Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Funeral and Burial

It's strange how the absence of just one person can make the world seem a much emptier place.

I miss Mom.  She's in a better place and she's better off, but I miss her.  I miss her presence.  I miss her voice.

It's funny, when I was her primary caretaker, I admit there were moments that I kind of wished she would pass.  That's hard for me to admit, but I understand it's a common feeling for caretakers to have.  Her mental decline was just hard to watch, and caring for her could be very stressful at times.

I never thought Mom would go this quickly.  She had the kind of personality and energy where I just thought she'd hang around for years no matter how badly her dementia robbed her of her faculties, independence, and abilities.

In truth, it's a great blessing that she went out the way she did.  Two weeks ago, she was doing well.  Although her mind was continuing to get progressively worse, she still knew all of us and was still able to learn new information.  She was still independent and active.  And most of all, she was happy.

It was only the last week that was difficult, and even then, I never felt she was suffering or in much pain, and I still felt she was very much aware of those who around her and who loved her.  What more can you ask for?

She lived a great life and her influence will be forever felt by those she touched.  I'm glad I don't have to watch a slow, painful decline in both mental and physical health.

But I miss her.

Friday morning we went to the funeral home to dress Mom.  Initially, I didn't want to dress her.  I wasn't sure how it would make me feel.  But I had changed my mind after talking with a friend who helped dress her grandmother.  It felt like one final act of service for my mom.

My aunt and cousin had come to help do Mom's makeup.  I had asked them to help because when they did my aunt's mother's makeup when she died, it looked terrific.

It turned out the funeral home had really done a great job with Mom.  Both her hair and makeup looked great, and she truly looked like she was sleeping.  She certainly looked a great deal better than she did when she died.  I had sent the funeral home pictures of Mom with her hair done up, and they really did a good job.  Jonah made a couple of alterations that really made her look like Mom.  My cousin only put some of Mom's lipstick on her, and it really turned out great.  It made Mom look like Mom on her best day.

Dressing Mom was both spiritual and...well, weird.  We put Mom's temple clothes on her.  The mortician was LDS so he knew how she should look.  Mom was very cold.  She'd obviously been in refrigeration.  Parts of her body that had scars from surgery and from her fall had been wrapped with plastic.  Her feet were too swollen to get her temple booties on, so we just laid them beside her feet.  

Mom's dress was of a fabric with not much give, and it was a little tight, so we just cut it down the back so it could breathe.  Flipping her from side to side to get the dress and accessories on and trying to get her stiff fingers through her sleeves was an odd experience, but also gratifying in a way.  By the time she was all dressed and made up, she really looked beautiful.

The mortician said his favorite part of his job was taking people that looked terrible upon death and making them look the way they looked in life.

My cousin's friend had died of cancer the same week Mom died (and in fact, the funeral home was handling her funeral as well) and both funerals were at the same time, so she was feeling very conflicted, although it turns out she went to Mom's.

After the funeral home, Jonah and I went to lunch (eating at the same table Mom and I often ate at, and it made me sad to know there would never be another lunch with her again in this life) and shopping to get him some nicer clothes to wear for the viewing and funeral.  Then we went back to the apartment we were staying at to get dressed.

While out shopping, I received a call from the bishop of Mom's old ward (my old ward as well) informing me that both he and the stake presidency had a problem with the song Jonah was to sing at the funeral.  It was "Embraceable You" by George Gershwin, and because a funeral takes place in the chapel, it must be according to Sacrament Meeting standards.  I guess they felt some of the lyrics to "Embraceable You" were too racy.

I was livid.  "Embraceable You" was one of Mom's favorite songs and also one I had sung with her as she lay dying.  I felt like it was an insult to Mom's memory, and felt that something lascivious and salacious was being attached to a song that was neither.  The bishop passed me on to an old family friend who is in the stake presidency.  He is a dear friend, and I don't think I have ever been angry at him in my life...except for at that moment.  I was mad and at that moment, if I had had the power to move the funeral elsewhere, I would have.

I ended up choosing "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin as its replacement (and that was approved), but I went to the viewing with a lot of anger in my heart, which was unfortunate since I had expected to feel peaceful and contemplative.

The viewing was nice.  Mom looked great.  We had the funeral home put her purse in with her.  In life (and especially as her dementia worsened), Mom was rarely without her purse, and we felt it fitting (and humorous) that she should take it to the grave.

Jonah and my sister-in-law made some flowers to go in the lid of Mom's casket.  They looked beautiful.  My brother-in-law had made a video presentation about Mom.  We had pictures of her, although I regretted that the picture of Jonah, Mom, and me at our commitment ceremony wasn't there due to the funeral home borrowing it for the obituary.

It was good to see old friends and relatives and visit with them.  Among my recollections at both viewings was one sister who talked about Mom being one of her favorite visiting teaching partners; one woman who's husband just died thanked me for a phone message I left for her (her daughter thanked me as well); Mom's childhood friend visiting; my old boss at a theater I used to work at seemed especially grief-stricken; another friend from the same theater made me feel better about the song situation.  Truth is, Mom wouldn't have cared that much.  She liked "Smile," too, and would have been happy to hear Jonah sing anything.  She certainly wouldn't have wanted me to carry a grudge about it.

I had no shame in introducing my partner to many of my former Mormon neighbors, and hardly any of them batted an eye.

 Jonah's Mom and sister-in-law had surprised us Friday night by coming up from Las Vegas.  I was so surprised and touched to see them.  We invited them to have dinner with us at my brother's and sister-in-law's house.

The viewing the next day was good, and we had to to wait a few minutes for my cousins to arrive.  My sister-in-law gave the family prayer, and it was quite nice.

Both of my sisters spoke as did I.  A family friend shared a retrospective of Mom's life.  I think the service was recorded by the funeral home, and if so, perhaps I'll publish my remarks in a future post.  Several people remarked on Mom's quiet service, and that is quite accurate.

I had seen my mom's former coworker (and former boss of mine) in the congregation and had hoped to talk with her, but she left before I got the chance, but she left a card and a plant for my siblings and me.

The weather was cool and rainy, but it didn't rain until after the graveside service.  I guess a marathon was going on on the same route as the funeral caravan, so that caused a bit of delay, but everything went smoothly and on time.

As we were at the graveside service, I couldn't help bu notice the trees showing the very first inklings of fall, and I thought that apropos that things were dying and changing from summer to autumn just as Mom made her departure.  It seemed metaphorically fitting as did the rain that started falling literally as soon as the service had ended.

We had a simple luncheon at the church, and my cousin played a really fitting song that seemed to relate to Mom.  After the luncheon was over, I said goodbye to my siblings, not sure when I'd see them again.  Mom felt like the glue that held us together, and I hope we will still get together even though she has passed.

I spent the rest of the time with Jonah, his mom and sister-in-law.  We took naps and then ate dinner at, coincidentally, the last place Jonah and I took Mom out to eat.

Sunday morning we went to a farmer's market and then to IKEA and then said goodbye to Jonah's mom and sister-in-law.  Then we ate, did some shopping, and then visited Mom's friend Harold at the assisted living facility.  He was so sad and lost.  He asked me to send him a photo of Mom.  I shall.  I also plan on calling him from time to time and will ask my siblings to check in on him if they feel the inkling to do so.

Jonah and I then visited Mom's grave again.  I had also visited it on Saturday after they had buried her, and it looked beautiful with the fresh flowers.  I'm not typically a grave visitor, but I somehow felt the need.  It was very peaceful.

Monday, Jonah and I headed home.  And now here I am trying to go back to normal without Mom.  It's going to take some time to adjust.


LCannon said...

I'm planning to visit Harold tomorrow after I pick Jenna up after school.

I think "Smile" was a wonderful song - not just for mom but for the family as well. I for one am happy that it worked out that way and I'm sorry you got irritated because your first choice was refused.

It is strange how the absence of just one person can make the world seem a much emptier place. We'll keep in touch. But I don't know what "sameness" we'll have. Even last Thanksgiving and Christmas had a severe emptiness for me.

Connie Babe said...

my heart goes out to you. and as sorry as i am for your loss, i am equally glad that you have a mom who did such a good job.

Dean Scott said...

Beautiful post - my prayers are with you and your family.

Crisco said...

Thanks for sharing such beautiful, tender moments. I was nearly in tears at work when I read about your mother's passing. I'm also glad your mother was in a good place until the end and knew she was with those who loved her.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Now that things have calmed down a bit, I just wanted to thank each and every one of you for your kind words and thoughts. They have meant a lot during this challenging time.