Gently making its way toward the front of the room, this parade of humanity. These souls, the timelines of their lives overlapping. Personal histories, oftentimes enveloping, criss crossing. Chatting amongst themselves. At times, reaching out to embrace someone who hasn’t been seen in “too long” and hushed promises to “get together soon.” Not empty promises. For life does get in the way, sometimes.
It is Mom’s wake, here in my reverie. And it is three years on the journey since that day. It was wintry. It was brutal and hostile. Sleeting and frigid. But you know this.
When you lose one you love, one who walked with you on life’s journey longest and loved you most, loved you unconditionally…well, you know.
You know the day suits the mood, the very core of the reason we are here. You know it is as if those we love can only be mourned on the most foul and wretched of days charted within our climes. You know this.
And so I remember. Perhaps the best place to begin is a lifetime ago with the richness, the fullness, the oftentimes emptiness of need, a lifetime ago and just off the boat. But, the plentitude of happiness, found. Of a hard early life in lower west side tenements; of a military base during The War; of five children, children-in-law, grandchildren and great children.
Pinned to the coffin: many memories. Some, fresh. Others, faded. A tangible trail of symbols. A handful, represent a life so long passed that reaching back to their stories seems near to impossible. All, house stories that are limitless.
And the pictures. The books filling the tables; the collages lining the perimeter of the room. Standing like sentinels, guarding, yet kimdly spilling the story of a life well lived and well loved. Of grace filled days. Pictures that now conjure memories, with the speed, the rush of a car moving down the highway. Trees, telephone wires, houses ablur.
And in these memory-laden tomes, there are Christmas mornings. There are Adirondack lakeside cabins. There are birthday boys and birthday girls, party hats askew. There are whipped confections, candles poking through, moments away from toddler manhandling. There is Dad, wielding an enormous camera contraption, flash bulbs huge and blinding. There is Mom, good naturedly corralling little people for birthday fun.
In another memory book, there is laughter and there are lingering summer suppers in our postage stamp sized Queens yard. Small dimensions, big love. Citronella candles burn to stubs as sun has dipped 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 once brimming full with grilled tidbits, shared on our newly-Dad-constructed patio, under spreading maple. Lawn chairs now haphazardly scattered, having fit friends into conversations. Children darting, squealing and firefly catching. Evening, winding down.
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, 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 and shipping out again, weary.
Mom, even younger. Looking very Maureen O’Hara, in a lower-west-side-daughter-of-Irish-immigrants-way that only first generation gals 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. And as you know by now, he did. And they did. And it was some life.
And you can almost hear, if you time tunnel back into this moment and 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, it is the last they will see of their families, their country. Others will come back, 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, walking side by side on life’s journey. Some touched fleetingly. All important.
And now, 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 toured the World War II Memorial in DC, the other says, “He IS here with us.”
We take a picture of our boys sitting side by side on the Memorial ridges engraved “Leyte Gulf” and “Manila.” For this is where their grandfather was two generations ago, before most of the people respectfully and wistfully wandering the Memorial, were even born. Without a doubt, they know, my boys truly know, that they will meet again in Heaven and share 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 one of many memories of his Nanny was worthy of being shared. That the telling of it would not diminish it, but allow it to grow stronger. He talked of silliness of a song, and was I proud when he did, that so many times over the years, his Nan sung off key. She bore the brunt of his hysterics to this oft-requested melody. Being a good sport about it, welcoming it.
And there were so many, many more. A vigil of remembrance. And isn’t that what a wake should be?
So it is, we find, that at our lowest and most broken, amid the laughter and the sadness, we are led to realize: we all will emerge. Eventually. Our brokenness made whole by our Lord’s beautiful gifts of grace and hope. Enveloped within our Catholic doctrine of Eternal Life, we embrace an end which is only the beginning.
As my youngest offhandedly commented recently while perusing our family scrapbooks, in a way that only the young possess, noting the many faces, smiling, solemn, youthful, elderly, who have gone to their Eternal Reward, “We’ll meet them all again. All the people we love now, and will love but haven’t even met yet, when we each get there.”
Copyright 2012 Christine Mooney