This is my story of the last year, told in six parts. Paragraphs in italics are my dreams, and the dated snippets come directly from my daily journal. I trust my family to forgive me for all that I've shared, because I can't tell this story without including the heart parts … and some of them are raw, and hard to swallow.
cause you got gold, gold inside of you
Mom’s funeral was set for the following Thursday, with a visitation the night before, and the days in between were fairly insane, especially the first one. Friday kicked off with emails and calls and more emails, travel plans, printing programs, choosing a casket and cards and flowers, visiting the cemetery with Dad to confirm the plot, family dinner, loud conversations, and more decisions … with many of us initially tired to the point of being virtually non-functional. Aunt Charlotte was a rock in the middle of it all.
The next few days filled up with food shopping, guest room prepping, schedule arranging, neighbors to invite and chat with, photo boards of Mom's life to make (my personal therapy) … all the bits and pieces that enable a sudden gathering of 180+ people that all loved Mom, and loved us too.
We also fit in those things that funerals and weddings both seem to prompt … special clothes, haircuts, slices of unexpected joy in finding out who's planning to to come, and last minute photos of family groupings that never seem to happen otherwise. The busy seemed to push the tears aside, and I welcomed the distractions, especially as Michael had left Sunday morning for his LA job, and wouldn't arrive back until early Thursday morning. It was all a blur.
By the time Wednesday came, my stomach was in knots. There was the emotional hurdle coming of seeing Mom's body in the casket for the first time, and the knowledge that if history was any indicator, the likelihood that I would make it through the evening without someone's hug squeezing me into a puddle was pretty slim. I hadn't found any real tears yet, but knew they had to come sometime. I also wished Michael were with me, and missed his shoulder … and the kind of squeeze he gives my hand when he sees how fragile I feel.
After a lovely lunch with some family that had arrived early, I got the boys dressed in their finest, and managed to be the first carload to arrive at the funeral home. I waited for reinforcements to arrive before venturing in, and was thankful it was Stephen that showed up. We walked up to her casket together, and I think were both were equally relieved to find out that she looked even less like 'herself' than expected. It was just her body, not Mom, but it made it easier to think of it that way when she looked nothing like she did in life.
People started pouring in, and seemingly never stopped. There were stories, hugs, reunions with folks I hadn't seen in 20+ years, meetings of new cousin in laws and babies, crowds in every possible corner, and a hum and burble of conversation that filled the room with a lovely fizz. Yes, there were tears, but they dried quickly. When the time to leave came and went, with the crowd only slightly thinned out, the funeral staff had to politely ask everyone to wrap it up. It was the happiest visitation I think I've ever attended, and I left with a bounce in my step and a pile of love to take home with me. I squeezed in a bit of time with cousins afterwards, and then collapsed into bed, very thankful for the support of so many of my own generation … especially the one who I told Not to come, and she did anyway.
Fortified by a bit of sleep, the arrival of my husband, and a piece of bacon, we all arrived at the funeral home nearly on time the next morning, and were quickly told where to park to be in line for the procession that would follow the funeral. The room filled even more quickly than the night before, with some overlap and many new arrivals. I couldn't seem to get to everyone before it was time to sit down, on the stiff couches at the front with their discreetly placed boxes of kleenex. The rest of the room was filled to bursting.
Stephen took the first part of the service, sharing thoughts on who Mom was, what she believed, some things she said to us kids, and a couple of hymns for us all to sing. During one of them, Praise the Saviour, I struggled a bit. The singing truly sounded fantastic, but it was the one I sang to Mom almost every night when putting her to bed and she'd often joined in, even just by mouthing a line or two. So in my internal attempts to distract myself from my emotions, as we're singing, I wonder what my brother-in-law Bobby is thinking about this song? I can't see him behind me, but I know he's not familiar with most of the songs we grew up with. Does he know it? I discover later that during that song he got very intensely and uncharacteristically emotional, and couldn't figure out why. He looks up, and clearly sees Mom standing and smiling at the front of the room, in a white robe with long flowing sleeves … she raises her arms and seems to be directing the music. He reacts with happy tears and goosebumps.
After my Uncle Bill had a few words also, it was time for everyone to file past Mom's casket for the last time. I was glad family got to go at the end of the line, and gave her one more kiss on the forehead. The procession to the cemetery was a bit of relief, especially watching the two white escort cars zooming ahead and behind at the intersections, looking very much like a pair of sheepdogs working to keep their whole flock together. At the cemetery, I watched with increasing misgivings as we didn't seem to be heading to where I knew the plot to be, but stopped at the mausoleum instead. My trepidation turned to a strong feeling of dislike as I realized her casket was being wheeled inside, and we were to follow. Apparently the ground around her grave was too wet for a crowd to gather, thanks to recent rains. I didn't like the feel being trapped in a big and rather dark building.
The place was two stories of solid marble, had several aisles with crypts in the walls, and a wide staircase curving up to the second floor behind us. There were only a few folding chairs in the area where they wanted us to sit, and I did so reluctantly as I'd rather have stood around the edges, as most folks did. I felt uncomfortably exposed. My Uncle Danny stood up, and shared some thoughts he had for the family, before asking us, with a wobble in his voice, to sing one more hymn together. This time it was Jesus That Name is Love, and by the time we hit the 2nd verse I was thinking that there was no better place to give Mom a final send-off than in that stone-walled space. The acoustics seemed to be utterly perfect, the singing flawless and of one voice with no one dominating, just a heart-filling sound that seemed to lift the entire group of us outside of our bodies too, into a ball of joyful noise suspended somewhere between heaven and earth. I got goosebumps.
It seemed a bit strange to just walk past her casket and out the door, but we did, and headed off to a meal for everyone back at the church building. It was lovely to sit down at a big long table with old friends and new friends and rarely seen family, and have all the food and other details taken care of by another willing crew of familiar faces. The rest of the day was filled with cramming in as many conversations as I could, having a quiet family meal back at Park Ave, and talking to other visitors until I nearly disintegrated and had to collapse in my own bed. The day was over, and Mom had gotten what seemed like a perfect sendoff.
After a last impromptu family gathering at Teddy's Diner for breakfast the next morning, I had to give my sister a hug goodbye, and got a sudden thump in my solar plexus. This was it, the end of this era … with all the shared time and tasks and feelings and fellowship, and we were parting ways for who knows how long. It hurt.
There were several more of those moments as the rest of the visiting family was sent off, and yet another one when a few of us went to Mom's grave (it turned out they'd buried her right after we left the day before) and Dad shared some thoughts. I scattered dandelions, because in the scurry of the day I'd forgotten to bring any of the bouquets we'd received.