May 11, 2020

Thank you for your prayers and your support for me, my children and grandchildren this past week. I’ve been in my hiding place in the cleft of the Rock where I have found a peace that is better than needing to understand why things happened. There have been so many testimonies of God’s love and His supernatural timing this week that I just can’t share them all with you at this time. But one thing I am impressed to share with you is what occupied much of our time this week. 

While looking to purchase a casket, we realized because  of quarantine restrictions, this would not be a public funeral but just a graveside service for immediate family members. I threw out the wild idea that we could we could make our own casket for their mother. Surprisingly, everybody thought it was a good idea and even suggested that the grandkids could decorate it!  Wow, I expected the idea would be shot down, but instead it’s, “Okay, let’s do it!”  But how? Nobody I knew ever made a casket before.

Now when people first found out about Bethany’s death, everyone who called us expressed their condolences and were so loving, kind and caring, and everyone asked if there was anything they could do for us. I’d thank them, but honestly didn’t know what they could do except pray for us. All were very sincere offers but what could I say? But amongst those calls was Bill Saunders who called about 5 minutes after we made that decision. Bill is on the TEACH Board of Directors, and when he asked “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.” I said that there was something specific he could do, and that was to help us build a casket for Bethany. 

Being a woodworker and a kind fellow, who was generous with his time, Bill said he would be honored. I then, invited John Anderson (the TEACH Chairman of the board of Directors who we have worked together with for 36 years) to come help if he wanted, because he’s a amazing woodworker too and it would be nice to have he and Bonnie over to the house at this time. 

Joe Newhouse and John Anderson
Jeremy Newhouse
Bill Saunders and John Anderson

We came up with a few plans and improvised a little. Bill got the materials and brought them over on Wednesday.  He directed my sons and some grandsons on what to do but let us cut and assemble and make the casket for my wife, their mother and grandmother. It was a family project, and a labor of love. The whole experience was surprisingly therapeutic and healing. We taught the grandkids how to build, and that a labor of love means to do your best work as a gift to the one you love. 

Sometimes I couldn’t believe we were actually making a coffin in my garage for my beloved wife, and at first I was tempted to think it  might appear cheap or even tacky to do this, but it was surprisingly satisfying. After we finished it, it actually looked beautiful. I was impressed that God had inspired us. 

Left to right: Opie and Oscar Newhouse, Bob Newhouse, Jeremy Newhouse, John Anderson, Joe Newhouse, Bill Saunders

That evening, I was by myself and I personalized the casket by making a cross to put on it. This solo work felt similar to an act of worship. It was still and quiet and peaceful as I worked on a project for my love. Many tears were shed that quiet evening and I discovered there is an exquisite joy in having a broken heart. “… the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ” He understands and comforts us in our sorrow. The cross didn’t come out as perfectly as I had hoped, so I call it “the old rugged cross”, and the imperfections are a reminder of my own, and how Christ and Bethany loved me anyway. 

Then in the morning I carved her two favorite flowers into the wood with a knife: a Rose of Sharon and a Lily of the Valley. I’ll share about that in the next email. Bethany has both of these flowers growing in her garden and they both began to bloom the day after we finished building her casket.

Then the next day, ten of the grandchildren came over to decorate it. (Jonathon’s two little ones live in Vancouver and they emailed Gabriella’s drawing and handprints and the baby Winston send copies of his footprints from birth.) 

When the grandkids arrived, one came into my office and asked, “Baba, where’s Grammy? My heart sank and I said, she’s not here Opie. Then I turned and looked over at him and his face was beaming and he excitedly said, “Yes I know! Grammy is in heaven! Isn’t that great?!”  The faith of little children is astounding. They believe the Truth and rejoice – as we all should. Their first response was not focused on themselves and what they had lost, but on their Grandma and what she had gained! “Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven!”

Time to decorate and add a personal touch

So that afternoon they decorated it with their pictures. I wish you could have seen them concentrating on drawing their last picture to Grandma. They were so focused in doing their best work in this last labor of love. I’m attaching a few photos to give you an idea of what they did. 

Then in the evening they put their hand prints on the top of the casket and their names underneath. It looked like a celebration party! 

That evening, my oldest grandson, Jude, asked his mom, Marija, if “Ama was in the casket while they were painting it?” Oh my! So that next morning I put a foam pad at the bottom and covered it with her favorite blanket that she used to cover herself when she took a nap. It has hearts woven in it. Then I put a soft pillow in there and also the first crochet blanket that Marija had made for her mother in her favorite color, green. This would be her shroud.

Then I wrote  on the casket Bethany’s and my favorite verse, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” (Song of Solomon 2:2)  I had written a book for her on the Song of Solomon and the love that Christ has for His Bride and that was our special name we called each other when nobody was looking, if you know what I mean. 🙂 

So we had Jude and his siblings come out the next day and we bought the casket to the grass in the sunlight, and I opened it so they could see it was empty. She’s not there. It is a visual picture for them of a spiritual reality. They’ll understand later that her body was placed in there when we buried her in it, but still she is not there. She is in the presence of God.  

When I delivered the casket to the funeral director I gave him the nicest dress she had, that she had only worn once; at the ceremony when we renewed our wedding vows a few years ago. It might seem extravagant because someone would have loved to wear that beautiful dress, but love is extravagant sometimes. After all,  Mary anointed Jesus’ feet for his burial with expensive perfume, and Joseph of Arimathea purchased fine linen of Egypt that only royalty or nobles could afford to wrap Jesus’ body in and Nicodemus procured a hundred pounds of spices –  enough for 200 men! Extravagant love! 

We live-streamed the burial. None of Bethany’s siblings, who live around the country, are saved and they wanted to be there. It was touching and perfect. We prayed the rain would hold off and the sun popped out for us during the ceremony. (It began raining within the hour after we finished)
At the end of the ceremony we had each of our children and grandchildren place a rose on the casket. I had the presence of mind to take three photos of Opie at this time. He lived with us as a baby for two years after Jeremy’s house burned down and was  rebuilt, so his connection with his Grammy was so very strong. Every time I look at these three photos my heart breaks.

Then after hugs and prayers the ceremony ended and they went back to their cars to go to our place to eat a meal her siblings catered and share stories. I stayed and watched them lower the casket into the vault. Just before the lid was lowered I took the last photo with the roses laying on the casket. Notice how they inadvertently make a star. And that is the final statement to Bethany’s life here on earth. “…and they that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever.”

Making a casket for my Bethany was a healing and therapeutic project for our family. It’s something you may want to possible consider for you own family. If you do, contact me. If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know. 🙂

In Christ,