The funeral was yesterday. My son and I had arrived on Wednesday, spent the evening with my father. Dad is struggling, a bit lost without the woman who was his constant companion the last 58 years. When we arrived, he was trying his best to put on a brave face, but he also wasn’t hiding his grief. Throughout the evening, Dad would remember things about Mom, then fight the tears as he talked. We sat with him, watched the Cardinals play (a rare loss), shed a few tears with him. The game ended, I excused myself to go to bed, and we all retreated to our rooms. Dad closed his door as it was clear he wanted the privacy. I heard his voice several times during the night, visions of his wife likely kept him company. Her body had been cremated that afternoon, but I think her spirit was with him.
I didn’t fall asleep for a while. The memories kept coming as I thought about what I was going to say at the memorial the next day. Mom gave me a lot to smile about over the years. Before I shut off the light, I had reviewed my typed manuscript for my tribute to Mom, my eyes damp enough to cloud my vision as I read. Speaking in public is usually not an issue with me. I like it. However, this was something I had never done and I feared my emotions would get the best of me.
Dad got up around 5:30 the next morning. We needed to be at the church by 8. I heard Dad go through his morning routine, the routine a comfort to him — feed the dog (a little kibble and soft food mixed together with a slice of American cheese), start the coffee brewing, let the dog outside into the front yards as he strolled with her, back inside to fix his oatmeal with a little glass of orange juice. I knew better than to join him. His bible and prayer journal are next to his place at the kitchen table, so he needs time to himself as he reads and prays after his breakfast. I know to wait to hear his chair pull back from the table before I join him. That’s what I did yesterday morning.
Dad was quiet. That’s unusual. I squeezed his shoulder as I walked past him to get my coffee and a bowl of cereal. I honored the quiet, something I sensed he needed. There were tears in his eyes and I knew that he had been crying as he prayed his morning prayer.
Since Mom’s body was cremated, the visitation and memorial was at the church. My parents are very involved in the small town church they attend, so it was natural for us to use the church. Flowers were being arranged in the lobby and in the church auditorium as we arrived, four picture boards and the framed pictures we had taken over to the church the night before were placed on a table for people to see as the entered for the visitation. One of my brothers had gathered electronic copies of pictures on a thumb drive, so a slide show was already projected on the wall above the stage as we entered. The visitation was scheduled to start at 9, finish at 11 when the memorial would start. People started arriving 15 minutes early, not surprising for a farm community. For two hours, we greeted people as they came through the line. It was a reunion of sorts. I saw people and cousins and aunts/uncles that I probably haven’t seen for decades.
That included my first serious girlfriend. I saw her once a few years after she broke up with me over 35 years ago. She had been a tall (5’10” tall) athletic girl who I absolutely adored, a green eyes beauty who had looked absolutely fantastic in a bikini. During the three years we had dated, I had seen her in a bikini quite a bit as we swam together nearly every day while we were dating. We had sports in common, tore up the coed softball leagues we had played in together, fought as I taught her racquetball, enjoyed skiing on the lake during the winter and the Wisconsin snow during the winter. When I saw her come in the room, I could see her trying to catch a look at me. I poked my son, told him about her.
“You dated THAT?” He said something similar to what I was thinking. She didn’t look weathered or beat up, but let’s just say I wouldn’t want to see her in a bikini again. I know that she has been divorced three times, so I know I had dodged a bullet.
Mom’s music played during the entire visitation, except for the last half hour. My brother played Rachmaninoff with the SMU symphony when he went to school there, a magnificent recording that our mother was extremely proud of. She wanted it played during the visitation also.
The preacher gave the benediction and prayer to start the memorial service. Then it was my turn. My youngest brother followed me up to the podium, not sure that he would be able to speak. He is the gentle, sensitive son and we all knew that he would be the most emotional of the three boys. It wasn’t easy for me easier, as I had to pause to regain my composure almost immediately. Somehow, I made it through the first part of what I had prepared without looking at the manuscript I had with me. But, as I began to get to the most emotional part, I had to resort to reading the manuscript. I made it through, maybe helped give my brother the strength to speak. As I finished, I looked back at him, asked him if he could make it. He shook his head no, but I paused, asked him again and walked over to him and helped him to the podium, then stood close behind him as he spoke. I am proud of him. Through a wavering and emotion filled voice, he gave a beautiful testimony to our mother.
My other brother gave his tribute by playing a medley of songs that my mother had loved to play on the piano. It was wonderful. My mother had a special talent and my brother has followed in her footsteps. When he was done playing, there was not a dry eye in the room.
The preacher approached the podium, his eyes wet with tears. He and Mom had teamed up for countless funerals and weddings and other church events over the years, as well as Mom being the church organist and piano player. He told about how she had saved him at one funeral service, sensed that he was getting emotional during a sermon and started playing a song, which prompted him to sit down while he regained his composure. No one had even noticed the hiccup.
His sermon during Mom’s memorial yesterday was the best I have ever heard from him. He normally has a very wooden delivery, but yesterday he was relaxed and natural. It was quite an honor to my mother, as he obviously gave his best.
One of the best things about small town churches, especially in farm country, is the food. The lunch that followed the memorial was incredible, with plenty of fried chicken and meatloaf and casseroles and fresh breads and pies. We ate as people came up to us to talk to us. I guess my speech went well — one woman told me that her church needs a preacher and asked me if I would be interested in the job! I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I am divorced, something that would disqualify me to preach at most churches. One cousin invited me to go with him on a backpacking trip with him this Fall, something I may do. I also spent some time catching up with that ex-girlfriend, her mother sitting next to me with her arm around me. A few years ago, at my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary party, her mother had told me (in front of my then wife) that her daughter had let the best man go.
Have I said here that I have an ego?
My family went back to my parents’ house, spent some time together, then left for home. I hesitated as I left. My son and I were the last ones to leave. Dad didn’t look like he was ready to be alone. I knew that watching his family leave would bring on the finality of Mom’s passing. I gave him a big hug, told him that I would stay a while longer if he needed me to. I let him sob on my shoulder for a while, then he told me he would be OK.
Dad called me twice during my three hour drive back to Chicagoland.