Remembering Nana

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.

 

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Nana

I have often written posts about my parents, known here as Nana and Paco. I’m sad to tell you that Nana passed away last week. After months of declining health due to congestive heart failure, she had a few days of rapid decline and died peacefully with my older sister with her and the rest of the family able to gather quickly for some final time together with her.

Over these last few days, my sisters have been staying at Paco’s apartment and taking care of him, while my spouse B and I have been tending to preparations for the funeral, which will take place mid-week.

We are very fortunate that this week is a week off for my son-in-law L, who was able to fly here from London to be with daughter E, granddaughter ABC, and all of us.

I admit that my mind has been richoting from one subject to another. Now that the funeral plans are all in place, I’m hoping I can calm my mind a bit, but it remains to be seen.

With so much happening, I’m not online very much, so I may not be able to keep up with responding to comments. Please know that I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers that you send on behalf of Nana and our family.

In peace,
Joanne

Sister Joanna

Yesterday, it was my privilege to join with the choirs of Holy Family to sing at the funeral mass for Sister Joanna. Sister Joanna had been most recently serving as director of social work and spiritual life at Mercy House, where my mother was in residence for five months before hospice discharged her. That was how I had met Sister Joanna, who often brought communion to my mother and coordinated such comfort measures as haircuts and massage therapy.

Sister Joanna’s death came as a shock. Although she had her share of health problems, she was only 69 and still very active between her work at Mercy House and caring for her own mother. Her loss will be keenly felt by all the volunteers and staff of Mercy House, as well as all the families and the staff of hospice.

The church was full for the funeral yesterday and included a whole row of priests who gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. It was a beautiful service, but it is only the beginning of the good-byes to Sister Joanna. She was a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and a vigil service and burial mass will be held in Reading, Pennsylvania, next week.

Rest in peace, Sister Joanna.

helping out

I decided to postpone my planned post for today to respond to the Just Jot It January prompt of the day – “self.”

As my parents have aged and encountered more health problems, I have taken on more of their household tasks myself. Because they have lived for a number of years in a continuing care senior community, some of the cleaning and cooking is taken care of, but I have been helping with laundry, shopping, banking, etc.

Today, I represented my parents at the funeral of one of the other residents, who had lived there almost as long as my parents. She was also a stalwart of our church. She had been able to be very active until the last few months, when she had a stroke and other complications.

I was able to speak to a couple of the other residents after the service. They were upset, as one would expect. One of them told me that she had told my father he needed to live at least another ten years, which given that he is turning 94 in March, is a bit of a tall order. Still, there is one woman who is in independent living who is 110, so who knows?
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/08/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-8th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

father, farmer, and builder

This week, my daughters and I sang in the choir for the funeral of our friend Nancy’s dad. Nancy is a long-time church musician and liturgist, so many current and former choir members and friends arrived to support her by participating in the liturgy. We had 43 singers and 3 instrumentalists. The music was a beautiful and meaningful part of our prayers for Joe and being surrounded by so many musician-friends helped Nancy to play the funeral mass.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to play for a loved one’s funeral or memorial. Because you have to concentrate on doing your job musically, some of the mourning that one would typically do at a funeral is deferred. My hope is that the memory of the music we shared will be a comfort to Nancy when she reflects on the funeral in the coming days.

The reflections offered centered around Joe’s roles in the community as a father of five children, a farmer in his younger years, and then a long-time builder of homes in our area. Each of these roles has many scriptural and faith references which were woven throughout the liturgy.

It was my privilege to write the universal prayer for the funeral. I served on the liturgy committee with Nancy for many years in our former parish and learned so much from her; I was honored that she asked me to write the petitionary prayer that closes the liturgy of the word.

Nancy and I have been supporting each other through an extended period of multi-generational family caretaking. Strangely, some of our most stressful periods have coincided. Fifteen years ago, I was staying at the hospital with one of my daughters when Joe had a serious stroke following heart surgery. I missed Nancy’s mom’s funeral when my mom had a heart attack while my dad was in the hospital for surgery. Now, Joe’s final illness and death happened while my mom is in a hospice residence.

I am truly thankful for Nancy’s support, friendship, and gracious example. I pray for solace and peace for Nancy and her family. Rest in peace, Joe.

flowers from Joe's funeral luncheon
Joe’s favorite color was blue, so there were blue hydrangeas and white roses on the tables at the funeral luncheon.

 

 

final gathering

Yesterday, we reached another milestone in our process of saying good-bye to Grandma, gathering together with extended family for a graveside committal service back in Grandma’s hometown in Massachusetts, where her ashes would be laid to rest beside Grandpa’s in a plot that had been a wedding gift to them in 1953.

Grandma had been a member of the First Congregational Church since she was a girl and had retained her membership from afar over the last 6+ years she lived in a senior community near us. She had not wanted to have a wake and funeral, preferring instead the simplicity of a graveside service of her cremains. This gave us the ability to set a date well in advance, allowing travel plans to be made for the more far-flung relatives, including a cousin from Washington State.

This also afforded the opportunity to gather all four grandchildren, working around college and graduate school commencements. It was especially important to arrange flights for our elder daughter E and her spouse L, who were able to stop on the East Coast while flying home to Honolulu from visiting L’s family in London. It also gave E the opportunity to introduce L to our Massachusetts/Vermont extended family and B and I to show him where we had grown up, met in high school, and fallen in love.

As the family member with the most liturgical planning experience, I took on the duties of making arrangements for the service and for getting the information out to the relatives. We were blessed to have Rev. Carolyn of First Congregational preside for the service. Though she had never met Grandma, having come to pastor the church after Grandma had already moved out near us, she thoughtfully wove together some favorite Scripture passages, including psalm 121 and 1Corinthians 13, with references to Grandma’s life as a mother and grandmother, aunt, cousin, teacher, friend, and community member.

To close the service, I had asked our daughters E and T and son-in-law L to sing the traditional round, “Dona Nobis Pacem”(grant us peace). E and L have degrees in music and T is a long-time choral singer, including collegiate level. Everyone so appreciated the lovely sound of their voices, singing Grandma off to rest. I had forgotten that their relatives had not heard E and T sing since Grandpa’s memorial service almost eleven years ago; they were struck by how beautifully our family trio sings.

We were also blessed with a gloriously sunny, warm-but-not-hot morning for the service. Given the time of year and outdoor location, we had decided to forgo men in suitcoats and women in dark dresses for more spring-time clothes. I’m sure Grandma would have appreciated the floral prints and lace-accented tops we wore, which complemented the multicolor carnations we had ordered from her favorite florist shop.

After the service, we gathered for lunch at a favorite local restaurant. We had reserved a private room and had three tables of six, which made conversation easy. Although the reason we were together was sad, we appreciated the opportunity to catch up with family that we had not seen often in recent years. I was especially grateful for our daughters to spend time with their first cousins; given that their geographic distribution is about to be New York, West Virginia, Arizona, and Hawai’i ,they may not see each other together for years.

I’m sure Grandma would have been pleased and proud to see them all sitting together, chatting about their now-adult lives, even though she would still think of them as the children they once were.

Rest in peace, Grandma.

the legacy of Father James

In my last post, I wrote about a long-time, retired pastor who was near death. Father James died Friday night and these past few days have been about preparing and celebrating the funeral rites.

Leading those efforts has been Father James’s nephew, Father Tim, and Father James’s long-time music director Nancy. Father James served at Blessed Sacrament church from 1978 through his retirement in 2003. He hired Nancy early on, shortly after she graduated from university with her music degree, and they developed a true partnership and deep friendship that lasted through his retirement years.

They both loved liturgy and taught me that thoughtful, prayerful planning was the key to vibrant worship. I served on liturgy committee and in music ministry for many years and learned so much from them both. My role in the funeral planning was to write the universal prayer, which is a set of petitions which closes the liturgy of the word, for both the vigil service and the funeral mass.

Along with my daughter T, I joined the 40-voice choir, which was assembled from the choirs of Father Tim’s church, Nancy’s current church, Father James’s boyhood church where the funeral was being held, and some other former Blessed Sacrament music ministry alumni. (A number of the other choir members had also sung at Blessed Sacrament when Father James was there.) We rehearsed for two and a half hours Sunday night to be ready for the two services.

When a priest dies, he lies in state in the church, clothed in his priestly vestments. Father James had chosen white vestments with a multi-colored trim which, if I recall correctly, had been a gift from the parish for his 40th ordination anniversary. For three hours before the vigil service, Father Tim along with Father James’s nieces and other nephews received condolences from hundreds of friends and former parishioners.

We then held a vigil service with Scripture readings and prayers which focused on service. There were three homilists, one a priest-friend, who offered stories of Father James as a friend and traveling companion; one a niece, who told of growing up with with three priest-uncles, Father James and his two older brothers; and a Blessed Sacrament parishioner-friend, who told of the strong bonds of love and friendship that Father James built among us. His words reflected beautifully my own experience at Blessed Sacrament, what that parish family meant and continues to mean to me. (Unfortunately, for reasons too complex to relate here, the Blessed Sacrament community that we knew no longer exists as a parish.)

The next morning was the funeral liturgy. Nancy played prelude music on the organ, followed by two choral pieces. During the opening hymn, the many priests and deacons in attendance, all dressed in white, processed to their places, followed by the concelebrating priests, including Father Tim, and finally the bishop, who was the presider for the funeral mass.

The readings centered around Eucharist and included a gospel passage that was close to Father James’s heart and ministry, the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). ¬†Father Tim gave an inspiring homily, which was both intimate and encompassing. Not only had Father Tim had the example of his uncle Father James before him all his life but he had also been in residence with him at Blessed Sacrament for nine years when he was serving as chaplain at a nearby hospital, during which he assisted with weekend and special liturgies and shared homilist duties.

I was especially moved when Father Tim spoke about how special the Blessed Sacrament community was in the twenty-eight years of Father James’s pastorate, how Father James drew people together and encouraged them to develop and share their talents, how important liturgy was to him as the work of the people, and how extraordinary the partnership was between Father James and Nancy, resulting in eight choirs and a congregation that actively and joyfully participated in both spoken and sung prayer, empowering them to go out and serve others. He reminded us that it is up to those of us who were part of that community to continue to carry on the good works, friendship, love, and caring to others.

For T and me to be singing in the choir for the services was a special blessing. While Blessed Sacrament had been a modern renovated building with the music ministry in the front of the church, the church where we were gathered is one of the oldest in our area with a choir loft and a pipe organ. Being in the loft gave us a good view of the church and a bit of space from the emotions of the family. It also gave us the best advantage of the acoustics.

Some people who were unfamiliar with Nancy’s skills had expressed reservations about the choir not being amplified, but, under Nancy’s guidance, we did not need microphones to be heard and understood. They were also afraid that the congregation wouldn’t sing, but we were confident that they would – and they did. Many people were former Blessed Sacrament parishioners who were used to singing hymns and responses. Moreover, what many Catholics don’t realize is that it is not a choir or cantor that leads the singing, it is the organ. Nancy is a wonderful organist, who knows how to register the organ effectively and to pace and phrase in such a way as to lead the congregation to confidently sing the hymns and prayers.

Nancy also is the best liturgist of any Catholic church musician that I know. The hymns beautifully reflected the Scripture readings that had been chosen for the services. People commented afterward about how thoughtfully the music enhanced the service.

I know that Father James would be pleased with the vigil and funeral mass that we celebrated before laying him to rest.

With a wink, he would say it was because he had taught us how…which he did, by word and example.

As Father Tim reminded us, it is up to us to carry on, loving and serving one another, as Father James did.

May he rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon him.