We laid my mother to rest, metaphorically at least, this Saturday.
She always told me she did not want a funeral. She wanted to be cremated and told me to just throw the ashes in the garbage. As usual, I did what I thought was right, not what she told me to do. I’m not quite sure whether she secretly would have wanted a memorial service despite insisting she didn’t. She’s the sort of person who would say one thing while wanting another.
We met with the pastor Friday to discuss the order of the service and to provide suitable anecdotes for the eulogy. I had to call my brother to see whether he was joining us. He said he hadn’t planned on it and asked whether he needed to. Nice. His own mother. When he did make it in, he offered the excuse that it wasn’t on his agenda. I didn’t ask the obvious question: why the hell not?
The service was held at the First United Methodist Church in our hometown. About 50 people showed up, which is a pretty good turnout for someone who hadn’t lived there for over 20 years and rarely visited. Mom still had a lot of friends and other people to remember her.
My cousins Carol and Susie each made an arrangement, and my Uncle Bill’s family sent an arrangement, as did Mom’s cousin Virginia in Minneapolis. I had two sprays of white flowers made for each side of the altar.
We sang the hymns Aunt Violet had selected and listened to the pastor read from the Bible, including Ecclesiastes, to everything there is a season. It’s a very traditional passage, suitable for weddings and funerals alike. I find if very calming.
We ended singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, to commemorate my mother’s love of Judy Garland. Actually I thought that was a bad idea, since it is a difficult song to sing. I certainly can’t sing it. But we pulled it off; Pastor has a good voice and covered for quite a few of us. Tears welled in my eyes.
Cousin Susie generously offered her house for coffee after the service. I think about 30 people came out. We had open face sandwiches: tuna salad on wheat, ham salad on orange rye, and smoked lox on orange rye. Very traditional for Astoria. E had made potato salad, Violet made jello salad, and I made fruit salad with the melons, grapes, and pineapple cousin Barb brought.
It meant a lot to me that cousin Barb drove all the way from California. She was so good to Mom when Mom was living down there and I’m sure Mom didn’t appreciate it, just as she didn’t appreciate E and me. Barb, who is naturally humble, doesn’t think she did all that much, but she did. I know it and E knows it.
After everyone had left and we had the place pretty much cleaned up, Violet, Barb, and I took the two sprays of white flowers and Mom’s ashes to the cemetery where her parents are buried. We put half the ashes between her parents and laid the flowers on their graves. The rest of the ashes will go with Barb to California and Barb will put them with her mother, my mom’s sister who passed beyond the veil some 30 years ago.
The family went out to dinner, courtesy of the estate, that night. I remember when we did that after my grandfather’s funeral. It seemed like a really good way to wrap things up, for just the family to be together. Plus no fights over the bill because the estate paid for it.
The most fun I have had in this whole business has been paying for everything out of the estate. In a way it is fitting, because my mother always wanted to be independent, to pay her own way, and not be a burden on her family. This was her final act, through me, of generosity.