In 2009, my mother sat down with her pastor and funeral director and planned her funeral. I mean, she not only chose and paid for her casket, but she also chose the Bible readings,, the hymns to be played and the songs to be sung. I thought it was a little odd, but so typical of my mother. She loved being in charge, and would be, even after her death. I laughed then, but as I sat in the first row of the church for her funeral service last week, I understood that it was one of the best gifts she ever gave me. Not only did I not have to pick out a casket and wrestle with the decision about how much to spend, I had to make very few decisions about what would happen that day.
A year ago, Mom and I sat in her assisted living apartment and made a list of who to ask to be pall bearers and what to say in the obituary. See my post, “Have the Conversation.” (July 17, 2013) She even wanted to plan the menu for the luncheon after the graveside ceremony, but I drew the line there. “Do we really have to decide that today?” I asked. Pre-planning was 1 thing, but that was getting a little carried away.
The night before the funeral, I asked the pastor to go through the order of the service, just so I would know what to expect. I had questions too, like when we should walk in and when we should stand and when we should walk out. He read the order of the service to me and then asked if that was all right with me. “Are you kidding?” I said. “My mother has spoken.” We all had a good laugh about that, and I’m sure Mom was chuckling up in Heaven too. She loved her reputation as the boss. I honored her wishes for an open casket, a practice I detest, but I didn’t want her to come down and haunt me if I didn’t obey. We had the viewing or the visitation or the wake, whatever you want to call it the evening before the funeral. When I was a young girl, I thought that whole business was gulish. And then my brother died at age 29. Although his casket was closed, friends of his poured into the funeral home to offer their condolences. I didn’t even know a lot of those people, so it touched me deeply. Now, I understand why that part of the proceedings is necessary. Still, it struck me, as it has on the occasions of other wakes I’ve attended, that as more and more people arrive, it’s almost like a cocktail party, people standing around, catching up on each other’s news and telling stories, while all the while, a dead person is lying there. My family has already been given instructions, but just in case they forget, let me say here that there will be no parade of people gazing into my casket and saying how nice I look, because there will be no casket. For the record, I have spoken!
But back to my mother’s funeral. Her death was not unexpected. She was 98, and for the last 2 months, she had been in Hospice Care. Yet there were some last minute arrangements to be made. The 1 I want to mention today is the reading of the poem, thanatopsis at the cemetery. I have to admit that my mother had a flare for planning an event and topping it off with a dramatic and poignant moment, that bespoke of her love of drama and literature. She had wanted my cousin Carolyn to read the poem, but Carolyn died 4 years ago. I couldn’t ask Kara to read it, because it would be too emotional for her. I had forgotten to find a replacement for Carolyn, and at the last minute, literally, Kara suggested my life-long friend, Lynda. Perfect. A nudge from Mom? Lynda was a speech and drama teacher, and more importantly, she had loved my mother too. So, there we were at Antioc Cemetery, one of the most peaceful places in the world, comforted by the words of this famous poem.. I had heard my mother recite it many times at memorial services, but never has it meant so much to me. It was a beautiful day, Mom. Now you can rest.