Thu 5 Jun 2008
my mother and i went to a funeral this morning. for a family friend, a big, warm bear of a man whose daughters i was close to when we were children, a man who then left that family and started another and whom i hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years when i wandered into his antique store in December of 2005.
it was just before Christmas, but i was the only one in the shop. i recognized him and introduced myself, asked how he was, innocuously. and i watched him, suddenly, without warning, crumble in front of me. it was his first day back at work. his wife, his second wife, had died just weeks before, on the operating table where they’d expected to save her life. instead she was gone. oh. how was i? oh. we were seven or so months out from losing Finn, and i’d gotten used to saying, “fine,” to putting on the mask, but i didn’t then, didn’t need to…couldn’t. it would have shamed us both, somehow. so i told him, and he listened, and we stood there amongst the dusty wooden rockers and the phonographs with tears on both our faces and it was the most honest random conversation i think i’ve ever had in my life. with a man i barely knew and yet had known for as long as i can remember. it was the only real conversation we ever had. i was grateful for it, then and now.
and they piped him out today, Donnie who always wore his kilt for occasions, the Skye Boat Song and roses for everyone to take home with them because Donnie loved to give flowers.
we couldn’t go to the cemetery because they don’t provide wheelchairs or chaise lounges for the bedresting, so my mother brought me home. and told me, on the drive, that she doesn’t expect to see me in heaven after she goes.
this came out deadpan, a total non-sequitur. i laughed a little nervously, uncertain if a lecture on my moral failings was about to follow. it did not…which was a relief of an almost palpable nature…rather, my mother wanted to inform me of her own theological predilections so that i could instruct whomever takes command of her funeral when the time comes that mention of “hanging around up there, waiting for you all” is not to happen. my little black heart could not have swelled bigger. my mother and i have our differences of faith – she has one, i do not, a rather significant difference – but it appears in this we are almost…alike. the afterlife is mysterious to both of us, veiled. and i find bizarre comfort in this unusual synchronicity. i told her if it turns out we’re wrong and heaven really is all gowns and harps and reunifications, i’ll understand it if i get there and she’s sulking in the corner, refusing to talk to me just because she doesn’t want to admit having made a mistake. she retorted that if heaven really turns out all that conventional, she doesn’t expect i’ll be showing up at all. and we both laughed.
she also told me she’d like a piper for her funeral, like Donnie had. i nodded at this, tears suddenly in my eyes. we live in a part of the world where nearly half the population is still pure-blood highland Scots, two hundred years removed from clan and the auld country but fiercely attached to what remnants remain of that dour legacy of clearances and imperial machinations. i would like to take her to Scotland, someday…but i don’t think she actually wants to see the real place. the Scotland in her mind is hers, her own. if we went , she’d risk feeling less connected to the reality than she does here, at a remove, where its romance and sentiment are keystones of her birthright, her identity, the community to which she belongs. none more Scots than the Scots abroad, och aye. so she will have a piper, i promised. i asked for one myself, just in case.
speed bonnie boat, like a bird on a wing
onward the sailors cry
carrying the lad who’s born to be king
over the sea to Skye
i didn’t tell her that the other songs on my secret personal funeral list are “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead and Sinatra’s “My Way”…and that really, if we have to have a funeral, why not make it all-music, an all-night hootenannie, with plenty of liquor?
i’d like to keep her around for awhile if i can, not kill her off with horror.
have you ever thought about your own funeral…what you’d want said, or read? played? any suggestions for my ever-revolving list of (secular) life-affirming classics? though i do have a soft spot for old staunch hymns, i must admit…but i doubt Dave would allow them any play, if he outlived me. ;)