It was the first morning in weeks that the humidity had lifted bringing precious breathing space. On the screened porch, still in my pajamas, I stole a moment of the crispness in the air, but that was it. There was too much to get done. After the morning rush and an hour of volunteering, I got the text from my sister. “Had a small fender-bender I need a ride to the wake.”
No problem. I was going to the wake of my girlfriend’s mother anyway, and I enjoy the car rides with my sister. We easily jump between stories of silly mishaps, maddening behaviors of our children, and hair advice. Our conversations are comfortable and companionable and make long car rides fly by. Though we had never been to this funeral home before, we punched the address into Waze and were on our way.
The conversation began with our go-to topic this summer: our college-age sons. We compare their haircuts (or lack thereof) and their daily functioning (or lack thereof). We worry. We lament. If only they would take our advice! Then we mentioned the concerns about our girlfriend’s fifteen-year daughter who was recently prescribed Prozac. She’s 15, and of course, she needs Prozac. What 15-year-old girl doesn’t? I could’ve used it myself! I tell her that my volunteer obligation that morning was surprisingly pleasant. I was at the farmers market with Moms Demand Action and was privy to thoughtful conversations about guns and safety. She tells me about the fender-bender and admits that is was totally her fault. She was distracted and blew a stop sign. She felt really bad for the other driver whose older car surely would be totaled. He was a polite man of (we’re assuming) Mexican descent, and his insurance certainly would not pay him enough to replace this car. Poor guy. I clearly deserve the damn ticket! Next, it turns out that both of our husbands had been to the ER in the past week and neither had followed up with their primary doctors. I guess they’re’ fine! This week several friends dropped off their college kids for the first time. It is sad. It’s the end of an era. And then, there are the friends that can’t afford for their kids to go away and therefore, their kids are commuting to local colleges. In some ways, they’re better off though they don’t yet know it. They won’t be burdened with insane college debt. It’s so hard these days! Then we laugh that I have a new “grand puppy.” Then we decide who is making a meal for our parents this week and discuss our plans for the rest of the day.
Waze tells us that we’ve arrived at our destination. With seconds to spare we hurry in only to realize that we are at the wrong location! We curse and hurry out of the funeral home. First, we blame Waze, then technology in general, and then the confusing wording of the obituary and then we rush to the right place, a chapel that is ten minutes away.
We literally tiptoe into the quiet chapel mid-service and squirm to a pew in the back. A middle-aged man, clean and handsome stands to eulogize his mother. Since I don’t know the family all that well, I feel unworthy of witnessing such a tender moment. He speaks beautifully: articulate and kind. His voice shakes just enough to display his sincerity and to keep us all on edge. Here is a man who truly loves and honors his mother. Toward the end he thanks his father – the man who married his mother later in life and raised her four children as his own. A small man in the first pew takes off his glasses to wipe his eyes. The busyness of the morning hung around me in shame.
As the son returns to his pew, he tenderly rests a hand on his father’s shoulder. Then, a recording of Frank Sinatra’s “The Second Time Around” begins to play softly and clearly. The joy that she brought to this man was evident by the pictures displayed next to an urn in the front of the chapel. I note a strikingly beautiful woman filled with an exuberance for life. I watch as the poor man hunches over in silent sobs and gives way to what is most likely one of the saddest moments of his life. The hectic pace of the morning melts away.
The song ends, and the chapel is somber. The preacher rises, and we all look to him for comfort. Oddly enough, he resembles an older Robert Redford. I meet my sister’s eye. Is attractiveness a requirement of this congregation? Calmly, slowly with eyes downcast at first, he begins to speak.
“Death is our teacher,” he says. “It reminds us of what is important in life.”
Indeed, for me that morning, it leads me back to Jesus Christ Himself. Death reminds us of those moments when we were given enduring love. This family was basking in their mother’s love and mourning the loss of her. Watching a grown man cry over his wife brings us face to face with our humanity, and soul to soul with our spirituality.
After the service, our girlfriend, engaging and grateful for our attendance happily introduces us to the speaker – her twin brother! I smile at the familiarity and comfort of their snappy interactions. Then we meet her father. He is small and slumped with alert eyes and a good heart that I feel as he takes both of my hands in his, and concurs that yes, his wife was a beautiful person.
The ride home was quiet. There was still more to do with meetings scheduled well into the evening for both of us. Before I drop my sister off, she laughs and takes a picture of the side of my head so that I can see how the headrest affects the shape of my hair. I tell her to get out of my car.
When I get home, I see that my son is still in bed. It is 1:00pm. With irritation rising within me, I wake him up. Then I compose myself and walk out of his room. I breathe in the lesson of the morning, and the rebuke within me quietly fades. I walk around the house opening windows allowing the brilliance of this day to fill my home and fill my heart.