A Decent Funeral

Lots of family and family-of-family; a couple of neighbors; a few very dear friends of mine; a few family friends of my brothers. Flowers were tasteful, but (in keeping with my mother’s wish, who always said, “If they didn’t care enough to send me flowers when I was alive, I sure as heck don’t want them after I’m dead and can’t appreciate them!”) not overabundant.

The embalmer did as good a job as humanly possible, but she still looked nothing like herself. Which was just fine: that simply wasn’t her, there in that casket. I put a few items into the casket that she wanted to be buried with — a stuffed polar bear, a photo, a birthday card my niece had already bought her — and brought her wedding ring, which she wanted to be buried with. I thought it would be no big deal getting the ring on, but her hands were nicely locked together, so it was as if she were being particularly obstreperous when I was struggling with them. Once the ring was on, her hands wouldn’t go back together properly — one arm kept flopping to her side after a few moments, which was both ghastly and hysterically funny. It was a Chuckles the Clown moment for those of us standing around the casket.

I wore a white Guayabera shirt and sandals, again in keeping with Mom’s wishes, though I was thrilled to not have to wear a coat and tie.

The service was simple. I shared how Mom had repeatedly told me to look in her important papers box after she died, and how I had found there a file folder containing three songs she had selected for her funeral, and some poetry, and a story about a mother’s journey through life. I printed the story on the back of the funeral program, and found the music on iTunes and put it on CD, which the funeral director was kind enough to play at the appropriate moments. I read her poem. We shared a few stories and remembrances.

And then my old friend Lesley Warrick, who (to my great shock and delight) had driven up from the Ft. Lauderdale area with her husband for the funeral, got up and shared these words:

Craig and I met in the 7th grade. [I interjected, “Back in the horse-and-buggy era!”] Our friendship started because of a mutual love of literature, and bloomed and matured through the discovery of shared sensibilities, shared experience and shared loves — love of laughter, of books, of the theatre, of intellectual curiosity — and always, always, love of his mother — whom I came to call “Mom Smith.”

My own parents were academics, and their lessons to me were lessons of exploration and lessons of inquiry into what made the world tick and what might be. Mom Smith’s lessons to me were of a more pragmatic nature — her lessons were those about what IS. She was the one who taught me about cleaning stains up with soda water, and about the best way to find a good deal in the clothing store,

I thought she was very glamorous and loved the way she did her hair and chose her clothes — she taught me that there was a different style, a different approach than that of my more fashion-conservative mother. As a young girl and later, as adult friends, she always welcomed me into her home — she always exuded love and warmth and she was faithfully, faithfully honest and pragmatic. She was funny and fun and would cut through the noise of my youthful angst with just a few words and a shared laugh. As the years rolled on, and I married and we all moved away from geographic proximity to one another, Craig and Mom remained part of my extended family. Their support, their love, their consistency was a safety net that I understood was always there and valued greatly.

If we are lucky, each of us has that ‘someone’ who is part of our emotional background — someone whom you know will support you and honor your choices and share your burdens without judging or adding to them. Mom Smith did that for me. We had the luxury of strong ties without the complex dynamics of family relationships. We were able to enjoy one another at face value.

And in a broader sense: I don’t know if she knew that she was my window into a different type of strength — her resilience in her own day-to-day struggles. After Ernie died she worked, she kept and paid for a lovely home, she brought up her children and, if I am any example, contributed greatly to the upbringing of the children of others. And more recently, she faced her latest struggles again with that same resilience.

She had what so many women of my generation sought — power. She was powerful in her strength; powerful in her friendship; and powerful in her love. I honor her and I shall miss her.

After that, I gave a little eulogy, sharing a few words from the Book of Common Prayer, reading the blog post I wrote the day before she died, choking up as I read Lawrence’s “Shadows.” We listened to (and some even sang) the hymn she included in her file, and we ended with a good but happy cry.

This morning I stumbled across this E. E. Cummings poem (little-known fact: he always signed his name with capital letters, and both he and his wife hated the practice of lowercasing his name). The poem is sometimes read at weddings, sometimes just on a fine summer day, but I find it strangely appropriate as a funeral piece, as if these words were being proclaimed by Mom, newly alive and strong and free:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any — lifted from the no
of all nothing — human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Now I get to do it all over again in Maryland next Thursday!

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Categories: Death, Family, Healing, Nature, Spirituality | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “A Decent Funeral

  1. I must start with the most practical of what I wish to say. Thank you for clearing up a long, long existent question about Cumming’s name. Now I know. I had suspected, but now I know.

    And, now, I shall say something (not) surprising: I wanted to bring Cummings with me yesterday. Great was the urge to read Cummings at the funeral home. But, thought I, what of my desires? What are they at this moment? So I left the book at home as to give me no choice but to let it drop.

    I left wanting to read Cummings. When I saw your mother I wanted to read Cummings again, but a different poem this time.

    i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

    i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
    my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
    i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
    by only me is your doing,my darling)
    i fear
    no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
    no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
    and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
    and whatever a sun will always sing is you

    here is the deepest secret nobody knows
    (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
    and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
    higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
    and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

    i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

    But, then, after your story about the ring, I wanted to read “She Being Brand,” and then only because it used the word “stiff” and it ended with “still.”

    Craig, bless you and bless your path. Bless your mother and (selfishly) bless your friends whom you hold dear.

    I hope the spirit moves you differently in Maryland. No need your mom watching the same show twice.

    Unless it’s Mary Tyler Moore.

  2. I thought I heard her giggling over the whole ring kerfuffle.

    The Maryland version will be more religious in tone, I think, but I will definitely read one or both of the Cummings poems. And there will be different stories shared.

  3. It sounds a good send-off. Blessings to you and yours.

  4. indigo bunting

    Oh, thank you for this, and thanks to Lesley for saying so eloquently what so many of us experienced and thought about Marguerite!

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