“It’s time to go”, my husband John quietly says.
I stand up automatically, put out my cigarette and gather my things to get into his car. I am like a robot on the outside and my mind feels like it has been through a blender; I’m pretty sure I can’t handle what’s about to happen. I’m afraid I will just dissolve.
I notice John has vacuumed the carpets – a sign of respect for what we are about to do that I find sweet. He has been my rock and the ground beneath my feet through this. My daughter Sara and her boyfriend get into the car with us and we are all quiet. There is no request for music. It is a respectful silence. Everyone looks around, but not at each other. I try the radio a couple of times and quickly give up.
My chest is tight and I can’t stop crying. I try not to let anyone see. My practice reminds me that I am not in any pain really – other than my thoughts. I am so tired of being sad and crying – I want to do something different so I try and become more aware of what my mind is doing.
The pain I am feeling comes from remembering how it felt to bury my father and the distant long ago experience of burying my first mother – my grandmother it turns out. The past creeps up like dark air just waiting to swallow you up if you don’t stay conscious and aware of the games your mind plays. I remind myself that I am just driving in a car right now. That right now nothing is really bad.
“It’s just that my mother is dead and I feel scared and alone and terribly terribly sad”
– my mind throws in a little reality check.
How do I balance this?
I wrestle with my mind on how to justify what I believe spiritually – which is that we are all connected, that death is illusory and that consciousness exists past physical life. But the feeling of something like an empty cavern in my chest where my heart has cracked open is obvious to me and the whole world. I am unsure of what to believe anymore. But I can see the worry and love in the people around me. My wound is obvious. I try to keep my head together as the car rolls towards the funeral home.
I remember suddenly that it made me feel better to listen to Paul Simon’s “Graceland” on my way to my father’s funeral, so I load it onto my phone and sink into the music. My mind quiets. I have so much fear of falling into pieces and being no use to my kids or my sisters who are in terrible pain. Behind the scenes of my mind, thoughts of the day’s upcoming events unravel. There will be allot of people and I have a last chance to be my mother’s daughter. I will be present and make my family proud.
We arrive on the heels of “Diamond’s on the Soles of Her Shoes”. I turn off the music as my husband parks in front of the funeral home. We unload musical gear. I remind myself how absolutely unprepared I am for organizing the music and all the things that have to happen. I don’t feel nervous though. I am suddenly aware of a feeling of quiet confidence that everything will be ok. I have faith in my mother, my friends and my family.
Let go and let God”, I hear her say in my mind.
I imagine all that she would say to me then. “Easy does it”, “Breathe huny”, “Just do your best”…
I am there for her and the people who love her. The pressure lifts.
I enter the funeral home and see a group of people in front of me, but I don’t know any of them. I didn’t realize there were two funerals. Those can’t be our people – those people look very sad.
A sign points to upstairs indicating that there is a celebration of my mother’s life. I go upstairs where only my immediate family is sitting. The room is quiet as John and I descend upon the quiet scene with our immense family. Our kid’s energy enters the room and things lighten up.
We set up the movie I have created of her and my family and her friends. It took me six long days and it was a grueling process of excavating not only physical pictures but a complete overview of my entire life and everyone who has ever been a significant part of it. During the process I half laughed with a good friend saying that if I hadn’t resolved my past after ALL this, than I was completely without hope.
The rest of my kids come in and we watch the movie together, as a family. We criend and laughed together as we remembered all of the events that went with the 65 years of memories on the screen. The memories that made us the people we are today.
Over the days between my mother dying and making the movie I laughed but mostly I cried. I cried buckets and buckets of tears. My eyes became swollen and infected and at the funeral I found myself looking slightly Quasimodo-ish. One person asked me if I got punched.
The result of the movie was beautiful though. I didn’t know it would be like that. After the private family viewing people came in throngs, waves one after the other, all gathering around the screen and able to spend time with her and all the good memories in her life.
She had a special musical request right before her passing – that we play “It’s your Thing” by the Isley Brothers – so I added it to the video with as many silly pictures as I could find. People were smiling and laughing because they so deeply understood what she was telling them.
I see my family around me. My brothers I hadn’t seen in the same room for so long only because of circumstance and not a lack of willingness. We all really love each other. There is a loyalty and a pride in being family that we share. I sense the friendliness and a feeling of unity with all of us. It feels good.
Our cleaning lady from many years ago arrives smiling. She looks beautiful. People arrive more and more – we share stories and tears and hugs. This is very healing.
Time has flown by and it’s time for the ceremony.
I am a little overwhelmed as we enter the chapel. I’m not quite sure what to do. Unbeknownst to me, the two friends who were supposed to sing and play the main song at the ceremony had still not yet arrived because they set up at the wrong funeral home and were sitting beside an unknown person whose name rhymed with my mom’s family name.
We enter the chapel; I make my way through more hugs and touches of support on my shoulder. I look behind me quickly to see where my family is. My brother and his sons are beside my friends – I love that they are meeting. My children are in the front clinging to their partners and friends. I am grateful for the support the Universe has sent their way. I see them quiet and dignified – this is their Nanny. A very difficult loss for them. My heart is washed with love and respect for their quiet courage.
I sit beside my sister – my mother’s identical twin sister. Her sadness is palpable and I wish I could take some of it away. But that won’t ever be possible. She is beside my stepfather. I am overwhelmed with concern for them both and I once again release my fears to my Higher Power and pray that they get what they need and the comfort that only and act of Grace can bring.
The Archbishop is presiding over the services. I like this man. I had met him as we were preparing the funeral arrangements. At first, I was wary of anyone who be of “high office” in any church or religion – it is arrogant of a person to claim they can talk to God or on God’s “behalf” better than we can for ourselves. But he isn’t like this.
I asked him how we can all learn to become “Excellent”, because as the Archbishop he is referred to as “Your Excellency”. A challenge he handles with deference and humour –
“I don’t know, but as soon as I figure it out, I’ll letcha know”. He said with a gleam in his eye.
We wanted some form of a Set list or organization for the music at the funeral, but I just knew in my heart that it was not something we could “organize”. It would be fine – I reassured him. God would take care of the music. Imagine me saying that to an Archbishop? He smiled-maybe at the irony- and nodded, writing a note or two on his pad. I think I made him a little nervous with my “hippie ways”, but in the end, he had faith.
The ceremony begins…
Father Barry enters the church saying something about Celebrating the end of a life…we stand…we sit. He recites a passage from Ecclesiastes; “To every thing there is a time…”
The Bible’s long version reminder that everything is changing and that change is the nature of our existence. Yes. My mother would have said the same thing.
People are crying all around me. I like this. It means there were so many people that loved her that she is loved and missed. I have never been to a funeral where I felt so much love.
It is time for the dedication speeches. Jack gets up. He’s an Irish-New Yorker straight out of a Mario Puzzo movie. He always reminded me of my brothers in his funny sideways man-humour and gentle gruffness. He has been very good to my mother and step father and has shown his love in so many tangible ways with his wife Louise. Our family is extended and huge. His speech is brave and beautiful and ends with the Irish Prayer –
May the Road rise up to meet you
May the wind be at your back…
There is not a dry eye in the house when Jack is done.
Diane gets up next. My mother’s dear friend over the past many years and someone she loved like a daughter. Love and loyalty pour from her words and I smile at how I see the impression of my mother’s energy on her. Her influence of wisdom and the guidance she gave her will not be lost because she will do what my mother did for her for another woman. This is an awesome legacy – more than money or fame or power – for those things disappear instantly with your last breath.
Here is a little more from father Barry. He speaks from the heart about his own loss of the wife he loved last year- a woman who suffered with MS and then died of cancer. I respect his words because he speaks from his heart and I listen carefully because I know he speaks the truth. He looks at me and gives me a smile to begin music. I go up and realized that the friends doing the song are still not here, so I pick up my guitar unsure of what song to do. I look at the Chapel filled beyond capacity and only feel love. I like the quiet and I decide not to rush. I play gently until something comes to me. Other musical friends I see are scrambling for their guitars and trying to figure out what I am playing. Suddenly I see Sonja and Roger come in. I begin to sing Amazing Grace. George comes in wearing a top hat and a smile. I hear Sonja’s voice. I don’t know the second verse – I realize only halfway through the first. I feel surrounded by angels and light and beautiful things. I drop off and on cue, Sonjka picks up the second verse and brings the whole chapel back to singing the first together at the end.
I knew it would be ok. We would will all just fall into step with each other like people who have walked a long road for a long time do. I hear David pick up the small bongo’s and a steady beat keeps me moving forward. That’s what friends do. They keep the beat going.
I am singing. I hear myself. I can’t believe it. Just a few hours ago I was trying to figure out how I would even just be in the building and be able to speak to people. But, in this moment, I am feeling JOY…I mean, my heart is filling up past capacity! I hear all the other voices, Sonja and roger and the other guitars come in with the heartfelt timing of angels. I look around to make sure my brother can hear because this is beautiful music and I really want him to feel it. He is standing up at the top balcony and I can see smiling.
I don’t feel sad. I feel my mother – so happy with us. Smiling and I know that THIS is exactly what she would want. We ALL know it.
So we are happy and sad all at once – together. And that’s ok too.
The ceremony goes on, I give my eulogy and I feel the words and thoughts come easily from the written version to words from my heart. I had been careful only to write my eulogy once. I didn’t edit or draft it. I just wrote it.
I wanted everyone to remember what she would want us to remember.
Her last word of Love…
I let her speak through my heart and I stepped out of the way. It felt good.
My eldest daughter Meagan gets up and surprises me. She speaks of love for her grandmother and on behalf of her brother and sister, with whom she has a tumultuous and loving relationship. She is smiling when she sits down. It helps to tell everyone how much you loved someone when they pass away.
We had a final song set up but I wasn’t sure when to do it, but it didn’t matter. I would follow father Barry. But when he gave me the sign to set up a final song, I changed my mind suddenly from my original “plan” and announced “set list change” to my friends. They all laughed – big surprise. I have never been able to follow a set list in my life. Why should now be any different? They were prepared J and did “In My life” by the Beatles. A special request I felt from on high.
We laid her to rest in a beautiful illuminated cubby hole in the Chapel wall. We can go and visit her ashes any time we want. And the funeral director told me I could bring my guitar and take advantage of the awesome sound in that place. I love that we can go and be with her and focus on her like this. It’s a beautiful ending to a beautiful life.
I woke this morning feeling “in my body” for the first time in a week. I know this is not going to be easy. After a funeral and death there is a long process of understanding how to be in the world again without the physical presence of someone you loved.
Yesterday, when people would ask me how I was, I would do a quick check and answer honestly;
“In this moment, I am well”, because, whenever I remind myself of where I am standing in this moment – really, I am well. I will have to do that allot in the next while I know.
I speak to my mother all day. I hear her answers clearly in my mind and heart. I don’t doubt her voice, because I came from her and she taught me well.
She is continuing to be a good friend and I feel the love right now, in this moment. But when have those hard moments where I feel only the loss, I will have the celebration of her life and the feeling of extraordinary love and togetherness that came from that day to bring me back to myself.
In love and gratitude.