My mom’s passing, like everyone’s death, happened in an instant. We are alive, and then we’re not. We talk about people dying quickly or slowly, but the moment when the body dies is a point in time, and as such, it is un-measurable.
But, that being said, some people die without warning, while some linger on for a long while. As I’ve said in this column, we thought my mom was near her end back in November, and the eight months between then and her death two weeks ago was a little like a reprieve. Thankfully, it was mostly a good time for her, and her final decline did go quite quickly.
Because of several factors, though, the saying goodbye to her was a long process. Since the EAA convention was in Oshkosh the week she died, there were no rooms at the inn, or any inn within 50 miles. Because of that, we decided on a two-part process. The Thursday after she died, we had a small burial ceremony at the cemetery. There were seven of us there, and while it was a short ceremony, it was quite moving and meaningful. The abstract concept of her death became very concrete in my mind, and it was hard, but important for me to be there.
Then, life resumed for the living for a week. I had two conferences to attend in Arizona, including one in Tempe, where the daytime highs were around 116 degrees. It was perhaps an admonition to live a good life to avoid that kind of heat for eternity.
Saturday, the entire family – minus a few who could attend the burial but had to go back to work – gathered for a brief visitation, a memorial/funeral service, and a visit to the cemetery. It was nice, and also meaningful.
The most poignant moment for me was spent chatting with an old woman who had known my mom when they worked together in the circle at their church. My mom and this lady worked in the kitchen for various events, and attended bible classes together. She was frail, and sad. She felt very bad that she hadn’t visited my mother. She started to cry a little.
I didn’t know what to say, but that’s never stopped me from talking in the past, and so I just started saying what came to my mind, and was surprised at how meaningful it was to me, and I think to her.
I held her hand and said that even though she didn’t visit my mom, all those good memories of the time they spent together at church were in my mom’s memory and heart, so that she really was with her, and that was a comfort.
I think that’s really true. All of us have this collection of memories and experiences in our minds and hearts, and when they talk about our lives passing before our eyes before we die, I choose to believe that our friends and family are there, vividly, to remind us how good our lives have been, and to wave a friendly goodbye.
Now the ceremonial goodbyes for my mom are over, and the tidying up of her earthly affairs is under way. It’s good to have those ceremonies for reflection – not just over the departed, but for those of us who remain. It has been a long goodbye, but all in all, it has been a good one.