The funeral.

 

jtomlinfamily01aWe had a memorial service for John at Foothills Bible Church. I think John’s was one of the first funerals out of all of those killed. We drove in a limo to the service. It would have been cool, if we weren’t going to my brother’s funeral. As we exited the limo, there were cameras going off all around us. I learned to dislike and distrust the media. My dad lifted his finger to his eye to rub it and cameras clicked, trying to capture a grieving father wiping tears from his eyes. The media wanted emotion and sensationalism. What I remember most from John’s memorial service is walking through the sanctuary doors and seeing John’s picture up on the big screens in the front of the church. It was so painful. My horseback riding team gave me a teddy bear, the one I am holding in the picture. Many people thought I brought it from home, and I felt like everyone saw me as a little girl, but I didn’t feel like one.

We sang worship songs and I could have kept singing for hours. My mom told me later she felt the same way. It’s interesting how when we are completely broken, that’s when we feel God’s presence the most. The times in my life when I’ve felt the most grief and pain are the times when I feel this incomparable closeness to God. It’s a closeness I crave but I wish it could come without the trials. We were interviewed after the service. The reporters were really kind and even asked me what kind of a big brother he was. I talked about how he was a goofball and the games we played together.

We also attended a gathering totaling 70,000 people at a movie theater across from Clement Park, which is a park adjacent to Columbine High School. There we met Al Gore and Colin Powell. Franklin Graham was there along with Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. It was an extremely emotional service with a fly over and bagpipes played. John loved bagpipes, even wanted to take lessons at one point. My brother Pat later said that any time there was a flyover at the events we attended, it was like a knife in his heart. My family appreciated the outpouring of support and the literal boxes upon boxes of letters and quilts and teddy bears and everything else people gave. However, when you are in such a dark valley, you don’t really care about meeting celebrities or being on the news. All we wanted was John back. We were just surviving, trying to put one foot in front of the other, and to keep going somehow.

We flew back to Wisconsin with John’s body for his funeral and burial. When my brother turned sixteen and got his driver’s license, my mom somewhat jokingly said, “Where would you want to be buried John?” My mom still doesn’t know what prompted her to ask him this, but his answer brought her comfort after his death. He said, “Wisconsin mom”, almost in a “you should know that” tone of voice. We had only lived in Colorado for four years before his death. We were all born in Wisconsin and lived in a small town of about 1,000 people. We loved it there, mainly because we were so close to all of our extended family. We had cousins close in age and lots of aunts, uncles and grandparents around. We loved the countryside and small town. When we were forced to move because of my dad becoming unemployed, we were pretty devastated. John probably took it the hardest out of the three of us kids. We drove back to Wisconsin every summer for years and years. John’s heart was still there.

The flight back to Wisconsin was turbulent, as in, our food trays were falling to the ground. It was pretty scary for me. For Pat and my cousin Shane, they thought it was pretty fun and my mom really had nothing to fear anymore. At the funeral service, there was a picture of Jesus welcoming and hugging a man into heaven. I loved that picture and I have a smaller version hanging in my room today. The Green Bay Packers heard my brother was a fan and they sent flowers. Later we would receive gifts from celebrities like Courtney Cox, John Elway, and various sports teams. We drove to the burial site, a small cemetery right next to my grandma’s house. We threw roses on his casket as it was lowered into the ground. My family requested no media be present at the burial, regardless, we heard choppers above us. This moment almost felt surreal to me.

On my brother’s tombstone there is a picture of Jesus carrying his cross and kneeling. Next to Him are some columbine flowers. Acts 7:59 is engraved at the bottom. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Stephen, the martyr in the Bible, said this as he was being stoned for his faith. I wonder if John saw Jesus during his last moments on earth, like Stephen did.

Stephen the Martyr

54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

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2 thoughts on “The funeral.

  1. I remember the funeral and how moving it was. I remember hugging your mom and dad and meeting you and Pat. This kinda of thing is not suppose to happen to your family or families you know. I pray that your writings are helping you as well as others. Good Bless you and your family

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  2. Bless your heart, Ashley. I didn’t know your Wisconsin connection. Someday you will take your kids there and have some time with them beside John’s grave. Then they will know you better.

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