Sunday, January 13, 2013

“Celebration of Life”

            My brother arrived Friday night with a hoarse voice and deep rattling cough. I dragged him out of bed with reluctance on Saturday morning, but we needed to head to the credit union. With death certificates in hand, we took Mom off of the account and added my brother to it so he could have a better financial institution for some deposits. I thought the business would wrap up quickly, but we had a trainee handling our transactions, so things slowed down with his frequent forays to his supervisor to check on procedures. Our plan to completely close out Mom’s accounts at a second bank shifted to an afternoon task because my sister’s and her husband’s arrival time approached.
            My sister arrived shortly after ten o’clock, alone. Her husband stayed home because his cold had morphed into bronchitis. On his second round of medications, he decided a quiet weekend at home with tons of rest would help him get back on his feet.
            Within an hour, five of us squished into the Escape hybrid to make the trip to Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery. We laughed as the adults in the back seat wiggled butts left and right to snap seatbelts into place. Only after we reached the first stop sign did my sister think that we could have taken her much larger SUV. Strapped into place, we opted to continue on to our first destination of the morning.
            It didn’t take us long before we stood before Mom and Dad’s marker at the columbarium. Within seconds, my heart sank. A mistake! When we filled out the paperwork, the cemetery official told us that there wouldn’t be room for the inscription we’d put for Dad plus one for Mom. We liked our newest choice for the marker, “Always on my mind” and so we had asked that that be the inscription instead of the previous “Loved by All.” When the cemetery redid the marker, they placed “LOVING by All” on one line, and then squeezed in “Always on my mind” below that.
            “It’s wrong!” I moaned in dismay.
            “It’s okay,” my sister said.
         “Loving by all?” I pointed at the words to emphasize my point.
            “Oh, wow . . . That’s not right.”
            All five of us shuffled our feet. “Mom would find this funny,” my sister pointed out. “She was a proofreader, you know. She’d love this irony.”
            “Do I have it changed?” Mentally, I’m adding another item onto my list of things to do.
            “Well, you know Grammy and Poppy would see the humor in this,” my son began, “But after having a good laugh, Poppy would want it RIGHT.” We all nodded in agreement. Silence encapsulated our little group as we each processed our loss once again.
            Then we headed out for the next destination for our day. Mom requested that all of us go to one of her favorite places, The Lion and the Rose, to eat a meal in her honor. We ordered Shepherd’s Pie and Manhattans, smoothing out our sadness with a toast to Mom. Our meal continued with laughter and chatter.
            Our afternoon filled with setting up for the main event of the evening—Mom’s Celebration of Life. The previous weekend, I’d prepared a slideshow of pictures of Mom from her baby pictures to the last photographs I’d taken of her a few weeks before her death. Willie Nelson’s “Always on my Mind” played throughout the show, which I looped. Charles had watched the piece the day before to prepare himself in private, but my sister didn’t want to watch it until our company arrived.
            We debated on how to arrange the food and drinks, deciding to load the table with “Sweets and Salty” while the main portions of our feast rested on the kitchen counters to allow easy flow for our guests as they picked up plates and selected their food.
            From the first doorbell ring until the last arrival, the house filled quickly with hugs and laughter. We played the slideshow and left it looping for a little while until I noticed my brother staring at the pictures, crying.
            “I’ll turn this off now, okay?” I asked before reaching for the remote. He nodded and gave me a huge silent hug.
            The party ebbed and flowed as people came and left. Groups formed and reformed, shifted from room to room. The last guests left after midnight.
            “Mom would have loved this party,” I told my brother and husband as we started putting away the food.
            Although we all cried a few tears, we also shared memories of our lives together. Although we all miss my mother desperately, we spent the evening in celebration of her life.

Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


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