The thanksgiving service for the life of my mom went off beautifully. Everyone said it was a service worthy of my mother, and that she was definitely smiling down on us. The musical selections were exquisite, they said, completely fitting to the gracious lady my mother was. We opened with Ave Maria and also had a solo of The Holy City that was resounding; no one was unmoved. The cantor we engaged for the service had a voice my mother loved; she had said many times how much she enjoyed his performances at other services she had attended. The hymns, which Aunt Grace and my cousin Maureen helped me choose, were all ones my mother loved, and were well known enough to be sung by the congregation with gusto. This was my brother's only request of the program, that we not include any obscure hymns for which no one knew the tune.
Despite my mom's advanced age, and the fact that most of her friends were long gone, the church was packed. After the Ave Maria, my niece and my daughter went up to the lectern first. My niece Leisa gave a wonderful tribute on behalf of the grandchildren, then my daughter read a letter sent from Germany by her Aunt Hilary, who grew up with us on Paddington Terrace. Hilary could not be there, but we all felt her voice needed to be heard as she was one of my mother's many heart daughters. Both tributes spoke of my mother's gift for making others feel wholly and unconditionally loved. My niece and my daughter both read through tears, which set the entire church crying.
My brother and I went up next and read our remembrance to our mother, taking turns. He had most of the funny parts; I had the heartfelt ones. We agreed this suited our particular styles of delivery best. I had written the first draft of the tribute and then my brother and I had refined it together, editing according to how we spoke. We didn't cry until the end, when we talked about her final days. I broke describing our last phone call, in which we said her favorite prayer. The last words my mother ever spoke to me on this earth were, "Oh my darling, we have been so blessed." I could barely get them out. My brother broke when I said that she had died in his arms. The crying was all okay.
Earlier my daughter had commented that we should not be afraid of crying. "I hate when people tell me to be strong and not cry," she said. "You can cry and still be strong." My wise child.
It was a communion service. Neither my brother nor I had envisioned communion as part of the service, but we had to agree with Aunt Grace that Mommy would have wanted it. After, during the repast in the church hall, I felt completely overwhelmed. Everyone was coming up to me and hugging me and offering their condolences. I couldn't turn around without being enfolded in someone's arms. Some faces I knew from childhood, but couldn't call up the names. I faked a lot. I was grateful for the way all these people had loved my mother, grateful that they showed up for her, but at a certain point I grabbed my husband's sleeve and whispered, "I need to leave now."
My cousin Nicky, my rock this past week, rounded up my kids and my niece and two other cousins and we all slipped out of the repast and went back to my brother's house, where the second repast for family and close friends (really anyone who wanted to come) was being held. We were the first to arrive and realized that we didn't have a key to the house, so we sat at the tables set up in the garden. Mommy's ashes were in an inlaid wooden box that my daughter had carried from the church on her lap. At first, her dad had put the urn in the trunk of the car, but my daughter said, "We can't have Grandma traveling in the trunk of the car!" At the house, she set the box in the center of the table where we sat, and while we waited for everyone else to arrive, we shared funny and poignant memories of my mother.
Throughout the service, I had had the feeling of being behind glass, separate from everyone and everything. I couldn't hear my own voice singing. I was aware only of my niece and my daughter on one side of me crying, my husband's rooted presence on the other, and on the far side of him, our solemn-faced son. I know I cried, too, but I felt strangely disconnected, almost outside my body, unable to take in the moment I was living through.
Later in the evening, though, my cousin Arrianne took me aside because she wanted to tell me about an experience she'd had earlier that week. She had gone to an intuitive reader—Arri is a very spiritual soul. She was looking for guidance on a relationship she is entering into, but she said my mother came up in the reading. The reader kept seeing "a very elegant lady whose name began with G," Arri said. He said he was also getting roses, and did this elegant lady raise roses? Arri told him she thought he was describing her grand aunt, who everyone called Lady G or Aunty G, and who had just died. She said the roses could refer to her daughter, who the family calls Rosie.
The reader went on to say that this aunt (my mother) had "married very well, she married her twin flame, her great love, and now she was back with him." And the reader said my mother wanted me to know that she was with my father, and that I was not to worry because she was warm again, where before she had felt cold. Arrianne and her intuitive reader had somehow picked up on the thing I had been secretly obsessing about: whether my father had come to meet my mom in death. I knew my mother had waited 19 long years with such faith that they would be together again, and I ached at the thought that she might have been disappointed. The reader added that my mother had seen that I was worried about something, but that I should just address it because everything would be okay. I told Arri that my mom could have been referring to any number of things I was worrying about, to which Arri responded, "Then all those things will be okay."
The reader also told Arrianne another deeply comforting thing. He said that just as there is great joy and anticipation when a child is to be born in this world, there was also great joy and anticipation on the other side as my mother neared the end of her life. Death feels like a loss to us here, the reader said, but on the other side many, many people had been waiting for my mother with excitement and anticipation for the return of a much loved soul.
I was crying as Arrianne told me all this, and she was crying too. It was the first time all day that I was completely inside my feelings, the glass around me gone. I know that some will think me a little cracked for this, but I believed everything Arri told me, I believed that my mother came through to her, and that her reader spoke true.
Aunt Grace (my mom's sister) and Arrianne, her granddaughter