Sunday, January 4, 2009

Perfect Funeral

After my Grandma Nell died, I remember my mom saying after the service: "I loved her funeral. It was so beautiful." I thought that was strange at the time. How can you love a funeral? Now I get it. I absolutely loved my mother's funeral.

I don't understand how people can do a 3-day turnaround on funeral planning. Because of the holidays, we planned it for 10 days after her death. And we used almost all that time to make it exactly right for Mom.

I'm the "words" person, so I poured myself into the bulletin, a letter to photocopy for everyone, and finding verses and poems. My dad went through all the albums and made photo boards. We pulled framed pictures of her off the wall and set up a table of favorites.

We made an enlargement of her obit photo and framed it for the front of the service. It was a 20 x 24 picture, enlarged at Sam's, and Craig asked if he could put it in his room at the Group Home when we were done. I found that funny, but told him it was all his. My mother's giant face peering down at him while he slept? I love my mother, but that would be weird.

It was a relief to me to see how little I cared about the stressors of it. I spent hours (and hours) on that bulletin, but it didn't seem stressful. I knew it would be perfect to me just because of those hours, even if no one else cared about the particulars of it. I loved that little photo of my mom as a little girl, and spent about an hour figuring out how to do an oval cut-out of it instead of a rectangle. For some reason, this really mattered. And I knew it was time well-invested when I finally got the oval cut-out to work right, and teared up with joy.

Would my mom care about all those details? I'm not sure. She'd be most worried if people showed up, but there was no need for concern. The place was filled with people. So many people! Faces I'd never met before. From all over the country. I started crying the "ugly cry" when one of the women told me she used to sit next to my mom at Craig's Special Olympic games. For some reason, this was intensely beautiful to me and I could hardly speak through the tears. I guess people expect that from the daughter of the deceased, but it took me by surprise. I wondered what they'd talked about. What side of my mom this woman might have seen. And picturing my mom sitting in the bleachers watching Craig just seemed to sum up who my mom was as a mother.

My Dad's father sang. My mom always asked him to sing her Happy Birthday over the phone, and we joked that he should have sung that instead of "One Day At a Time." Candy sang "The Lord's Prayer," which was at both of my mom's parents' funeral. We were going to have the congregation sing "How Great Thou Art," but then we realized that my mom hated group hymns. She couldn't sing, so she'd just lip sync, and she couldn't stand well. So we axed that out of the order of service in her honor.

She'd wanted "You Raise Me Up" played as a tribute to my dad, as he helped her physically as she was getting weaker. Betty and Clay said they wouldn't be able to do that range, when she'd asked them to sing. We decided to play the CD, so that it was the same version we'd hear on the radio - and would bring back the memory of hearing it at the funeral. When the song started, all three of us kids started bawling. It felt really, really good to play the song my mom chose.

I'd had on my To Do list to buy yellow napkins, because she loved yellow. And while no one else would care, I knew I'd find some joy in those yellow napkins at the luncheon after the service. That in some small way, it was like my mom was there. That probably sounds silly. Sharon Beyer was doing the decorating, and emailed me to find out my mom's favorite color. My dad told me it would be in good hands with her, so I crossed off the napkins from my list. When I saw her centerpieces and the yellow flowers and tulle, I was so choked up. It was perfect.

When I graduated college and was looking for jobs, my mom took me shopping for interview clothes. She loved the brown blazer and skirt outfit, and I wore it to every job interview I've ever had. I called it my lucky suit, because I never interviewed for a job where I didn't get an offer. I was scared it wouldn't fit, since I still have a few pounds to lose after Simone was born. But even with the extra few pounds, it fit just perfectly. Strange. I wore her pearls and tennis bracelet, and kept touching her pearls during the service. Wondering where she'd worn them, and feeling really moved by the connection to her throughout the service.

A perfect funeral is one that just oozes the spirit of the person you lost. I loved the eulogies. The huge yellow sprays from Dad's siblings and parents. The perfect yellow roses from Cindy. So many things. It's impossible to get it all down.

There's such healing in a meaningful service. In the midst of the funeral planning for Mom, I interviewed both of my brothers about what they'd want for their own funerals. David wants to be cremated and in a blue urn. Craig wants to be buried in a Vikings jersey and helmet, and all the songs at the funeral should be hymns sung by Oak Ridge Boys. I took careful notes and will file them I can see how honoring the wishes of the person feels good on so many levels.

It was a really beautiful way to say good-bye again to my mom.

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