Saturday, January 16, 2010

Funerals and Observations

Hi World, it has been awhile.

So...remember when I said that my resolution for 2010 was to, among other things, spend more time with family and attend a church supper? As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.

Last weekend I got the news that my Uncle Sonny had died. This was not overwhelming or traumatic news for me as I had not seen him for quite a few years, but he was my Mother's brother and for her it was heartbreaking. It reminded me of something my parents used to say: One day you will have only your sisters and brothers so don't fight. And that reminded me of something I read once: One day, there will be just you and your sisters and brothers, and then there will be one less, and you will all go to the funeral, and then one less...etc. ...so don't fight. I guess the trick is being among the first to go because holy smokes how depressing is that?

I wanted to be there for my Mother through a difficult time, so I took time off. The service was held in a small Baptist church in Hudson, NH. I estimated, in the ruthless corporate manner to which I've become accustomed, that the Baptist service, burial, and reception would take about 1/2 the time of a Catholic funeral and 1/3 the time of an Irish Catholic funeral (actually, I don't even estimate the time of an Irish Catholic funeral, I just sign off for the day). With these calculations in mind, I figured I'd be on the road home again and able to take calls at approximatley 1 PM.

I'm being callous, I know, but I think this is the world many of us live in. Your time is divided up into 15 minute increments. Anyway, I made it to the simple little church, freezing, with it's curved wooden pews, with all of my long lost cousins sitting in the curved wooden pews, grieving for someone lost to them, and a part of my childhood came back. There was Aunt Nonnie, but then I saw Aunt Nonnie in the other pew and realized that, d'uh. twenty years had passed in the blink of an eye, and I was actually looking at Aunt Nonnie's daughter, Beverly. Then I saw Brian who looked exactly like his Dad as I remembered him. I saw all of the cousins, and their children and THEIR cute little babies, and it hit home, God, I'm getting a little bit old here. Chicken is old, yes indeedy. The service continued with far too many words from the minister and although there were plenty of hymns, they weren't the ones I liked (meaning they weren't the ones I knew the words to and could sing loudly and off key). Various children, friends and grandchildren got up to honor Uncle Sonny with their words or music.

My Mother got up to read something she had written. And I saw her. Not as the strong Mother of my youth or the friend and confidant of my adulthood, but as a sister. I saw her grief, her love for her brother, and most disconcerting, I saw that she was smaller and more fragile. I saw her bravery and her stoic New England upbringing, forthright and honest, but with humor and a little lesson. (the lesson being that we all have something to offer-we are all a work of art. Have I ever mentioned my Mother was a teacher? Lucky the child that sat in her classroom).

I saw that the time was drawing near when the child becomes the parent of the parent, offering comfort and encouragement, and whoa, that is a scary moment. As the procession proceeded to the cemetery, I saw the words posted on the church sign out front. You know what I'm talking about right, those signs with the interchangeable letters so that the message can be updated as needed? It said, "Compassion for the parent is the true sign of maturity". It was a good message for the day. Uncle Sonny had six kids. Okay, so I got a little something out of it, too.

We went to the cemetery, with Uncle Sonny's antique pick up truck, lovingly restored, leading the way, driven by his grandson, Tim. We laid him to rest in the freezing cold and headed back to the church for "refreshments". For those who are close to the deceased in any funeral, God bless them. I always think how hard it must be to leave a loved one alone in the graveyard, soon to be buried, as you head head back to a celebration of their life here on earth. If you have God in your heart, I guess you assume they are coming right along with you to listen in and share a good laugh, but if you are a little bit agnostic, you might be thinking it just doesn't seem right to leave them out.

At the church, in the basement, where all the best Church suppers are held, the mood was much lighter and as the ladies of the congregation served up finger sandwiches and casseroles, we socialized and remembered Uncle Sonny. There was punch. My mother commented that it was very good punch and she wondered what was in it. I told her it was vodka. She (a teetotaler at the most raucous of events) said she thought, that in that case, she might have another cup. And Aunt Olive thought maybe she would join her.

There were photos from years ago. There were family secrets partially revealed (what really did happen on that family vacation to Nova Scotia, anyway?). There were a lot of stories and the babies were paraded and fawned over. Relationships with long lost cousins were renewed. A family reunion was planned. We all got it: Our time here is precious and limited. Family is everything. Everything else is just...every thing else.

I didn't start on the road home until 3 PM. It was a good, long, nostalgic day. As I pulled over on the side of the road to return a couple emails and make a phone call, I hoped that I would not lose the lesson.

I'm raising a glass of Church Punch to you, World. Hope your week did not come with a loss and that your families are well. My mom thinks you are each a Work of Art. So do I.

Take care,
Chicken