Both my sons watch this parade of humanity gently making its way to the front of the room. Chatting amongst themselves, reaching out to embrace someone who hasn’t been seen in “too long.” The many decorations pinned to the coffin…the accessories Mom wears… the stories emotionally attached to them.
And so I remember. Four and a half decades of memories. Where to begin? The fullness, the richness and the plentitude of happiness.
This is my Mom’s wake, here in my reverie. And it is two years on the journey since that day.
It was wintry. It was brutal and hostile. But, you know this. When you lose one you love, one who walked with you on life’s journey longest and loved you most unconditionally… you know.
You know how the day suits the mood, the very core of the reason we are here. As if those we love can only be mourned on the most foul and wretched of days charted within our climes.
And the pictures. The albums that fill the tables, the collages that line the perimeter of the room. Standing like sentinels, guarding, spilling the story of a life well lived and well loved. Of grace filled days. Words lovingly and patiently spoken.
Pictures that now conjure memories, with the speed, the rush of a car moving down the highway. Trees, telephone wires, houses ablur.
There are Christmas mornings. There are Adirondack lakeside cabins. There are birthday boys and birthday girls, party hats askew. There are whipped confections, moments away from toddler manhandling. There is Dad, wielding enormous camera contraption, flash bulbs huge and blinding. Mom, corralling little people.
In another memory book, there is laughter and there are lingering summer suppers. Citronella candles burn to stubs as sun dips below horizon, oh, hours ago. Bright moonlight fills the sky and hushed, familiar voices mingle. Some in staccato laughs; some in serious debate; all in good nature, throughout. Pitchers, by now empty of libations. Platters empty of grilled tidbits, shared on our newly-Dad-constructed patio, under spreading maple. Lawn chairs now haphazardly scattered, fitting friends into conversations. Children darting, squealing and firefly catching. Evening, winding down. And we thought these days would always be.
And then, in yet another, there are those shots from way back. Those are yellowed and curled and indistinct, yet clear as right now. Black and white and grey. Unlabelled and undated, but on a pier, somewhere in California. Dad in Army issue, looking younger than I have ever known him. Ever. Looking determined, and dare I say, fierce. And yet, posing for this very shot, expectant and cautious. A soft heart and a bright mind. But as a youth of 24 and shipping out again, weary.
Mom, even younger, looking very Maureen O’Hara. In a-lower-west-side-daughter-of-immigrants-way that only first generation Irish-Americans can muster, without even knowing. Until perhaps a lifetime later, when scrapbooks are perused and expressions examined. As if she just finished the talk. The “You will come home and we will have a life” talk.
Well, he did. And they did.
And you can almost hear, if you really listen, the mournful strains of “Sentimental Journey,” plucked out by a makeshift band at battleship’s starboard side. A haunting ballad. But then, is there one more appropriate? Those on board and on dock, preparing to ship out. Into the blue Pacific. For some, this is the last they will see of their families, their country. Others will come back. The lucky, the spared. But changed. The Greatest Generation, indeed.
Yes, hundreds of lives touched, held within these pages, here on a table in this room, where we celebrate this one life and where we celebrate all these lives. Some touched in a big way; some fleetingly. All important.
So, my children have no earthly grandparents; all of them are “our special saints,” my youngest states. When one of my children becomes wistful, wishing Grandpa “could be here with us,” as when we recently toured the World War II Memorial in Washington DC, the other says, “He IS here with us.” And we take a picture of them sitting on the ridges engraved “Leyte Gulf” and “Manila.” This is where their grandfather was two generations ago, before most of the people respectfully wandering the Memorial, were even born. Without a doubt, they know, truly know, that they will meet again in Heaven and spend eternity.
During the prayer service on the final night of Mom’s wake, my oldest, then eight, wished to share a memory with all the others. Among all those story fragments swirling around the room spun by friends, neighbors and family, he felt comfortable that this memory of his Nanny was as worthy as the others’ of being shared. This was one of many small thought that would carry him through days, years ahead, when thinking the myriad of thoughts around his Nanny and what she means to him. He shared silliness of a song, that so many times over the years, his Nan sung off key. She bore the brunt of our hysterics to this oft-requested melody, being a good sport about it, welcoming it.
So, it is amid the laughter and the sadness that we know we all will emerge, eventually. All of us, broken. And yet made whole by our Lord’s beautiful gifts of grace and hope. Enveloped within our Catholic doctrine of Eternal Life, we not only accept, but look with anticipation.
As my youngest offhandedly commented while perusing our family scrapbooks, noting the many smiling faces of all who have gone to their Eternal Reward, “We’ll meet again all the people we love now, and will love but haven’t even met yet, when we get there.”
Copyright 2011 Christine Mooney