Margaret, who I had visited and sketched a number of times, died December 28th in her home on Baffie Avenue in Winter Park. Her daughter Mary had taken care of her for over two years. The memorial service was held at Saint Charles Catholic Church not far from the home. When I entered the church there was a large group of people standing in the entry lobby. I noticed several of Mary's neighbors and said hello. Mary was being greeted by family members and after a few moments I was able to offer her my condolences. Actually, as I think back, I might not have said anything that would be considered a condolence. It was more the opposite. Mary hugged me and thanked me for being there, and she even offered encouragement and gratitude that I had decided to sketch the service. The service began with one of my favorite hymns, "Amazing Grace." It is always reassuring that there is hope for a wretch like me. When I hear, "I was blind, but now I see", I am always certain I never see, feel or express things clearly enough.
The sermon was conducted by Father Augustine Clark who had visited the Hill house often and therefor he knew Margaret well. Whenever I visited Margaret there were always social workers, hospice care nurses and clergy on hand. Mary had a way of always addressing the spiritual needs of her mother as well as her physical needs. "Tears are just a way for the heart to heal itself silently without words." Father Augustine was saying. He then related a story about the romance that blossomed between Margaret and Duane Hill. They both worked at Swift and Company in Orlando and there was an immediate attraction. Margaret's father however didn't approve of the relationship so they had to court each other clandestinely. They would leave love letters under a desk mat so they could secretively communicate. When she turned 21 Duane married her. The priest pointed out how much Margaret loved to garden and her amazing collection of orchids in the back yard. Whenever I spoke with Margaret in the final year, she would grip my hand tightly never letting go. She gripped on to life just as tightly. Margaret always made me laugh, she had a way of smiling slyly as she offered some barb of humor.
Margaret's ashes were buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park. I went to a Woodlawn Cemetery and walked around for some time looking at headstones decorated with angels and some with wind chimes. A dog started to bark at me from a home on the edge of the cemetery. When no other cars arrived I started to think I might be in the wrong place, so I did an internet search and found out that the cemetery I was supposed to go to was a few miles further up the road. I arrived there at the same time as Mary's oldest brother, Jean, and I walked with his family to the interment site. There was a small plastic plaque with Margaret's name on it and a shallow hole which I didn't notice at first glance. Pastor Steve Horrell said, "The fever of life is over for Margaret. We need to bury our regrets as we forgive others and forgive ourselves." He asked family members for any memories they might want to relate. Jean's former wife said Margaret was good with a hammer and saw, that she had helped build a skirt around the base of a trailer that they were living in at the time. Jean related that the family often went to Gator Land on Friday afternoons to catch feeding time.
As Mary placed the gray cylinder containing Margaret's ashes in the ground, she kissed her fingertips to her lips and then rested them on the cylinder's lid. It was after she pushed some dirt over the container that grief enveloped her. She had been organizing, supporting, greeting and welcoming people all day. Several family members held her as she sobbed. Mary was able to embrace and express her emotions openly. I have always had trouble doing that, and emotions hit me when I least expect it. The most important lesson learned from this day for me is that we should be grateful for the fragile gift of life. We should be quick in giving and receiving love and always work to create new memories. Recently I heard a saying that most people sleepwalk through life while the few that do not, live in wide eyed wonder. I want to strive for that feeling of wide eyed wonder everyday, to drink it in and share what I can in my way. Seize the day and live with boundless compassion. On the drive home, my heart filled with joy remembering times spent in the Hill home and yet for the first time, my eyes started to burn.