Friday, April 30, 2010

The Funeral

On the day of the funeral I had to arrive early as a pallbearer to help get the sealed coffin into the church. The 6 men in black suits slid the box out of the Hurst and then started struggling up the few steps up to the entrance. The black iron railings were to narrow and we couldn't fit through. We had to back it down and then go up the wheel chair ramp instead. A gurney helped when we got to the church door which we also would not have fit through. I sat in the second pew alone. My brother Wayne sat in the the pew in front of me with his wife Jennifer and two of his three boys. His wife put her arm around him. The organist began playing "Amazing Grace" and I started to well up. The organ music went on and on. A cousin of mom's sitting behind me stated humming and singing the songs to herself and I found myself getting annoyed. I kept my anger in check focusing my attention on the Hawaiian flowers on top of the casket. A large leaf had been crushed inside the coffin lid when it was closed. I wanted to go up and free it but I sat numbly.
There was a short sermon which I didn't really notice, and several hymns requiring standing and then sitting again. I went through the motions exhausted. Finally the pastor started talking about the last time he had visited Ruth in Ellen Memorial Health Care Center. He had dropped his bible as he got out of his car and he couldn't find it. When he got to mom's room he found she had her own bible on the night stand beside her. It's cover was worn and the pages tattered from so much use. When he opened it he found many passages that she loved were already highlighted. She was on morphine and not able to talk and he read to her for the longest time. When he recited the lords prayed she raised her hand up to him. He held her hand through the prayer and she smiled. She was devout and a firm believer right up to her last breath.
The pastor then asked if anyone would like to get up and say a few words. Loretta Ernst, Ruth's step daughter from her last marriage to Ken Krause got up. She began to talk about how happy her dad was when he and Ruth were dating back in 1995. She called her dad about something and he said he couldn't talk long since he was expecting a call from "Ruthy." She kept the conversation short and when she hung up the phone she realized she had forgotten to tell him something. She called him right back. He answered in a sultry voice she had never heard before saying, "Hello blue eyes." She said, "Dad my eyes are brown." Everyone in the church laughed. I laughed and began to cry. I have only net Loretta two times in my life and here she was showing me a side of my mom I had never seen.
Walter got up and said, "Wow this is harder than I thought." He started to tear up. "I knew Ruth for 44 years and to me she was and would always be mom. She was there when my mom died. Ruth and I would sometimes argue about religion. She would say, "You say your a christian but you're not living up to it." In the end I would have to admit she was right." He said, "For putting up with me, she deserved sainthood." Then he pointed out her shrill high pitched and earth shattering way that she had of sneezing. When she sneezed birds would take flight and deer would turn and bolt into the woods. Once again everyone laughed.
After the service when we had maneuvered the casket back into the Hurst, the director shook my hand firmly and said, "I'd like to meet you again sometime, well not under these circumstances mind you...Uhm you know what I mean."
That evening around the dinner table after drinking many cups of wine, all the children talked about the stupid things they had done in their youth. I found out things about my older brothers and sisters I had never known before. Walter arranged for a final farewell celebration by setting off large fireworks mortars in Ruth's honor down near the pond. There were three mortar tubes and they kept trying to set up three blasts at once. The trouble was that there were only two lighters that Walter had picked up at the dollar store. Ben instructed me to wait three seconds after he lit his mortar fuse. I waited but then could not get the fuse to light. The darn lighter wouldn't stay lit. I was still leaning towards the tube when the Ben's mortar blast sent me jumping back. The hot flash blinded me for a second and the noise caused my ears to ring. I never did light the darn fuse, and I handed the lighter off to one of the kids. The men behaved like kids and the kids tried to act like men. I just wanted to make sure I had both my hands when all was said and done. Some of the fireworks circular blasts were so close to the ground that the sparks would come withing inches of our faces and many sparks remained glowing embers on the ground. With each new mortar blast we would all shout out, "OOOOh Ahhhh, that was a pretty one." Cindy who is from California was particularly excited. Fireworks are banned out there. These sudden bursts of light and noise lighting up the cold starry sky were the perfect way to celebrate life's short journey.

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Nita said...

Having just gone through my father's funeral in December, I can so relate to the combination of deep emotions and superficial annoyances of a family funeral. May you only remember the good things and go forward with new wisdom.

Chere Force said...

What a fitting end to include fireworks - startling birds to flight and deer to bolt - just as if Ruth had sneezed 3 more (last) times.

Hannah said...


Suzanne said...

Those last few posts reminded me of things I had read in The year of magical thinking by Joan Didion, a writer I had not been familiar with before reading that book. And what an incredible writer she is.

"Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life."

"(...) That I was only now beginning the process of mourning did not occur to me. Until now I had been able only to grieve, not mourn. Grief is passive. Grief hapenned. Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, required attention."

Strangely, each loss has made me a better human. Not better in the sense of good vs bad. Better in the sense of bonifying my humanity, the humanity I share with my fellow humans, particularly including the ones I lost.

Thank you for those posts.