Jolie was born missing part of her brain and is unable to walk or feed herself or do many of the activities most of us take for granted. My son, Justin, is her godparent and care provider. Jolie loves what she calls “walking,” which is being pushed around in her chair. At age 12, her disabilities may limit her freedom, but not her joy. If put in her chair, she laughs and shouts, “I’m walking!”
My mother’s funeral was on a Saturday. It would be a long day for Justin and for Jolie. Justin brought her to the graveside service and then to the memorial service. It was emotional and tiring. At the graveside Jolie was restless and disruptive. Sitting in a chair while people were weeping, praying, and softly talking was not high on her list of entertainments.
We migrated to the church, and Justin let her sit in the wheelchair while he helped carry in boxes and set up the table of remembrances. He left the chair wheels unlocked, and Jolie slowly figured out how to make it move. No more waiting for someone to push her—she was suddenly free to “walk” by herself. To run wild. Giggling with joy, she rode the chair around the room, smashing into tables, running into people, and taking delight in every delicious moment. In the midst of our sorrows, we couldn't help but laugh at her unbridled joy.
But freedom has its limits. Eventually we made our way into the sanctuary for the service. Justin pushed Jolie’s chair to the front row and locked the wheels. Jolie was not happy. The memorial service began, and soon we were singing some beautiful hymns. “Softly and Tenderly” and “Amazing Grace” rang out. Jolie loves to sing. At the end of the first song she clapped and yelled out, “Again!” Locked wheels were forgotten as we sang another. Jolie clapped and smiled again.
When the sermon rolled around, Jolie grew restless. As her attention span weakened, she pushed against the wheel locks. The pastor told of a powerful moment during his last visit with my mom. Mom’s eyes had been closed and she had appeared to be asleep. He prayed over her about the glories of heaven and the joy of being with God. Suddenly Mom opened her eyes and said, ”Yes! I see that. Yes!" The pastor told the story with great enthusiasm. When he shouted out Mom’s joyous response to the prayer, Jolie clapped and yelled, "Yeah!"
Jolie’s perfectly timed amen brought a ripple of laughter to the gathered mourners. It reminded us of Mom's newfound freedom. More songs and tributes to Mom were followed by the beautiful words of the doxology. Jolie responded with enthusiastic cheers. Then the service was over.
The brakes were released once again, and Jolie was pushed to the fellowship hall, where ham buns and fruit salad awaited the church members, neighbors, and family friends who chatted and wept and remembered. But Jolie wasn’t talking. Jolie was running wild. Whipping her chair around the room, she was laughing and giggling, thoroughly enjoying her newfound freedom. I tried to distract her with songs, but she was too busy running wild.
Mom is free too.