My mom almost died so many times in her life due to cancer and various health challenges, I think I was in denial when it really happened. It wasn't until I woke up one Sunday morning a few days later and knew that waiting on my front doorstep was a tightly rolled up newspaper with her obituary. It didn't matter that I had sweated over writing that obituary all week. Seeing it in writing, published, announced to all the world, made her death real and it struck me with finality... and grief.
We celebrated my mom's life with a memorial service yesterday. It happened by the grace of many of my mom's dear friends, neighbors, and relatives. In her last few months, my mom, in predictable contrariness, said she didn't want a formal church service. It was fine for my dad because he liked to play by the rules. Not my mom. She wanted a party, a Dixie Land Band, with wild celebrating in the streets and treats--lots of them. She knew very well where she was going and couldn't wait to get there. In her last few months she lost some of that exuberance and just wanted to be sprinkled over the ocean with beachside family memorial service. Maybe we'd had enough of funerals, but as a family we were content to go along with the latter. Then a few good souls stepped in and called me, expressing the need to do something bigger. My mom was a firework. How could a lighting a match possibly reflect the magnitude of her fire?
With their help we planned what would turn out to be the perfect memorial service. My mom's good friends and old neighbors hosted in their gorgeous made-for-entertaining home. My uncle (one of those good souls) emceed and we had a couple of musical numbers. One was my mom's own song, a vocal duet with piano accompaniment. My mom's dear friend (another of the good souls) performed a song she had written just for my mom. Then it was open mic. I learned all about my mom those in the music profession, those who knew her in her younger more energetic days, family that came to her reunions. My niece wrote a poem that so aptly described her as only a poem could. All of it was wonderful!
We had a video tribute of her life playing downstairs and mountains of fudge, cookies and refreshments. It was just the kind of party my mom would have wanted. For me, it was a happy reunion of relatives, friends, old neighbors that I grew up with. I learned all these wonderful stories about my mom from different perspectives that I never knew. After it all I felt great satisfaction that my mom had gotten the attention she deserved. I also felt an enormous sense of closure, like everything was made right. It was a great lesson to me that these are the reasons we have funerals and memorials.
Between the memorial tributes, the obituary, and pulling out all the old photos, awards, letters, I have pieced together this whole person that is my mom and she is amazing! From a cherished baby in her mother's arms to a precocious toe-head child, to a mother with unique talents and ambitions-- I never thought of my mom as that whole person, she was just "my mom." How I wish I could go back with the knowledge and perspective I now have and befriend her. But, I'm happy to know I will someday. When it's my turn to die I know she'll be the first one to bust through the crowd, wrap her arms around me and shout in joyous reunion "Love ya hard!"