoulders. “I know that this is hard for you. We need to find an undertaker so that you can see Lohr as soon as possible.” I said. ‘Do you have any preferences?’

Lohr’s mum thrust a piece of paper into my hand. “A friend recommended this one”, she said.

“Okay,” I said. “Sonny, I can make this call if you want me to, but they may not speak to me. Do you feel up to making it?” My husband, through his tears, nodded his head. I read out the number on the paper as my husband spoke with the coroner’s office. After he had finished, I called the undertakers to find out where they were located and asked them to call me when my step-son’s body arrived.

Lohr’s mum, Annette, was engaged with my husband, turning her grief onto other subjects where she got angry about how people with homosexuality were treated. As my husband listened, I wondered if the coroner received phone calls with parents and other loved ones like the one he had received from Annette on a daily basis. How hard for them to be dealing with the anger of heartache and despair of people in grief.

My husband had woken me up at 11 p.m the night before. “Penelope, wake up. Lohr is dead”. I shot up from the bed.

“What? What did you say?”

“Lohr is dead. The police have just left”.

I pulled my husband into my arms. “I’m so so sorry, honey.” My husband broke down and wailed. I held him for a long time.

“How long were the police here? Why didn’t you wake me up?” I asked after awhile.

“They were here for about an hour?” He said. “I told them to contact Lohr’s mum. They are going there now.”

“Are you up to calling her?” I asked. He nodded. “I will in a minute. Let’s give them time to get there and then I’ll call”.

“Do you know what happened?” I asked.

“He jumped. He finally did it and jumped”.

Lohr had attempted suicide several times before. He had tried pills and he had often wandered to the top of the car park at the Mall of America in Minnesota. When he had felt like he was going to jump before, he would call his Aunt and she would talk him down. He had done this several times. This time, his Aunt was unavailable as she had had a stroke and suffered from aphasia. Lohr had been visibly shaken by his aunt’s downward spiral of health. She was like another mother to him.

Lohr had been admitted to the hospital about a month earlier. He was severelyimg_0054 depressed. After a week there, he was unable to get out of bed. As he was over eighteen we couldn’t consult with the hospital staff about his treatment. This was the worst that I had ever seen him. I sat by his bed and just stroked his hair. After visiting with him, I went to speak with the staff and said “He’s really, really depressed. I haven’t seen him this bad before. Whatever meds you have him on are not working. I’m very concerned.” I felt like I was talking into thin air. Of course, they knew he was depressed. His dad and I were so frustrated that we didn’t know what was going on.

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Lohr was discharged from the hospital at the end of the following week. I was surprised that they released him so early. He had been committed again, so it is not like he had a choice in the matter. Lohr lived in a half-way home as he was on probation from his several attempts at suicide. This was a measure to try and keep him safe. Lohr had suffered from bipolar since he was about ten years old. He also had a suspected diagnosis of schizophrenia.

I was brought back to the present as Lohr’s mother accelerated in her barrage of words. She was highly distressed. She also was bipolar and had not taken her meds and was roaring away in a torrent of understandable mania as she grappled with this unfathomable loss. I could see my husband waning under the onslaught.

“I know you guys aren’t up to this right now,” I interrupted, “but why don’t we go to the undertakers and assess what we need to do there – choose a coffin, decide on clothes, etc. Then everything will be ready for when Lohr arrives.”

Doing something practical seem to help them to move on through this moment. Annette left the car and went back to her car. I got out the back and slid into the driver’s seat. We found the mortuary and went inside. I introduced us to the staff and they put us in a room where we could talk. The lady who was helping us went through the procedures and the choices of service, coffins, etc. She then left us to decide. Sonny and Annette were distraught and unable to focus for longer than a few minutes.

Annette said that she would sell one of her paintings to pay for the coffin and the funeral services at the mortuary. I asked them gently if they would prefer to have the service at our church or whether they would prefer it at the mortuary. Annette expressed a strong desire to have the funeral at the mortuary and Sonny was okay with her request. “But I want him to wear white”, he said. Annette conceded to his wishes. I will order the trousers and shirt tonight, I said. I can hem them as well. I will just need a pair of Lohr’s trousers to get the right length. They very quickly decided on a nice but moderately priced coffin. My husband decided that Lohr would be buried near his dad in St. Paul.

I managed to get them to plan out the services – what hymns they wanted and who would speak. They both wanted to speak and would have our Bishop speak. We worked out the obituary for the mortuary to get out in the paper and online. It took awhile as their grief worked against their focus.

img_0056We had just finished, when the undertaker came in to tell us that Lohr had arrived. They said it might be better to see him later when they had time to work with him, but both Annette and Sonny wanted to see him as soon as they could. Annette wanted to go in first and alone. About forty minutes later, she left and went home, after letting Sonny know that she had his blood-stained clothes.

Sonny wanted me to come in with him. I was nervous; I didn’t know what shape he would be in. I hoped that I would know how to support my husband as he got his first taste of the physical reality of the situation.

We walked in. My husband made an audible gasp. I held his hand as he went over to his son and rubbed his back as the tears flowed down his face. He caressed his son’s chest and wept. He spoke to his son and wept some more. One of Lohr’s eyes was not completely shut and I hoped my husband didn’t notice and feel more pain. I gave my husband some space. After a long while, he indicated to me that he was ready to go. He kissed his son and we left the room. I let the staff know that we were leaving and thanked them for their kindness. We would be back tomorrow.

When we arrived back at our house, there was a meal for us on our doorstep. Our Bishop came over later that night and talked with my husband and I. He gave him a blessing. I let the Bishop know the details of the service on Friday and he said that he would take care of the programme and let the members of our congregation know. He said that he would arrange for a meal for our immediate family after the service and the burial.

My husband soon fell asleep as he stared at the television that night. I got a blanket and covered him up. I went into the bedroom and got ready for bed. I climbed into bed. The events of the day caught up with me and, now that I was alone and didn’t have to be strong for anyone, I laid down and sobbed.