With all my heart I wish the title of this post was a metaphor.
“Lana Lee Boles, 38, of Richwood died Friday, January 19, 2007 at East Cooper Regional Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. She was born September 20, 1968 in Chicago, Indiana to David Lee and Barbara Lee (Goodwin) Pierotti, who both survive in Elizabeth, West Virginia.
“Miracles happen and they happen to me.” These true words were written by Lana herself, an excerpt from her own diary. She is a believing, faithful, and righteous individual that has walked her life right alongside the Lord, Jesus Christ. Seeing many blessings and miracles in her life, God has never given her reason to doubt his word. “We are alive to invade the realm of impossibility,” she wrote. “Nothing is impossible for those who believe. Powerlessness is unacceptable. The power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me. That is my now…”
In addition to her parents, she is survived by her husband, William David Boles, Richwood; 4 daughters, Krystal R. (Michael J.) Lee; Kayla D. Ashby; Hope L. Boles; Hannah E. Boles; son William Josiah-David Boles, all of Richwood; 2 brothers, Davie (Jodie) Pierotti, Parkersburg, West Virginia; Craig Pierotti, Louisiana; 3 sisters, Ruth (Shan) Swank, Richwood; Kim (Gary) Motoska, Canada; and Sherrie Cruz, Richwood.
Funeral Services will be held Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 1:00 P.M. in the Ballinger Funeral Home, Richwood. Burial will follow in Claibourne Cemetery. Visitation will be held 1 hour prior to the service beginning at 12 noon.
Memorial contributions may be made to Exodus House Ministries (www.exodushouseministries.org).”
I wrote that… her obituary. I’m so embarrassed of it. The words fill me with a unique self-loathing. Reading it reminds me of who I once was, what I once put my confidence in. I don’t like thinking of myself as that weak and stupid, but here is the truth: When she was sick, I wholeheartedly believed she would be healed; and when she died, I placed all my confidence in my faith, in my leader, and in Jesus to raise her from the dead. What I deeply wish to clearly convey is that this was not just an act of denial because we couldn’t face the loss, it was pure, complete, and unadulterated faith.
We were all huddled in the center of the living room in The Exodus House. Bill was receiving another word from God, “DO NOT WAVER in your faith, thus sayeth the Lord. I have spoken. My word is life. I will breathe life into the lungs of the dead. I give you my word and I am the Lord.”
Those were the last words spoken until we arrived at the Ballinger Funeral Home. Songs of worship were playing loudly over the speakers. Before we could sit, Bill waved us up to the to where he stood. Slowly, the chairs filled with our family, a few distant relatives, a handful of members of past churches we attended, a select few people from around town to whom we had witnessed. At the front of the room stood each member of The Exodus House. In place of suits and black dresses, we were dressed casually wearing jeans, bright colors, and hooded sweatshirts.
Bill was pacing back and forth with his bald head thrown back and his large arms stretched out towards the ceiling, singing in tongues. He motioned for us to follow his lead. We did, every one of us, the children included. Mom’s casket stood open on the far right side of the room. Each time I paced to that side I cut the stride short, stopping just before I could see inside. I’d obeyed Bill’s and God’s orders the last 5 days, I hadn’t cried, but being near her body, I felt the trembles forming at my center and working their way out towards my limbs and up towards my eyes. My hands started quivering. Hannah neared the casket, inquisitively, and I grabbed her small hand, pulling her away and steadying myself.
Gradually the chairs filled up. At 1:00pm, the volume of the music dropped until it was just low in the background. Bill gathered the group in a circle and ordered us to keep praying while he addressed the room.
“Thank You all for coming today, though it was unnecessary,” he smirked. “I know you’re all here to say goodbye to Lana but you don’t need to. This is not a funeral service.” He paused and looked out at the befuddled faces, amused. “God has spoken to me. He’s ready to rock the world. He’s going to wake everyone up by raising Lana from the dead!”
Looking out at the tear stained faces of our family and friends, I saw disbelief. I saw anger. I saw confusion. I saw pity. Their eyes shifted from Bill to us, to her kids. I jerked my eyes closed and quieted my prayers to a hum. Bill was still speaking, even laughing at times, encouraging everyone in the room to believe, to believe in God, to believe Jesus Christ is the Lord, and to believe in this miracle he was about to perform.
My dad sat in the front row. His head was down, looking at the ground, his hands clasped, the tension evident by the constant movement of his fingers, pushing and pulling, veins protruding.
Bill continued, reading various Bible verses about faith and Lazarus before drawing his message to a close. “Look, I know some of you will have a hard time with this and do not believe, but I have a word from God to command my wife to rise and I’m going to do that. I will not allow the devil and his doubts to be in the vicinity while I’m doing this, so if you came here to mourn I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Bible in hand, he pointed towards the door. The crowd was dumbfounded. There was an audible gasp followed by shifting eyes and a deafening silence. “I won’t have any crying, no tears of doubt here.”
My dad looked up at him, his face red. He sucked up his nose, pulled up his chest, and leaned up tall, back into his seat. No one else budged. Definite sobs erupted several rows back.
Bill stood firm on his decision, his patience dwindling, he demanded once more everyone either stop crying or leave. “You’re either with us believing in this miracle or you’re not. If you’re not, you need to go.”
One at a time, mourning people made their exit from the room. Not counting those of us standing up front, there were maybe a dozen who remained. My dad was among them. He sat like a stone-cold statue. I thought, oh my gosh, he believes! He is finally going to be saved! I sincerely thought he was there in solidarity with us, ready to witness this miracle. I had never been more proud of him.
We paced and prayed and sang and shouted, relentlessly commanding her back to life. The music had been turned back up, way up. It was a compilation of carefully selected songs about miracles and certainty in Christ. When the first few notes came on to the next song, Bill waved us all over to the Mom’s casket. This was it. I inhaled deeper than I’d ever inhaled and opened my eyes to see her lying there. She didn’t look like her. Her makeup was a mess. Her lips were turned down. Her hair was nearly matted her to head the opposite of the sky high way she wore it every day. I pushed away all those thoughts and focused on the matter at hand. The music was blaring again.
Everybody’s watching you know. Everybody waits for you now. What happens next? What happens next? I Dare You To Move. I Dare You To Move. I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor.
I intently scrutinized each of her body parts, her nose, her mouth, her forehead, the lids of her eyes. Is there any movement? I waited for it, willed it to happen, screamed out loud at her, “MOOOOOOVE. LIIIFE!!” We all stood crowded around her lifeless body, hands laid on her. I took her cold hand in mine. It still looked like hers, delicate and freckled; it still felt like her. I squeezed hard. We all danced and sang out at the chorus, I DARE YOU TO MOVE. I DARE YOU TO MOVE.
I pulled away to let Hope in. She took hold of Mom’s hand as I let go. Her brown M&M eyeballs wide and perceiving. I turned back to see my dad still sitting there in the front row.
Maybe redemption has stories to tell. Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell. Where can you go to escape from yourself? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Salvation is here.
For nearly 3 hours we kept this up, repeating our entire soundtrack three times until eventually, the funeral director told us we had to go. He had been politely but unsuccessfully trying to persuade us to stop for over an hour, but Bill resisted, steadfast. I went back over to Mom, grabbing her hand. “It’s Warm!” I announced to the room. Bill nodded knowingly, smiling, his tongue still rolling in the language of the Holy Ghost. Krystal came over to feel it for herself. I imagined her body warming up limb by limb as the holy spirit moves through it breathing life. Then I thought for a second, maybe it’s warmed up because we’ve been holding it, but I quickly dismissed the devil from my thoughts.
We finally agreed to leave the funeral home and head to the burial site. Many of the people who had been kicked out were waiting in the parking lot to follow us to Claiborne Cemetery. I wondered if Bill would even let them come with us. On the car ride, we continued our prayers and speaking in tongues, not letting up for a moment. We arrived to the site and suddenly it became unbearable to think of her lying in there, under the dirt. My mind raced trying to conceive how God was going to pull this off. What if she comes back to life but not until after we’ve buried her? Will God dig up the dirt himself, or just command it to disappear? Will Mom just appear somewhere else and the ground will remain untouched? I bet people will come dig it up anyway trying to prove somehow it’s not her. Imagine their faces when they find her grave empty.
They unloaded the pathetic flimsy blue casket from the back of the hearse and placed it next to the giant hole in the muddy ground under a white tent. The sky was gray and drab and rain drizzled down, each drop stinging the exposed skin on my face. Once more, Bill huddled the group and gave us encouragement. He told us it was just another hurdle, that being moved from the funeral home to the cemetery did not mean we should give up, it was merely another test of faith. Again, I refocused my energy on the moment. I searched my heart for any remaining doubt and forced it away. If I let go of my faith and she doesn’t come back, it’s my fault. No.
Hesitantly, the funeral director asked Bill if he’d like to say a few words. “God does the impossible every day. Six feet of dirt is nothing to him, he created the dirt!” He chuckled. “Join me. Allow God to work through you today.” He went back to praying over her, laying his hands on the closed coffin.
The rest of our loved ones stood back at a distance looking on. We thrust their judging and pitying glances out of our minds and mimicked Bill’s movements. Each of us individually, from Krystal down to six-year-old Josiah, commanded her once more to rise.
After the ceremony, we remained rigid in our belief. We separated ourselves from the outside world entirely for many months. Bill shut down all contact with anyone who wasn’t standing in faith with us, which meant everyone. Aunt Ruth who had been a leader of the house we saw every day was cut out. My dad, who it turns out did not suddenly find salvation but rather stood stubbornly there refusing to leave his daughters during the tragic event, our grandparents, people we use to go to church with, no one was exempt. We were not allowed to see them, talk to them, call them, email them. If anyone in the group cried because they missed mom, even the kids, we had to have an emergency meeting where Bill would berate us about doubt and then inspire us to believe again. I still have the unimaginable notes from these services. We prayed over the house, picturing a bubble of security around it, filled with light inside so long as we held tight. We stayed inside and all the evil and disbelief had to stay out.
One by one members of The Exodus House left. Per Bill, they let doubt win. Once these signs were evident, if they wouldn’t go willingly, they were forced to. This happened until all that was left was Bill and us kids. After many months, Krystal and I had to come to grips with it and leave as well, with no other choice than to abandon our younger siblings in there, in that unfathomable mess. It has riddled me with guilt every day since.
In retrospect, most of us now agree it was good that Mom died. Her death ultimately brought about the death of The Exodus House. I only wish there had been another way.
One Year Later
As I was clocking out I glanced at my phone and saw four missed calls from Krystal. After making the long trek from the store to the parking lot and getting settled in my car, I punched her name into my phone and let it ring.
“Bill is marrying Christy,” she answered.
“What?!” I yelled, dismayed.
“God told Bill to ask Christy to marry him.”
I sat silently, flabbergasted, heat rising in my body.
“Kayla… I think it’s a good thing. The kids need someone other than him”
I couldn’t respond. My mind was running a million miles a minute. Bill hadn’t even let me see the kids since finding out about Brandon so I hadn’t been speaking to him much. I knew he was kind-of-sort-of talking to the divorced skirt-wearing Pentecostal neighbor lady who had kids that our siblings liked to play with, but I thought it was just for company. The image of mom lying in her hospital bed at James Cancer Center, sobbing, saying “I don’t want him to fall in love with anyone else,” played on repeat in my head.
“Do they know?”
“Not yet, he’s telling them tonight.” She said, missing my question entirely.
“No!” I raise my voice, “Do they know Mom isn’t coming back?! Did he tell them yet?”
Now she’s the one who’s silent. “No. I don’t know. I doubt it.”
“Does he still think she is? If he does why would he get married? This doesn’t make any sense. Mom’s only been gone a year! and the last time I talked to him, he was still believing God was going to raise her from the dead.”
“I don’t know, Kayla. I just know Bill says God told him he was supposed to marry Christy.”
When we got off the phone I sat staring out at the parking lot in front me, stunned.
Bill never did marry Christy. After a month or so of engagement she claimed to have received dreams from the Holy Ghost, warnings about him, and she backed out. I suppose one good thing came of all that, the kids finally started to realize that maybe Mom wasn’t coming back. The first year after her funeral, it’s all they talked about. Even after Krystal and I left The Exodus House, Bill continued to push them to keep faith. He told them repeatedly and daily that God would resurrect her. He never admitted he was wrong for doing that. In fact, today he still believes it’s what God wanted him to do. Even after years, he never actually spoke aloud to us or to the kids she wasn’t coming back. Obviously, Krystal and I figured it out on our own but Hope, Hannah, & Josiah were too young. He just let them believe that until one day they began putting the pieces together and at last realized.
We never discussed this together, as siblings, as a family. We just didn’t talk about it at all. We all had to come to our own conclusions in our own time. It made for almost two years of intense and awkward division between us all. We had to individually realize the permanence of her death and then deal with it completely alienated from one another. We didn’t get a funeral. We didn’t get a memorial service. We never got the chance to mourn her, miss her, hear stories about her from friends and family. We didn’t get to say goodbye to her when she was alive and dying and we were robbed of the goodbye afterward. I’m certain this is part of the reason it still feels so raw to most of us. We want to go back and do it right, we want to grieve and let go, but after ten years, we don’t even know where to start. I suppose that is what all this writing is about, a desperate attempt to understand who I am and why, a way to force myself to dig up the dark and devastating things I’ve buried, a chance to unburden myself of this agony and finally, once and for all, say goodbye.