Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Funeral

Overwhelmed. I have to say that I am sitting here tonight, simply overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed by the emotions from today, I'm overwhelmed by the turnout at the funeral, and I am overwhelmed by all that has happened in the past few months.

Today was an emotionally draining we buried Mom. Maya was up screaming most of the night - she finally drifted off at midnight (well, after 2 car rides with Daddy), but she woke up again at 5:00 am. I gave up and brought her into bed with us so I could get a little sleep before the funeral.

The house came to life around 8:30 when our cleaning lady arrived. Megan arrived at 9 and started getting the children ready. Dad, my brother, SIL, M and the girls arrived around 9:45. We were busy getting dressed, prepping the house, organizing our things, and entertaining the children. Around 10:45, the limo arrived, and we left for the cemetery.

I forgot to eat this morning...I was feeling nervous and sad and shaky all at the same time. I wanted to get it over with...and I was filled with dread at the thought of going through this day. We were all on brother was upset because he had lost his bracelet that he considers his lucky charm, my father was empty chattering about anything that popped into his brain, and I was doing my best to fight back the tears.

We arrived at the cemetery, and I started to well up when I saw the tent over my mother's grave. We made our way to the chapel...and we were immediately greeted by our extended family. It was such a relief to see their faces. I could feel that we were surrounded by love, and my emotions started to run high.

I do not know how long we were standing there, but we were slowly moved into a room to the side of the chapel. The flow of people coming in to console us, friends, neighbors, co-workers. One by one, they came. After 10 or 15 minutes, we started to become a little amazed. The people kept coming...and coming...and coming. There was a line into the room to see us, the chapel was filling up, and we could see out the window across the cemetery as the cars lined up and the parade of people made their way to the chapel. We were amazed by some of the faces...good friends, family, co-workers, and so many faces from the past. Some people drove from hours away to be there for us.

My mother's co-workers were there in droves...I can't imagine there were enough people left behind to run the library. I was so touched to see all of them, and so thankful for all the support they have shown Mom throughout this battle. My father's department was there, and many from the College administration. My brother's co-workers were there, and so many of our friends - both from the present and our childhood. DH's family came down, and those who couldn't make it sent emails. We even had a friend who was only one month post kidney transplant there to honor Mom.

It warmed my heart to see old friends...especially a few former neighbors. I was particularly touched seeing two former neighbors again after all these years. I can't even begin to mention all the wonderful faces. The faces kept triggering so many memories...of my childhood, of the past, of my mother. I can't possibly name all the hundreds of people who were there (and yes, it was hundreds - my best guess is 200-250 people), but I wanted to extend my thanks to each and every one of you. I was awed by your attendance.

The funeral started late...due in no small part to the Rabbi's late arrival (he was late because he was trying to fulfill one of my mother's requests). At one point, a hush fell across the chapel, as if everyone thought the service was about to begin. As the silence hovered, I felt compelled to announce that we were still waiting for the Rabbi to arrive.

He arrived a few minutes later, and we quickly did the Kriah ceremony - my father, brother and I each pinned a black ribbon to our clothing and tore it to signify the rending of the heart for the loss of the loved one. By 12:15, we were out in the chapel, seated, and the Rabbi began the ceremony.

He welcomed everyone, and he spoke eloquently about my mother. He spoke of her kindness, of the love she had for her family, and his impressions of Mom. He did a few blessings, and he then turned it over to those of us who were giving her eulogy.

We started with my mother's childhood friend, S. She spoke of their childhood together, and the lifetime of friendship they shared. S's speech was touching, beautiful, and moving, and she talked about the seven lovely ladies who have been forever friends. She concluded her speech with a farewell to my mom, and sadness that now there are only six lovely ladies.

My mother's boss and friend from work spoke next. She brought a splash of humor to a very sad day. P did a wonderful job illuminating the relationship between my parents, and describing my mother professionally and as a colleague. P's word made me laugh as I pictured my mother rolling her eyes at one of my father's phone calls, and she made my heart swell with pride at my mother's service to her job.

L, our family friend, spoke next. He, too, spoke of Mom's friendship and kindness, and he spoke about how through the years, like so many others, our families' relationship grew into something more than just friendship...we became family. I think that epitomized so much about my mother...she took friends and made them family.

My brother followed L. He gave a powerful speech, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. He talked about my mother's strength, and his love for her, and he talked about how he hoped he would make her proud.

I spoke last. I remember being weepy from my brother's speech. I also remember thinking that so much of what I had planned to say was said in a similar way already...everyone talked about my mother as a friend, and we used similar words to describe Mom's tenacity and humor. I think my brother and I even had a few of the same phrases in our speeches. As I stood in front of the room, I was stunned to see how many people were present. The room was filled, there were people standing around the edges, and I could see that the vestibule was filled.

I was having a hard time speaking. I felt shaky and I could barely see the words I had written. I suddenly felt cold and fidgety, and all I could think was "Mom is lying there in that box." I think I mumbled a few words about how everyone had said the things I had written. I worked my way through the speech stumbling at times over the words, feeling largely inarticulate and tongue tied. I couldn't manage to make eye contact and look up and out - I felt my eyes glued to the papers in front of me, and my fingers incessantly shredded a kleenex and folded the corner of my speech back and forth. I worried about whether I was speaking loudly or clearly, and I tried my best to slow things down, because I know that I have a tendency to speak 90 miles a minute when I am nervous or upset. To me, my speech felt flat...that I didn't say the right things or speak as I had intended. I felt myself wishing that I had managed to express myself as well as my brother did.

When I finished speaking, the Rabbi read the poem I requested (As We Remember Them), and he said a few more blessings. In a break from tradition, we asked my mother's friends, the ladies, to be the pallbearers. The coffin was moved on wheels, and we thought that Mom would want to be surrounded by her closest friends as she was escorted from the chapel. As they escorted Mom, the Rabbi blew the shofar...another request from my mother. She wanted a long loud shofar blast to pierce through the air and touch us all.

We walked behind the hearse and followed Mom to the grave. The Rabbi said a few words, and we lowered Mom into the ground. One by one, we followed tradition and covered her with dirt. A few more prayers, the mourners kaddish, and it was all over.

We took the limo back to the house, and there were people there. My friend H had been at the house with Megan all day, there to watch the kids, receive the food, and set things up. L (our other babysitter Christin's mother) also came over to help with the kids. My friend T and her mother, B, (and I think her sister, too), left early to get back to the house and finish getting everything ready.

We spent the afternoon eating and talking. The kids played downstairs, and it was an emotionally charged day. There was a constant stream of people in and out. Around 7:00 pm, the last wave of visitors arrived, and our friend E led a service for us. The house was full, and it was amazing to see so many familiar faces. We said Kaddish, the mourner's prayer, for my mother, and we sat surrounded by friends and family all night.

By 9:00, almost everyone had gone home. My brother, SIL and the girls decided to spend the night, and my niece M decided to stay behind with us for a few days to help out. We have been sitting and talking all night (and Maya has been refusing to sleep). I love having a full house.

Right now, it all seems surreal. I think being surrounded by so many loved ones makes it easy to forget for a little while. Tomorrow we will be holding shiva again, and I suspect the parade will continue.

All day long, friends and family took care of us - getting food, refilling the platters, washing the dishes, putting things away, tracking the gifts, etc. Thank you so much for all of your care today. I will be posting the eulogy speeches as soon as I can.

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