The mail truck just drove by the house, and my first fleeting thought was, “Maybe there will be a letter from Mom.”
There will never be another letter from Mom, of course. I spent a week-and-a-half in Michigan watching her die, then planned and attended her funeral, and wended my way back home to Wisconsin. There was indeed a letter from her waiting to be opened, one that she’d written three days before her stroke, but that’s not going to happen again.
Mom and I wrote twice a week to each other. Half the pictures I took during the week were to capture images of my life that I could share in my letters, which were always profusely illustrated. Yesterday, when I saw my dog looking cute on the couch, my first thought was, “Mom would love to see that.” I didn’t take the picture.
I’m not sitting here glumly, though. Mom would never approve. She was a firm believer in the words of a decal in her bathroom: Every day is a gift. Each of those last days we had with her, difficult as they may have been, were gifts. Having family around for love and support was a gift. Even Mom’s celebratory funeral was a gift to her, to ourselves, and to those who attended.
The funeral was done the way Mom would have wanted. “Peppy songs,” she always said. “Don’t sing any of those sad, dirgy things for me.” We were restricted by what was in the hymnal, so we chose as peppy as we could and told the organist to not dare let the tempos lag. He didn’t.
Her urn, sitting front and center before the altar, was a former tool box that she’d painted orange, decorated with butterflies and used to hold her brushes and paints. We added some clay pieces that my sister Kay made, one of her paintbrushes, and even a couple of her distinctive earrings she was known for. We put personal mementos inside along with her ashes.
I confess, we had doubts. What would people think? No polished wood, no gilded decor, just a rough-and-tumble metal box that meant the world to her. We thought maybe we should stick with the black, plastic box she arrived in when the delightful young funeral director brought Mom’s ashes home. We showed her Mom’s toolbox, and asked what she thought.
“We don’t want to scandalize anyone,” we said.
The funeral director, who had listened to so many of our stories about Mom, looked at the orange paint box and smiled.
“From what you’ve told me, your mom wasn’t a black-box sort of person,” she said. That’s all we needed to hear.
Later we learned that people who attended the funeral were surprised, yes, but also very approving, because “that’s just so Jeanne!”
So was the final song played once the funeral was over and people left the church-proper and entered the gathering space. It was the only thing Mom had requested for her funeral. My sister and I, first ones out, cranked up the volume on a waiting CD player and allowed the lively notes to “Music Box Dancer” to greet the people who followed us. Everyone emerged smiling. A photo of a younger Mom dressed in a flamboyant caftan sat near the recorder, a perfect illustration of the song’s mood and my mom’s philosophy of life. George’s guitar rendition of the song, done on two separate tracks, played on the big screen during the funeral luncheon. I just know Mom was toe-tapping in heaven.
Mom’s biggest legacy was her faith and her life of prayer. The joyous funeral we gave her wasn’t a desperate attempt to hold the reality of death at bay, it was a statement of belief that although she died to this life, she lives in heaven. The words of the prayer, read at her funeral and printed on her memorial card, say it best: “Life is eternal and love immortal and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”
My sight may be limited, but hers is not. She prays for and guides us still, I know. I’ll have my teary moments, and I’ll miss her for the rest of my life, but I could never begrudge her the joy of reaching THE destination for which we are all intended.
Home at last, Mom. Save me a place at the table.