Funeral for a Strong Woman

This day has come.  And it has come too soon and suddenly.  I should not be surprised, after all, since you are 95 years old, Mom.  The day has come too soon because you told me you were going to live to be 100.  The day came too suddenly because you have never had a terrible sickness in your life, Mom.  Your strong will finally had to succumb to death.

But this has truly turned into a celebration of life – your life Mom.  You would not believe the people who’s lives you have touched.  You would not believe the support your daughters had because you raised us to be the people we are, and our friends care deeply about us.

When I first walked into the parlor, Kris was sobbing uncontrollably.  I was oddly calm.  I knew this strength came straight from God because of all the people praying on my behalf.  I hugged Kris and reminded her you told her to take care of me, because I am the baby.  We had a little giggle about that.  Kris and I walked hand in hand to your casket.  Oh Kris helped pick out the most beautiful coffin.  You so loved roses and Paw always flooded you with the most beautiful rose bouquets throughout your marriage.  Your coffin was rose colored, with roses engraved in it, and roses embroidered in the lining.  You look beautiful wearing the wedding dress you wore almost 32 years ago to marry Paw.  Your fingers are beautifully manicured in that red nail polish you always liked.  You are holding your treasured rosary, and Eric’s cross is lying beside you.  You look beautiful, Momma. More beautiful than anyone else I have ever seen in a coffin.  In my opinion, most people look terrible in death, while mourners look down and say, “Oh doesn’t she look pretty?”  I always want to yell, “No she does not – she is dead!”  That is why I made my husband and kids promise to cremate me.  But you are different, Mom.  You are truly beautiful and look at peace.

Mom, the parlor started filling up with your friends, Paw’s friends and our friends.  Mom please do not worry.  Kris and I work with some fabulous people and they were there to support us (and mine had to drive quite a ways to get there).  We also have fabulous friends, old and new, that were there.  I even had an Avon sister that we have only talked online, but she came to your funeral because she felt like she knew you through my stories.  Kodi’s in-laws came all the way from Purvis to New Orleans, at the height of Mardi Gras season, to see you one more time.  Your Theta group was there to honor you and gave a wonderful little ceremony on your behalf.  Two ladies from the group said I sounded like you.  They said they heard my voice and laugh from the hallway (meaning I am loud like you) and both were astonished at how much we sound alike.  I was truly honored by this.  Kris and I have had hundreds of messages from well wishers that could not attend your funeral, but they were thinking of us.  This was beautiful, Momma.

Of course, Kris had to tell my co-workers about the time I came home drunk at 15 and you were horrified.  Oh big sisters!  What am I going to do with her, Momma?

And I want to thank you, Mom, for marrying Paw.  You knew what you were doing marrying into that wonderful family.  Kris and I gained a sister, brother, nieces, nephews-in-law and great nephews.  These are truly wonderful, loving people.  They honored you so wonderfully.  They mourned as if they were actually born to you.  They knew your love for them and you have touched their lives tremendously.  And you might get a priest out of one them, Mom.  Little Sammy is definitely touched by God.  He is so pious and grounded in God’s word.  Even though he is not blood related to my brother, I think he just might join the Seminary, just like Eric.

I was calm until the closing of the casket.  Wait, you are taking my Mommy away.  That was rough, very rough.  I cried until I thought I was going to throw up.  We got into the vehicle to follow your hearse to church.  I was almost to the point of hyperventilating.  Guess what was on the radio?  Vince Gill’s Go Rest High on the Mountain.  That supernatural calm returned.  This was another gift from God.  Then Collin Raye’s In this Life.  Yes, in this life, I was loved by you.  Being loved by you is the most precious gift God has given me.

As we walked into church, behind your casket, I had to concentrate on the man (from Mothe’s Funeral Home) walking at the head of your casket.  He was walking backwards, holding onto you.  I had to concentrate on this for two reasons, (1) That he could walk so well backwards, and (2) concentrating on him walking backwards kept me from thinking that your little, lifeless body was laying in that casket.

Mom, your Mass at St. Cletus was beautiful.  Your favorite song, Ave Maria, was sung.  Father Tuan Pham gave a phenomenal sermon all about your goodness.  He made us laugh.  He said after every Sunday Mass, you would kiss him on the cheek and call him Junior (because that is what he was called in Seminary).  That sounds just like you.  Dana, your granddaughter, gave wonderful readings.  Her voice was clear, steady and paced perfectly.  But what I was most impressed about was that Dana could walk up and down those steps in high heels without tripping or falling.  You know I could never do that, Momma.

But I must admit, me, Scooter and Jay kind of misbehaved in church.  It has been quite a long time since I sat through a Catholic mass and some of the wording was changed.  I said Amen at the end of everything, but some of the replies were words such as “Thanks be to God.”  Scooter told me to stop.  So every time I said Amen I turned to him to make my point – gosh darn it!  He said if I keep it up he knows where I am going.  Then he spiraled his hand downward.  We giggled.  Father Pham came down from the alter to shake our hands and I almost missed it because I was goofing off with the family behind me.  I turned around in time to give him a kiss on the cheek and call him Junior.  When Father Pham began the Eucharist, and retrieved the host from the sacred place, Jay said “Well that’s the man who had the Holy Grail all this time.”  Mom, that kid is so funny and it was all Scooter and I could do to not burst out laughing.

This reminded me of another time in church, probably about 45 years ago.  You, Kris and I were sitting in our usual area.  There was a tiny ant crawling on the back of the pew in front of us.  You did not see it because you were intently listening to what Father Poche’ was preaching.  Kris and I, on the other hand, were quite entertained by the ant.  The ant crawled onto the back of the lady in front of us.  Kris and I looked at each other, giggled and watched the ant crawl circles on her back.  Then we had to stand.  The ant crawled downwards and starting crawling circles on her rather large backside.  As it is in the Catholic Mass, sit, kneel, stand, sit kneel, stand.  She sat.  Uh oh!  Kris and I waited with bated breath to see if the ant survived.  We were elated to see the ant crawling up her back again.  This tiny entertaining creature got back onto the back of the pew.  It crawled past Kris and she moved her hands so the ant could march on.  It crawled past me as I moved my hands away.  And then – you spotted the ant and squashed it with your thumb.  The end.  Kris and I looked at each other horrified.  We had quite some time invested in that ant!  What a memory to pop into my head during your Mass.  But this reminded me of good times, such as leaving church to head to McKenzie’s Bakery for a ‘sweety’, then heading home to eat the wonderful Sunday meal you cooked for us.  Such fun, innocent, carefree times for me and Kris.

Back into the car to follow you in your final ride to the cemetery.  You are riding in style, Mom, like the Queen of Mardi Gras.  We arrive to your final resting place.   You are being reunited with my Dad.  Kris, Cindy and I are sitting holding each other.  I start rubbing their necks because I can feel how tense they are.  Father Pham is saying beautiful words – I think – because Cindy and I were busy battling gnats.  Good grief, can we have a moment, please?

We now head to the house you and Paw have shared all these years.  Cindy’s church bereavement group have been busy setting up food.  We had a wonderful time celebrating you with family and friends.  We were missing your presence terribly.  You would have loved being a part of this.  All the great grandchildren were outside playing, running, laughing, having such fun.  It was good to see children in the old neighborhood again.  Mrs. S. had been at the funeral and she came to the house after.  I know this was so hard for her, so soon after losing her son.  But she loved you so much she was able to push past this pain.  The chocolate brownies didn’t hurt either.  You know Mrs. S. and her love for chocolate.  She taught me how to make a chocolate sandwich – remember that?  Well I poured her a tall glass of chocolate milk to go with that chocolate brownie and we shared stories.

Life goes on and things already start happening.  Your microwave broke, my washing machine breaks – all of this to remind us that we cannot melt into a puddle and stop living.  Life goes on and we will carry your memory with us.  We will draw on the strength you have exhibited your entire life.

Night time comes.  I do not give in to tears and self-pity.  Instead I thank God for all the wonderful years I have had with you.  I am thankful that you now get to spend time with Eric and Donna.  It is their turn to have you.  I will see you again one day, due to God’s promise of eternal life.  And I thank God so much that in this life, I was loved by you.

 

Death of a Strong Woman

I heard it.  I wanted to pretend I didn’t hear it.  That ringing of the phone in the middle of the night could only mean one thing.  I didn’t want to answer it.  I wanted to live in a world a little longer of where my Mom was alive.  But, alas, I had to answer.  Yes, she is gone.  Mom slipped away in the wee morning hours, holding Paw’s hand.

I was oddly at peace.  But I know why.  God’s promise – that is why.  The most important lesson Mom taught us was Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, and believing and trusting that, we would have eternal life in heaven.  I can temporarily step out of my selfish grief and rejoice for Mom for the reunion she is having now.  I know there are days of tears and pain ahead, but God’s promise and love will pull me through this.

1 John 2:25New King James Version (NKJV)

25 And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.

Mom was – oh how strange that sounds – ‘was’ – past tense – Mom was a fierce defender of her family.  She prayed so hard for us.  Now I know I have a tiny, mighty champion in heaven, and that is comforting.

I choose not to look at Mom’s death like a terrible burden of sadness.  She is free.  She is free of anxiety and worry that plagued her.  She is free of pain from a 95 year old body.  Momma is hugging her son and daughter that she has missed for so long.  It is Eric and Donna’s turn now.  They are having a heavenly reunion with our Momma and that brings me true joy.

 

Love Letter to my Momma

I am beginning to not like the phone.  The phone is not my friend anymore.  As I was leaving work, my sister calls to say, “Hurry Gretchen.”  Is today the day you are leaving us Mom?  “Lord,” I pray, “please Lord, let me make it to the hospital on time.”

After consulting with the family, the doctors are removing tubes and medicines from you Momma.  They fully expected you to fade away quickly.  Your BP immediately dropped by half.  But those doctors don’t know you, Mom, like we do.  You stabilized yourself and kept whispering, “I love you, I love you all.”  Then you started saying your prayers.  I really think you were saying the rosary.  And, of course, you were talking to your deceased children, Donna and Eric.  You will be seeing them soon, Mom.  I know you miss them so much, and we had you far longer than we could have ever imagined.  We are at peace with letting you go.  But it still hurts, DAMMIT!  (That brings a laugh.  DAMMIT was your favored curse word.  I think that was the first word all of us kids muttered.)

We are all in your hospital cubicle, Momma, up here in SCU at West Jefferson Hospital.  The staff is the most wonderful staff in the world.  They had all been celebrating your fighting spirit and your will to live.  They are all as heartbroken as us.  We are watching every breath you take.  We are watching the monitors.  Surprise, surprise, your BP climbs a bit and your oxygen is at 100%.  Every little sound you utter we jump up and surround you.  Please Momma, please, open your eyes one more time.  I have got to see your eyes open one more time.  Nothing.  The priest visited earlier to give you your Last Rites, and that seemed to be the end for you.

Late at night, everyone has gone home except me & Paw (my most wonderful step-dad of 31 years).  I feel a sneeze coming on.  I always said I had a sneeze that could wake the dead. Time to test that hypothesis.  Achoo!  Sure enough, you open your eyes wide and stare at me surprised.  Then you look a little angry.  I say, “Sorry Momma.”  You grumbled something and shut your eyes, possibly never to open them again.  But that is okay.  I got to see your eyes open one more time.  God granted me that wish.  And a little lagniappe, your BP rose even higher.

Paw and I call it a night about 1:00 in the morning.  Paw starts to cry on the way home talking about you.  It hurts to hear Paw cry.  He goes home to his empty, over-sized Paul Bunyan bed.  You have shrunk so much in recent years, Momma, and Paw always had those little, short legs.  The little set of steps on each side of the bed are so adorable.  It was always cute to watch you two, tiny elderly people climb in that big, old bed.  Now Paw doesn’t even sleep in the bedroom.  He sleeps in his recliner, missing you, Momma.  Your laundry basket with the rope tied to it sits empty by the dryer.  You were always so cute dragging that laundry basket behind you all around the house, dragging clothes to and from the wash room.  Your presence will live on forever in that house.  Please, Momma, please wake up and come home.

I open my eyes to a new day, Momma.  Our new life without your lively self.  Before I head back to the hospital, I have to go see your friend, Mrs. S.  You don’t know this yet, Momma, we haven’t been able to tell you that Dennis passed away.  Like you, Mrs. S is burying a 2nd child.  As I am walking across the street to her house with tears in my eyes, my mind wonders back almost 37 years.  I was 19, home alone, after visiting Donna in the hospital.  I had to come home.  I couldn’t take watching my sister die.  Everyone else stayed at the hospital.  I was home alone and the phone rang.  My phone was not my friend that day either.  It was your aunt, Momma, calling to say how sorry she was Donna had died.  But I had not known that yet.  I was home alone, after just burying my daddy a year before, and I hear my sister died.  I panicked.  I ran out of the house to Mrs. S’s house, crying the entire way.  I ran into her house and into her arms, and she hugged me and took care of me until you got home.  Today, once again, I have tears in my eyes.  Donald, Dennis’s older brother, opens the door for me before I even knock.  We look into each other’s tear filled eyes and don’t have to say a word.  I rush into Mrs. S’s arms and we cried and cried.  We cried over Dennis and we cried over you.  We remember good times and finally part, but we each have a little lift in our step.  Please, Momma, please wake up, your friend needs you.  Mrs. S needs her friend.

Kris and I are headed to see you again, Mom, wondering if today is the day.  We stop to buy a muffaletta for Paw and Cindy (our beloved step-sister of 31 years).  Today is the day you are being moved to a private, hospice room.  I do not like that word – hospice – so final.  I do not want final when it comes to you, Momma.  Your BP was down to 60/33 when Cindy first got there in the morning.  But her hugging you and rubbing your hand raised it back to 70/33.  The family is ushered up to your room to wait for you while you are being prepped for the move.  I hand Paw a root beer and he says the root beer is really big and will last him well into the night (he’s used to sharing his root beer with you).  Then he knocks it over and spills most all over the floor.  Well now it won’t last you all night, Old Man.  Then Cindy drops her muffaletta on the floor.  Well I tell you, Momma, that was the best fed floor.  We were having a good laugh when your bed is rolled into the room.  You look so tiny.  I had to tell you about Paw and Cindy how they were misbehaving and you should get up out of that bed and fuss.  Please, Momma, please wake up and fuss at Paw and Cindy.  But you chose not to comment on that.

Paw’s legs are swelling, Momma.  He’s not taking care of himself like he should.  We convince him to rest with his legs up in the recliner.  He is struggling with those little short legs and Cindy is trying to help him.  Well, lo and behold, the recliner is on wheels and Cindy inadvertently sends Paw rolling across your hospital room.  I tell you Mom, we can’t take these two anywhere!  We are belly roll laughing as the social worker walks in the room.  He must be wondering what kind of nuts we are.  We diligently listen to him speak about hospice and we become somber.  But, it doesn’t take long before we are belly roll laughing, again, and the social worker walks in, again.  We are filling your room with laughter, Momma.  Please, Momma, please wake up and laugh with us.

You have a visitor, Momma.  It’s Bradley.  Well, of course, I had to tell the nurses all about Bradley.  Remember, this is one of our favorite stories, Momma.  I remember coming home from first grade at St. Anthony.  I said, “Momma, there is this bad little boy named Bradley at school.  He’s really, really bad.”  Remember you told me to stay away from him?  Then one day I am looking out of the window from our house and I yelled, “Momma, Momma, that bad little boy Bradley is across the street!  Momma, Momma, come see.”  You told me to just stay inside.  Little did we know that 24 years later that bad little boy Bradley would become my step-brother.  Poor Bradley (my beloved step-brother of 31 years).  We never let him forget that.  But he is a good sport and let us laugh, at his expense, to make you happy.  Please, Momma, please wake up to hear the Bradley story one more time.

Kris decided to share a Katrina story.  You remember this one.  This was when you, Paw and Kris were hurricane refugees in Beaumont, TX.  Paw wanted to fill up Kris’ car and get it cleaned so he took her to a quarter machine car wash.  Well Kris is handy with a sewing machine, but don’t give her anything else mechanical.  She has never held a car wash wand in her hand.  She put the quarters in, and had no idea of the water pressure that was about to come out of that wand.  Paw happened to be standing in the wrong spot at the wrong time.  Paw was now covered in pink, blue and white suds from head to toe.  Kris is still trying to control the wand and continues to squirt suds all over him.  He said Kris wouldn’t point the wand the other way.  Cindy asked Paw why didn’t he just move.  He said he was in shock.  After the spraying quits, Paw and Kris are laughing and he removes his eyeglasses.  Kris said all she could see were two big eyes staring at her from a mound of pink, blue and white suds.  They said you were so shocked when they returned to the apartment and Paw was soaking wet.  Oh Momma, please wake up and laugh with us.

Look Momma, you have more visitors, your nephew Rusty, his wife Gladys, and one of their daughters, Ingrid.  Now Erica is here, or as you lovingly call her, your first bad-egg grandchild.  And then Shawn (our beloved niece of 31 years) stops by.  Your room is full, Momma.  We are all reminiscing, laughing and filling your room with lots of love.  Please wake up, Momma, and join us.

Well Mom, it is time for me to return home.  I have to go to work tomorrow.  I leave the hospital crying crocodile tears.  I want to call my daughter, Kodi, but I cannot get that lump out of my throat to speak.  I finally get my act together and call her, but she doesn’t answer.  So I continue with my cry-fest, Momma.  I am already missing you.  I am in full blown hysteria mode and my phone rings.  It’s Kodi.  I summoned your strength, Momma, and got my act together to talk to my baby.  Well I could have kept crying for the blubbering mess me and Kodi were.  She doesn’t want to lose her grandmother.  Please, Momma, please come back and live with us a little while longer.  Eventually, our phone conversation turns to fun times, but she has to go to tend to her young family.  Rowen, your youngest great grandson, has taken off his diaper with poop in it.  Shane and Kodi must go search the house for poop.  I am once again left alone to my memories of you.

Life is still rolling along whether I want it to or not.  I stop to see my Avon sister and we discuss our Avon booth at the upcoming Picayune Street Fair.  I called Kris to let her know I made it home.  Home – to Spooky Hollow – and the tears start flowing because you will never be able to visit here again.  Your son-in-law, grandson and great-grandchildren are all waiting to greet me in my fragile state.  Please, Momma, please wake up and come visit me at my crazy Faux Farm.

But I know that will not happen.  The phone, which is not my friend, will soon bring the dreaded news.  When that does happen, please, Momma, please come and see me in my dreams.

Frank the Faux Pug, Part 2

For months I knew it was getting closer and closer to the time we would have to put Frank the Faux Pug down.  I dreaded that day.  I teared up every time I thought about losing him.  You see,  Frank was my constant companion for 16.5 years.  He chose me as his person.  I was his voice to defend him and protect him from ‘those mean people who tried to correct him.’  My rule was no one was allowed to fuss at Frank or correct him.  Yes, he was my spoiled baby and I was his person.

I prepared myself so much that when this day came, I was clinical, I was numb, I was ready to see Frank out of pain.  But obviously, the rest of the family was not clinical, or prepared.  My 12-year old grandson was brave enough to carry Frank in his arms and put him on the table for that final shot.  And then he was shattered.  The tears came in like the mighty Mississippi River overflowing her banks.

I am a puddle of mush when I see someone cry.  I may not know what they are crying about, but I will join in.  So my tears were more for my grandson than for Frank the Faux Pug.  I was clinical and numb to the process by now.

My husband, myself and my grandson arrived back home with our lifeless Frank the Faux Pug.  My son and granddaughter barreled out of the house with tear streaked faces to give Frank a final hug and kiss.  My 10 year old granddaughter was wailing and shaking with grief.  I cried for her and my son (who was supposed to be Frank’s person, but Frank chose me) because I was clinical and numb to the process by now.

The funeral procession marched to the backyard by the blueberry bush, Frank the Faux Pug’s final resting place.  More hugs, final goodbyes and crying.  The family group hug as Frank was being buried brought on more sobs.  I cried for them because I was clinical and numb to the process by now.

I gathered my grandchildren close as we walked back into the house.  They were a sobbing mess and I hurt so bad for them.  They were already feeling the pain of a life without Frank the Faux Pug.  I was okay because I was clinical and numb to the process by now.

By bedtime, I was more weary than everyone else.  But that is nothing unusual.  Frank the Faux Pug and I always retired first.  He would let me get about 6″ of the mattress, then he would perform his ritual of 3 turns and plop against my back.  This was our nightly routine.  I could immediately drop off to sleep once Frank was firmly planted against my back.  Then we would wake up in the morning hugging each other.  We shared a pillow.  I would lay in the darkness of my bedroom petting Frank.  This moment was always my calm before the storm of a new day.

This morning was different.  I awoke hugging a stuffed giraffe.  My husband told me our grandson brought this in after I fell asleep and tucked it up against my back.  My grandson – who is usually a terror – who always writes the word ‘poop’ on the foggy bathroom mirror after his shower – who always sticks his fingers in candle & scentsy wax and messes it up, even after constant admonishment – who poured baby powder in front of a running fan and covered the entire room with powder dust – who took Vaseline and rubbed it over all the faucets in the bathroom – who also has a heart of gold.  My grandson knew that come morning time, I would  not be clinical and numb to the process.

I was clinical and numb to the process of putting Frank the Faux Pug down.  But I am not clinical and numb to life without him.  As I lay in my darkened bedroom this morning, petting a stuffed giraffe, I was having the calm before the storm of a life without Frank my Faux Pug.