My mother, known here at ToJCM as Nana, passed away last month.
I have been wanting to write a post about her funeral and other commemorations but I haven’t been able to find the quiet time needed to do so. When a loved one dies, close-by family members often become very busy with memorial planning and estate issues and a rather astonishing amount of phone calling and paperwork. It’s necessary, but also distracting and can make it seem that reflection and grieving have to be stuffed into little pockets of time between tasks.
I also realize that I have been grieving over a long period of time as Nana was declining. This anticipatory grief has made my initial reactions to my mother’s death very different from the shock of my mother-in-law’s death, which was like being suddenly submerged rather than a slow walk into the waves.
I have begun this post in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. The silence in the house reminds me of my mother’s absence. We literally spoke to each other almost every day of my 58 years. Will I eventually get used to that silence?
But, I set out to write about the funeral, so I will try to re-direct my thoughts…
I should probably start with the planning. My sisters, who live out of town, were staying with my dad and helping with tasks like moving Nana’s things out of the skilled nursing unit, while I embarked on the funeral planning and paperwork. I am very grateful that my spouse B took time off work to be with me while we met with the funeral director and the florist and signed papers at the memorial park and such. Some of the plans were already in place, but other decisions remained.
One of these was choosing prayer cards. The funeral director gave us a binder with pictures for the front of the cards and verses for the back. Even in the midst of such a solemn occasion, there are moments of levity and the prayer card binder provided that opportunity. Most of the pictures were mid-20th century paintings of praying hands, or Jesus crowned with thorns, or various saints in pious poses, none of which seemed appropriate. We decided to use the one set of nature photographs, which reminded us of various places where Nana had lived or visited. Finding the most appropriate choice among a hundred verses was more difficult. Most of the Bible verses were King James, which is not a translation that my church uses any more. The poems were incredibly sappy with the kind of rhymes that give poetry a bad name; this was the source of most of the levity. Poems in which one invites the Blessed Mother to tea just don’t quite have the cultural relevance they used to, if indeed they ever did. We did, though, find a very nice quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson to use, even though it meant that our prayer cards didn’t have a prayer on them. The quote can be found at the end of this post.
Planning the funeral gave me several writing assignments: the obituary for the newspaper, the words of welcome which would preface the funeral mass, and the intercessory prayers that conclude the liturgy of the word. Usually the family chooses from a set of readings and prayers that are already established, but because I spent a lot of years doing liturgy committee and music ministry, I was able to suggest some other choices. My daughters helped me choose the scripture readings and I had my writing done and some music ideas before I met with the pastoral minister Sister A and the music director, with whom I have been friends for many years. Everything focused on love because that seemed the best expression of Nana.
The hour before the funeral, we had time for friends to visit with the family. My younger sister had put together some photographs which were on a table as people entered. Nana had chosen cremation, so the urn with her cremains was there with flowers on either side. We had a mix of my parents’ friends and staff from their retirement community and caregivers and hospice volunteers. There were also some of B’s co-workers and my friends, including some poets, singers, and spiritual companions. I appreciated everyone’s support.
The funeral was very meaningful for me. My words of welcome focused on how Nana was so welcoming and loving with people and how she was such a good listener. I admit that I was grateful to speak first, because then I could concentrate on the rest of the service without distraction. Well, without distraction other than grief and tears, both personal and family. We were blessed to have family and friends in special roles. A priest-friend who came to concelebrate. Sister A who had been visiting Nana and Paco over the months reading from Proverbs. My niece and nephew sharing the reading of 1Cor 13. The hospice volunteer who had visited and called on a regular basis for almost two years reading the prayer petitions. My daughters E and T and the almost-two-year old ABC, along with son-in-law L, who was able to make the trip from London to be with us, bringing up the offertory gifts. Music ministers singing with the Resurrection Choir representing the parish community. My long-time friend at the organ, who had been such a support to me during Nana’s illness as I had tried to be to her through years of struggle with her parents.
After the mass, the family and two of Nana and Paco’s closest friends proceeded to the chapel at the memorial park for the committal service, led by the deacon from our church, and reminiscences shared by my younger sister. Then, we went to one of Nana’s favorite restaurants for lunch. We had a server who remembered what Paco usually ordered, even though he hadn’t been there over the last couple of years. The restaurant also treated us to desserts, which was so thoughtful of them.
The next day, we had a gathering in the social hall of the senior living community that has been home to Nana and Paco for over ten years. Along with coffee, punch, and cookies provided by dining services, we had an assortment of homemade cookies, mostly made by B – lemon and chocolate pizzelles, snickerdoodles, shortbreads, and cherry-pistachio biscotti, all family favorites. The snickerdoodle recipe is written in Nana’s cursive. Nana was especially fond of the lemon pizzelles, shortbread, and biscotti. The photos were on display, which was nice because some of the residents, staff, and hospice folks weren’t able to come to the church, but could join us then.
I’m so grateful for all those who have supported us during Nana’s decline and who are grieving with us, offering the love and compassion which Nana had shared with so many over the course of her eighty-seven years. Her example is the reason we chose this passage by Ralph Waldo Emerson for the remembrance cards:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.