On Wednesday evening, I drove to Mercy House, the hospice residence where my mother lives, during a sun-shower after a heavy downpour. Given the time of day and the moisture in the air, I started to look for a rainbow. When I turned east, a full rainbow appeared before me, one end of it resting on Mercy House.
On Friday morning, the door to Phatar’s room was open, his bed made with the quilt pulled up. Near his pillow was a little memorial with a flower, the United States flag that had been on his door, a little poem that had been posted in his room, and his handprint in green paint on white canvas.
This morning at church, Father Clarence told Phatar’s story during the homily, about his cancer diagnosis, about his final months at Mercy House, about his desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and his baptism, and the comfort that brought him in his final weeks. There were smiles and tears as we listened.
Our mix of emotions in reacting to death is always complex, but I think most people have a particularly strong sense of sadness at the death of a child. It has also been sad watching Phatar’s mom these last months, suffering through every parent’s nightmare of the illness and death of their child. Still, I am grateful to have met Phatar and to know that he is now at peace.
The next time I see a rainbow, I will think of him.
On Sunday morning, I went to breakfast early and was able to say good-bye to some of my classmates who were heading out before the official end of reunion to beat the Sunday afternoon traffic. Everyone was very appreciative of the events and very happy to have had time together. It is amazing how easily we relate to one another, even if we only see each other in person every five years, or even if we had not known each other well during our student days.
At nine o’clock, several dozen alumnae gathered at Helen Hills Hills chapel for a service of remembrance. I arrived early and had a few moments to talk to the college organist about changes over the years. His role and the life at chapel are very different than in my years at Smith. When I was a student, there were Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chaplains and weekly services at chapel for each tradition, along with a network of faculty and community advisors for other traditions. There were three choirs who periodically provided choral music for services, plus a student led gospel choir which sang for some of the ecumenical Christian services and other student volunteers who most often led music at Catholic Mass. (As a Catholic and an organist, I played often at Mass over my four years at Smith, as well as serving for two years as accompanist for one of the choirs and playing almost every organ piece I learned as a prelude or postlude for the Protestant services.)
Now, there are no chaplains and no regularly scheduled religious services on campus. There are advisors available in different spiritual traditions. The chapel still has space for prayer and meditation, but the main body of the chapel is now a multi-use space for concerts, lectures, classes, and the occasional service, such as the one we were gathering for that morning. The chapel was built in the New England Congregational style, but the pews on the main floor have been removed and the floor was changed to wood. It is jarring to me to walk into chapel. I do understand the need to make the space more versatile, but I think it could have been done in a way that was more in keeping with the architecture had the floor been New England hardwood and the chairs less clunky and modern in design. Even more, I lament the loss of service and leadership opportunities in their faith traditions for current students on campus. It was powerful to have services that were planned and attended almost exclusively by women; this basis has been a rock on which I have relied often in the storms that have followed in subsequent decades.
Sorry. End of rant. Back to our service of remembrance…
The prelude and postlude were Bach and we sang three hymns drawn from various traditions and a fellow ’82er sang a solo. There were readings from the Bible, the Qur’an, and from Rumi. Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Matilda Rose Cantwell prepared and led the service very gently and thoughtfully. The most moving part of the service was when Rev. Cantwell invited alumnae to come forward and give a remembrance of someone close to them. People from many different reunion classes spoke about classmates, professors, and family members. Two of my classmates who were from Northampton spoke movingly about their parents’ relationship with the town and the College. My college roommate, who served as one of the deacons of the Ecumencial Christian Church, spoke about two of her fellow deacons who died, Beth, during our senior year, and Amy, who died just weeks before reunion.
Then, we continued on to our final official reunion activity, Sunday brunch. Our table did express our disappointment that our favorite sour cream coffee cake was not on the buffet.
We went back to our rooms to pack up and make sure that our headquarters was squared away before we left.
Several of us decided to stay in Northampton another night in order to process and decompress, particularly to support our two housemates who had chaired the reunion for our class. We decided to visit the Art Museum, which had a special exhibit on the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. We then dispersed for hotel check-in and reconvened at Fitzwilly’s in downtown Northampton for dinner, joined by a housemate from the class of ’81 who lives locally. We then went back to one of the hotel rooms and proceeded to talk and talk and talk, with quite a bit of laughter mixed in!
We spent Monday morning doing what we needed to do, in my case, catching up on a bit of shopping, including buying some Massachusetts maple syrup to bring home for us and for Nana and Paco. We met for a final lunch together at Paul and Elizabeth’s, a restaurant at Thorne’s Market that was new when we were students. More eating, talking, and laughing and then a round of good-byes.
Before I left Northampton, I had one more visit to make. Another business that opened in Northampton when we were students is Steve Herrell’s Ice Cream. I always visit when I am in town. They have redecorated since my last visit, giving more area for seating. I splurged and ordered a sampler so I could have four flavors: black raspberry, malted vanilla, peppermint, and apple cider. Yum! I was happy to have the company of my in-town friend. We lingered for a long while, catching up on our lives and marveling at how Smith friends, even when they don’t see each other often, can immediately re-connect on a deep level.
Eventually, though, I had to head for home, although I could not help but feel that reunions are too short and too far apart.
Yesterday, our church celebrated Epiphany. This is also the day when we usually take down our Christmas tree.
Because this Christmas was somewhat subdued for various reasons, we hadn’t taken any photos.
I did, however, ask B to take the above photo. The carol singers are ones that Grandma, his mom, who passed away in March, had made for us when we were newlyweds to match her own set. B made the church from a kit over thirty years ago. The little Irish church mice are of a similar age.
The barristers and tea cup collection are also inherited from Grandma, with some of the cups originating from prior generations.
The wintry photo is of Main Street in North Adams, Massachusetts and was taken by a shopkeeper sometime in the last decade. We purchased it from him and Grandma displayed it in her cottage at the local retirement village. All four of B’s and my parents came from the North Adams area and he and I grew up near there, too.
It seemed fitting to commemorate Grandma and our family roots in this special corner of our dining room this Christmas.
This was our first Christmas season without Grandma (my mother-in-law) who passed away in March.
It was also a quiet Christmas for a number of reasons which I won’t enumerate here.
It was sometimes difficult to navigate the season, trying to balance happy memories of how much Grandma loved Christmas, especially decorating, with how painful it was that she wasn’t able to be here with us.
I think each of us had at least one crying jag in the process.
Some things just felt right, though, such as putting the carol singers that she made for us on the cupboard filled with her teacup collection that now sits in our dining room, instead of on the mantel in the living room.
And making her pecan puff recipe.
I am also thankful that last year, our daughter E and her husband L were here celebrating Christmas with us. It was a precious time.
Some of my faithful readers may have noticed that I have been scarce around here the last few weeks, even given that I have had to cut back significantly on blogging this year due to family commitments. While I have been spending time on family obligations, even more of the time in the last few weeks has been dedicated to re-organizing our house (for reasons that will be elucidated at a later date).
I am the first to admit that I don’t like housecleaning, but this re-organization went way beyond that. There was a lot of going through things, both our own things and things that we had brought to our home after Grandma died this spring. Some things got donated, some got packed and stored in the attic or basement, and some found their way to new places in our home.
Bonus: We freed up the garage so the minivan can stay out of the snow.
The most difficult thing for me, though, was sorting through papers.
Some things were painful or poignant by their very nature. Obituaries. A note from a friend who has since passed away. The fiftieth jubilee mass for a long-time pastor who died this year. Copies of my junior organ recital at Smith, a reminder that I haven’t been able to play the organ for years now, due to orthopedic problems.
Other things caused a more wistful reaction. My daughters’ artwork, starting in preschool and going up through middle school. Some of their report cards and concert programs. Programs and liturgies from our years at Blessed Sacrament, before everything fell apart.
There were some things that had been gathering dust, perched on a high display shelf in our bedroom, that I packed away. My summa cum laude diploma. My Phi Beta Kappa certificate. A certificate naming me a Presser Scholar. All things that I earned thirty-five years ago, when I was quite a good student.
This sounds like I am bragging, but remember these were in our bedroom, not out on the mantel in the living room.
Some may also infer that I am very competitive person, but I am the opposite. My parents raised us to do our own best, without regard to what others were doing. I was fortunate that my best translated into good grades, but my motivation was not gaining honors but learning as much as I could.
Having these mementos was a good reminder for me over the years when I was feeling overwhelmed that I did have a brain in my head that could go to work and research and weigh options and arrive at a useful course of action.
Now, they are in a box in the attic.
I hope that, after thirty-five years of learning, living, and growing, I no longer need a visual reminder.