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.