Friday, August 26, 2011

twelve-gun salute

Mom's wake was on Wednesday evening, and the funeral was today, Thursday, August 25.

Family started arriving in town on Tuesday, starting with my mom's brother Donald and my cousin Matt.  Both came in from the east coast - Donald from New York and Matt from Norfolk (he's in the Navy).  A few of us went bowling on Tuesday night, I think to take our minds off the reason for the visit and just to let off some tension. The whole week leading up to this morning had the distinct feeling of "first day of school" - but the dreadful feeling, not the nervous anticipation feeling.  Tension-letting was a huge thing.

Wednesday was full of last-minute errands, and family trickling in throughout the day.  My dad, brother, husband and I went down to the funeral home early to get "set up," though of course there wasn't much to do besides make sure everything was in order.  A Catholic wake is a bit different from the common "viewings" (I hate that word) we're otherwise used to down here, and we had a rosary and a Knights of Columbus guard for Mom.  There was an open casket; Mom was down to 70 pounds or so when she passed, and she was so altered as to be almost unrecognizable, but it was important to get an idea of exactly what this disease had done.  The funeral home had put together a DVD slideshow of pictures of Mom set to music; my dad, brother and I picked the songs ("New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra, because Mom was a Yankees fan and that's the Yankees' song; "Dream a Little Dream of Me" by Cass Elliott, because Mom loved that song and version; and "Hello Again" by Neil Diamond, because she was a huge Neil Diamond fan).  The pictures ranged from her infancy all the way through the last months from two years ago when she was still walking and communicating.  On display was her boot camp picture, at nineteen, a picture I had never seen before.

The wake was more joyful than I have gotten accustomed to, mostly because of seeing family and friends we hadn't seen in quite some time.  There was plenty of mixed emotion, because people hadn't seen me pregnant yet and I'm showing just enough to excite interest.  The biggest surprise of the evening was seeing my favorite teacher from high school (my senior AP English teacher); I hadn't seen him in thirteen years, and had completely forgotten that he knows my dad pretty well from the Knights.  I had also forgotten just how small the town where we lived for so long really could be - amazing how many people from Mom's years with the Boy Scouts are also people Dad knew from the Knights and whose kids were in JROTC with the four of us over the years.

The rosary was said by the Knights, who took turns leading prayers.  There was just a short time for more socializing, and then my aunt Helen suggested dinner, and a great big group of us went up to a Cracker Barrel for a late dinner.  Just the thing Mom would have expected of us, no doubt.  I think there was a total of 27 people that descended on that restaurant (all family!).

Of course, none of us slept well back at Dad's house.  A few of my cousins came over, and we sat up talking for a bit, unable to sleep.  Dad worked on Mom's eulogy for awhile.  I think I got five hours of sleep all told, but I did better than some.  As I said, anxiety and dread had set in.

Up-and-at-'em this morning.  I swear I heard Mom waking me up (she used to say, "Rise and shine, shine and rise!  Stretch your bones and touch your toes!").  Given how little rain we've seen here, it was surprising to find it was storming not far from here, and traffic was duly unforgiving.  Dad, Joe and I headed out in one car to the funeral home, my sisters in another, and of course there was a big, lane-reducing accident on the easiest route.  Luckily we left early.

Saying goodbye to Mom at the funeral home was hard, but we did think and talk a lot about the ways that Mom would be "laughing through tears" and that made it a lot easier.  A limo picked us up to take us to the church for Mass.  All the storms had cleared out before 8:30am so there was no trouble with the roads by this time.  Mass started at 10am - thankfully, Father Ahn knew Mom and so it was more personal.  My brother did the readings and responsorial prayers.

Dad gave an amazing eulogy, telling about how he and Mom met and giving a lot of humorous anecdotes (Mom would have loved it).  He also made a point of talking about how the last three years demonstrated how faithful Mom was, and how it all strengthened his faith tremendously.  I am so thankful to have such parents - their marriage withstood the worst, in the end, and my dad is flat-out inspiring.  They both are, really.

We piled into the limo again and the procession headed down to the cemetery, clear on the other side of Dallas (south).  By this time, it was just before noon and 94F outside, and wretchedly humid from the rain in the morning.

Mom was laid to rest in the DFW National Cemetery.  The military portion of the day was really the hardest part.  The flag-folding was done by a Navy petty officer and young Air Force airman.  She had a twelve-gun salute done by disabled, wheelchair-bound veterans, and a bugler played Taps - that was the part where I broke down, that first shot fired.  But Mom was sent off in style, I think, truly befitting someone who loved her country and served it in so many important ways.

The reception (awkward term) was low-key, mostly family, at a KofC hall.  Then it was home and we caught the Yanks as they were just leading the A's - and got to watch a record-breaking third grand slam as the Yankees put the lid on the series against the Athletics.  I know that was no coincidence - Mom was egging them on.  I knew it when Granderson connected with that ball, but then again when Jorge Posada trotted out to play second base (!!!) and his play ended the game.

We went bowling again with cousins tonight, perhaps a strange way to top things off, yet kind of fitting in that Mom and Dad used to play in leagues when I was little - it was their date night thing.  Plus, the last of the adrenaline was coursing through me for certain; I needed physical catharsis, and that was the perfect way to get it.

Tonight, I miss my mom terribly.  I am very comforted, though, by the events of the last two days.  She touched so many lives, and who knows how many more will be touched as a result of what she went through. I also know, unequivocally, that she is with the Lord in Heaven.  She belongs there, and this wasn't goodbye. It was 'see ya soon' and it was about remembering who she was.  We were not unprepared and we were not without support at any time, and the Lord went before us in all things.  This was not the beginning of grief, but part of a process that has been happening since her diagnosis and the roughest patch of her illness in 2009 (the strokes, cancer, and prolonged hospital stay that ultimately left her bedridden before the ALS did what it was inevitably going to do).

I am okay - I feel like I've said that to the point of breaking, but it really is true.  I know it will continue to hurt and catch me unawares.  There is comfort, though, as I said.  And my family and friends showed me something I was afraid I had forgotten.  I am not alone, and laughter through tears really is the best emotion.

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