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The Funeral

Paul came home from work on Monday, and in his hands were the photos that I had picked out from her albums...

Here are a couple of them...




He did a beautiful job with them.

I put them into clean frames, and called the funeral home to make sure that there would be a table there to put them on, along with a vase of white gladiolas that my friend from work, Jennifer, had sent to the house.

The funeral director called later that evening and asked me if I had chosen pallbearers...

Pallbearers? The only thing I hadn't even thought of! The one thing out of the millions that had never crossed my mind! Of COURSE we would need pallbearers! And I had no idea who I would get, because I had no idea who would actually be there. Paul, my brother, Heinz...who else? Who else? We would need at least eight, as one of the symptoms of my mother's illness was that she had put on about 30 pounds of water, and she was not a tiny woman to begin with...

It turned out just fine. In the end, the pallbearers were Paul, David, Heinz, my cousin Jack, my cousin John, my cousin Tom, my cousin Tony, and my second cousin Brad. They were wonderful.

I tried to greet everyone, but it was a full house, and so many people that I hadn't seen for years and years and years came. People my mother had known and touched over the years. They all went up and spoke to my Dad, who had come in in mother's wheelchair to prevent any mishap. And madfedor came, and my friend Donna, which I appreciated very much. More much than they probably know.

David and April sang, and April did quite well, in spite of her trepidation that she would not be able to keep it together. She faltered just a bit, at the beginning, but then the music took her, and she finished wonderfully.

Then David spoke, before it got too difficult for HIM. And he told a couple of wonderful stories that made my father laugh.

Then it was my turn. This is what I said:

Thank you all so much for coming, and to help us celebrate the life of my mother, and to share the grief we feel for her passing with all of us.

In this room, I see the faces of those who loved my mother, and of those she loved. It is only fitting that we all be together here, to see her off as she enters into her new life, and to wish her well in her new home.

I loved my mother. She was smart, she was kind, and she was funny. She loved to laugh, and we shared so much laughter over the years. I am grateful for that. She took such pleasure in small things—the people she loved, the times spent together, the little treats that life offers us and that we need only take from life’s hand in order to enrich our own lives. She was an example of one who didn’t need riches or fame or some huge event in order to celebrate life itself. She was filled with joy when confronted with a perfect tomato, a good report card, a fistful of ragged flowers picked just for her, a roomful of laughter, a joke she shared over the heads of her unknowing babies, just with her husband. She was happy—truly happy—with her lot in life, as a wife, as a mother, and as a friend and celebrant of life’s gifts.

There was so much about her that was special and thoughtful. As children, we were never told that she had big plans in the works, for a trip to the zoo or some other outing, because it might rain, and then what? Broken little hearts. Instead, she would wait until morning, and when she was sure that the day was reliably sunny, she would wake us and tell us the adventure she had planned for our day. She protected us from disappointment and the little heartbreaks that come from disappointment, and in addition, kept our lives spontaneous and full of wonderful surprises.

So many small things—heart-shaped pancakes for Valentine’s Day, and rubber eyeballs in our cereal bowls on April Fool’s day. Loving messages that she wrote with a blunt pencil on the skins of our lunch box bananas, invisible in the morning, but clear and distinct by lunchtime, as the skin browned where it had been gently bruised, revealing her secret message. She knew that, by that point in the day, a smiling reminder, telling us that we were well-loved at home, and that mother was thinking of us, would be much appreciated—and it was. She was capable of incredible, goofy good cheer, and calm and reliable comfort when we just couldn’t smile. And in these ways, she taught some of life’s greatest lessons, and gave us some of life’s greatest gifts.

She taught us personal responsibility, by giving us opportunities to make our own choices, and to let our conscience be our guide. When we were young, lying abed as if perishing from some exotic malady and telling her that we were far, far too ill to go to school, she would say, “Well, only you know how you feel. If you think you are really feeling too sick to go to school, then you should stay home.”

It was amazing how often we suddenly and miraculously recovered.

I still do that, by the way!

She was a unique individual, with an astonishingly unconventional perspective on life. She was full of surprises, as delightful as those surprise visits to the zoo. She was both unbendingly practical and fantastically whimsical, because in a balanced life, she knew that whimsy had to be supported by the practical things that allowed room and time and resources for whimsy.

But she never FORGOT the fun. Not once.

There were times when my mother and I wrestled, in that strange and twisty way in which mothers and daughters wrestle. I was not an easy child, and there were many times when I know I disappointed her. But at the same time, when all the superficial trappings of those conflicts were torn away, and the tears were dried, at the essence of the conflict were two women who loved each other, and who were fiercely devoted to one another, and who wanted nothing but the best for each other, ever. She took care of me, and in that fine and wonderful example of protection, of nurture, of support and dedication, she taught me the importance of taking care of others and allowed me, in the end, to help take care of her.

I found a poem the other night, when thinking about what I might say here today, which gives me great comfort, and a reason to continue the celebration, and I’d like to share that poem with you today, in the hope that you, too, will be reminded of what this enormous, final event really means in our lives here on earth:

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says;
"There, she is gone!"

Gone where?
Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout;
"Here she comes!"

Thank you all for coming today, and thank you for sharing the joy and the surprises and the celebrations of her life over the years. I know that, in time to come, we will share those celebrations once more.

I heard my nieces giggling in a familiar way, because all the things my mother did for me when I was little, she also did for them, and I know that those memories of their Grandma will stay with them.

Several people came up to me afterward, people who had known my mother for a long time, and told me how much they appreciated what I said because, in the somber tone of the day, what they remembered of my mother was how much FUN she was, and they appreciated the fact that this part of her hadn't been forgotten.

I appreciated that very much. To be honest, without consulting with my Uncle Tom, who officiated, or my brother, who I had allowed to read what I was going to say but had no clue what HE was going to say, I felt like I addressed those things that concerned themselves with her earthly life, and the things that she enjoyed here, and not just the joys that she would come to know in the life hereafter.

It was all quite Jesus-y, which was fine because that's what my mother would have wanted. I know she often bemoaned the fact that, at some of the funerals she had attended, the gospel hadn't been preached to her satisfaction, and the opportunity to "witness to lost souls" had been missed. But that was not the case at HER funeral, to be sure--there was plenty of talk about that.

Little did I know that I was that lost soul. But that was pointed out to me, in detail, later in the day.



Sep. 2nd, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
I must confess to some selfish relief at my initial decision to leave before the cemetary part. I wavered on the lunch invite, but in the end it came down to my discomfort at the amount and intensity of the Gospel aspect.

I mention that here, in public, because it was selfish, especially compared to your tolerance of it.

I have a new appreciation for the stereotyped image of the pagan bursting into flames at the sight of God. I also hope to get to meet and know your relatives under happier circumstances, some day.

With the self-flagellation done, I did think it was a very beautiful ritual, and my sense of the people there is that it served its purpose admirably. I could not expect nor ask anything more.
Sep. 2nd, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, it got worse.

Read on, Macduff.



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