Sunday, April 15, 2012
Ma died on Saturday, March 24. Catholics talk about a Good Death, and that's what she had. After she died we kept her at home till Sunday noon and her grandchildren came in to say goodbye and shed their tears. The neighbors came with food and condolences. On Sunday morning Doreen and MaryJo washed her and dressed her in the nightgown she always said was "too nice to wear." At first the funeral was set for Tuesday, but we were trying to do as much as possible ourselves so we pushed it back to Wednesday. Just before the undertaker came at noon we wrapped her in the bed sheet (her favorite) she had died in. MaryJo clipped a dragonfly pin under her chin and Bill tied ribbon around her legs and she looked like a cocoon. Everyone stood by the front door as the undertaker's van pulled away. On Monday morning Mark and Bill got to work on the coffin. Two years ago when dad died Mark had made the coffin which had been cremated before the service. Everyone said was a shame, so ma said she wanted her coffin at the funeral. Monday was my birthday and everyone came to Mark's house to sing in my new year. We all gathered in Mark's shop and toasted the men's work on the coffin. Bill had found a chunk of teak in the shop that had been kicking around since we lived up in Roslindale over forty years ago. Bill cut a cirlce out of the teak and carved a heart for the top of the coffin. On Tuesday morning MaryJo and I went to see the priest about readings for the mass. MaryJo suggested we haul ma's recliner back to her house in Hull where the get-together after the funeral would be held. The house had been closed up since New Years when ma had moved in with MaryJo. We had a great visit with Fr. Joe. Exactly one week before, Fr. Joe had gone to MaryJo's to meet with ma. He was new in the parish and she hadn't been getting to mass these past few months so this was her first good talk with him. After he left, she said "I'd recommend him to anyone." The next day ma got together with her good friend and fellow choir member Alice and picked out the music for the mass. Ma kept asking questions about the mass, "What time will it be?" and "Have you set the date yet?" MaryJo had to remind her that it was customary to be gone before those arrangements were made. I flew in from Minnesota on the following afternoon, a Thursday. MaryJo kept telling ma she had to wait till I got here. When I reached her bedside, she asked how I was doing and I told her I loved her. She closed her eyes and didn't really wake up during the two days before she died. Someone had been sitting with ma all the time for past day or so and I took my turn while the rest of them went out to the kitchen. It was 80 degrees that day, unheard of for March 22 in Boston. I heard them talking in the kitchen. MaryJo came into the bedroom and said there were deer in the yard. She hadn't seen deer in months, but as we watched, two deer than a third, large beautiful doe came around the corner of the house. "A visitation," I said. Just before MaryJo could say there's another I said "Four is a sign of death in Japan," and the fourth doe emerged and they all meandered slowly toward the woods. After our meeting with Fr.Joe, we drove to ma's house. Doreen had been cleaning and setting up furniture for Wednesday. MaryJo backed her van a little ways into the back driveway. We looked around the house for a few minutes then went to get the recliner. The recliner was not heavy but it was awkward to carry and I said I'd back the van up to the steps. I looked out the open back hatch of the van as MaryJo waved me on. There was a catalpa tree on my left side and I knew I was far enough away from that. Suddenly I heard a cracking noise and saw a buoy tied to a rope shooting high into the branches of the catalpa. "What the hey?!" The driver side mirror had disappeared leaving behind a little stub. It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure this one out. Someone had tied a rope with a buoy on the end onto a branch for kids to swing on. As I was backing, the rope caught on the mirror and the buoy helped decapitate the mirror. I got out and found the mirror unbroken on the ground. The big plastic cover was sadly defunct. This struck me as hilarious and I didn't dare look at MaryJo, but when I did, she too was doubled over with laughter. These sorts of things happen from time to time and about all you can say is, "At least no one got hurt," and they provide comic relief from more serious matters. Later that day we delivered the coffin to the funeral home. "I'm not making any money off you people," Bob our undertaker joked. Ma was waiting for us in the next room. The funeral home was a big old house, cozy and comfortable with lots of sofas, rugs, and marine paintings. Bob said it was a miracle how little ma had changed. Indeed she looked exactly the same as when she had died. We carried in the coffin, a beautiful piece of work, the pine boards trimmed with darker hard pine, Bill's heart attached to the top and the interior lined with curtain material ma had bought ages ago. "The price was still on it," Mark said. "One dollar, and there was just enough to do the job." In the bottom of the coffin they put the spare mizzen sail from dad's boat. Mark had cut the 19 metal sliders off the sail, exactly enough for each of the grandchildren. Everyone had jobs to prepare for the funeral and the get-together after at the house on Sunset Point. Matt, Heather and Teresa put the picture boards together. Joey scanned the pictures and e-mailed them to Ashley's mother in California who made a video of the pictures for the party. MaryJo and I worked on the eulogy. MaryJo gave me some great stories and quotes. The funeral was beautiful. The church was packed with ma's friends and family. The full choir performed the music ma had chosen. Fr.Joe did a great job. Afterwards one of ma's friends told him "Your homily gave death a good name." Bill, Steve, Mark and MaryJo joined me as I read the eulogy. We carried the coffin to the hearse and MaryJo tossed a spray of flowers on top. Everyone stood on the church steps as the hearse slowly pulled away. I noticed three seagulls circling high overhead. As the hearse passed out of view the gulls formed a perfect triangle above it. Rain had been threatening all morning and as we drove to ma's house the heavens opened up. But once everyone was settled in the house spooning down clam chowder, the sun came out, lighting up the whitecaps out on the bay. In the course of the afternoon, the front porch was crowded with people who over the years had sat here and enjoyed the view as the tide ebbed and flowed. These people had enjoyed good talk and meals with Joe and Mary and they told us we needed to keep this place in the family. That's what our parents would want. And maybe that's what we'll do, the good Lord willing and with Mary and Joe pulling strings with their saint friends. Maybe we can all continue this great voyage together into beauty and joy.