Some columns are difficult to write.
Two weeks ago, my wife, Kim, and I took a trip to the neighborhood I grew up in on Long Island, New York.
It wasn’t a trip we had planned, but we were expecting to take it soon all the same.
You see, my mom passed away after being ill for awhile. Though no one in our family had lived in that town for many years, including mom, it was her wish to have her funeral there.
No matter how well mentally prepared you think you are for the imminent death of a loved one, when the time arrives, you realize you aren’t prepared at all.
People ask “How old was your mom?” When I say she was ninety-three there are the “Well, she lived a good life” responses. And she did live a great life. Still, she was an important constant and stable influence through my own sixty-one years of life.
It is very sad, no matter what age.
Of course, traveling back to Long Island after living here in Central New Hampshire for the last thirty-two years was as expected. There was traffic everywhere. There was even a traffic jam at the cemetery.
Before the day of the funeral I got the chance to take Kim around to show her some of the places that were part of my stories about my childhood. We even took a drive to see the house where I grew up; the place where my mom always was waiting with a smile when I came home from grammar school, which was only a few blocks away.
The Catholic Church we attended as a family was right next to the school. It was where my mom wanted her service. I hadn’t been up its many stone steps and into its grand hall since my Dad had passed away in 1981.
The service was beautiful and my niece gave a wonderful eulogy that, in just a few minutes, summed up perfectly the essence of who my mom was: a caring and unselfish person whose greatest happiness was her own family.
All of us, my three brothers, two sisters and myself, had said our goodbyes to mom just the week before as she lay breathing her last breaths in a nursing home. Now here we were, all gathered together, just a few days later, to say one more goodbye. All of her kids in one place, twice in one week. She would have loved that.
The trip to the cemetery, nine or so cars, blinkers flashing, following behind the hearse which was wending its way along the never-ending curves of the Southern State Parkway, had its New York moments. A couple of impatient drivers trying to wend their way through our memorial procession that wasn’t moving quite fast enough to their liking. Some humans will just never understand certain things.
The cemetery was not only massive with thousands of gravesites, but was also very busy as there were numerous other burials that morning. As I mentioned before, we were stuck there in a traffic jam. Still, there was no honking of horns or rude gestures. We were all together in the same mindset of what is truly important at times like these.
My mom was to be buried with my dad and as we drove to the familiar spot at the cemetery that I hadn’t been to in years, the sunshine we were enjoying began to be overtaken by ominous looking clouds. There was still time for the final prayers and goodbyes before the imminent rain moved in.
Still, we sat in our cars and waited. We had no choice.
Nothing could be done until the crew of union cemetery workers arrived and moved the casket from the hearse to the gravesite. Even with more than enough able bodies in our group to do the deed, we could do nothing but sit and wait until the crew arrived about fifteen minutes later to do their one minute of work.
By now cold rain was falling at a good clip and my anger was rising at the situation.
But my anger quickly gave way to sadness again as we gathered around mom’s casket for final prayers. I couldn’t feel the cold rain as much as I felt the warm tears against my face.
As everyone began the procession from the cemetery, I waited behind for a few extra seconds. Watching the rain falling on mom’s casket, hoping she was okay. Hoping she wasn’t feeling alone. But I knew better. She wasn’t really in that box, she was already with other loved ones who had passed. I know she was welcomed with open arms.
None of us will ever know what the minutes of our final send-off will bring; what the weather will be like. Who will be around to say goodbye. We have no control over that. But we can control the way we live, the way we act, the happiness we can bring to others while we are here. The memories we leave for the living who must carry on regardless. Those things are what really count when all is said and done.
Well done, Mom!
Back here in New Hampshire, things are just a little different now for me. If you know me, you might not notice it. A memory will bring a sudden tear or a smile.
Life goes on.