Friday, December 28, 2007

Rest in Joy and Peace

My grandmother's family was a bit odd. Her mother had four children and decided, upon her remarriage, to keep only the youngest. Grandma was raised by her Granny and her sister and brother went to other relatives. Those relatives had a daughter several years younger than Grandma's siblings. Her name, like Grandma's sister, was Betty. She died early on Christmas day.

Our family shared a uniform affection for Betty Lou. I remember her being funny and happy, blessed with an overwhelming friendliness that shone about her. She had her own family and her relation to us was distant at best. I was therefore saddened when Aunt called to tell us she'd lost her battle with cancer, but agreed to attend the funeral with my mother so she wouldn't have to battle the crowds and stairs alone with her recovering knees.

I woke this morning to a beautiful snow. It fell fast and hard, coating the branches of trees and nestling thickly on the streets and sidewalks. Mom and I both dressed - I took a pair of grey pants of hers that I loved to match my soft, blue sweater. We drove through the snow to a lovely church in town. We parked and I helped Mom up the steps to a room in the split level structure where Betty rested in an open casket. I wrinkled my nose at the overwhelmingly floral scent and remembered the bouquet Mom had when she came home from a hospital stay.

"It's from the people at work." She told me and I nodded.

"It's very pretty." I told her. "But may I put it outside? It smells like death to me." She nodded and Dad sighed with relief. That smell - the flowers all clustered together - reminds me of visitations. Bodies whose souls have departed, surrounded by cut blooms that only look good from the front of the arrangement, waiting to wilt and die themselves. I don't like it and happily deposited Mom's check from the family in the box of donations to the church in lieu of flowers. On my way across the room alone - Mom was resting her knees in the corner - I stopped to look at the many pictures displayed along one wall. Betty at graduations, cuddling babies, smiling brightly at the camera aimed at her and groups of family and friends.

She had a full life, I thought. One very well lived, full of love and friendships and laughter.

I returned to Mom's side to see her speaking to Betty's younger sister. When Mom said she looked like her sister, she smiled.

"I know." She said, leaning into Mom for a moment. "And I always wanted to be the pretty one." We all laughed and I linked my fingers with Mom's as we watched Betty's sons greet guests who filed past the casket. Mom and I joined the line, shook hands and offered sympathies to men whose eyes filled with tears. We paused at the casket to look at Betty, beholding her peaceful expression and hands curled around a book a prayers, rested our hands on the fluffy white blanket that cushioned her body and prayed.

"She's in Heaven with Aunt Betty." Mom said softly of Grandma's sister who died upwards of 10 years ago, being separated from the woman with whom she shared her childhood. "They're having fun together."

We moved to the sanctuary, selecting a pew near the back of the church with Aunt and Uncle. We sat and talked while people filed in. When it was time, the closed casket was placed at the front of the church and her family filed in behind. They found their seats for a service that was lovely and heartfelt. I cried several times - I struggle to cope with the loss, even of people I don't know incredibly well. Plus, the obvious suffering and pain of her family tugged at my heart. They loved her, they prayed for her, laughed with her, worried over her, needed her. And now she's gone, departing in the early morning hours of December 25 as she was surrounded by people who loved her.

It was an odd thing, looking around the church that Betty had decorated for the holidays and seeing her funeral flowers mixed with the festive trees and leaves and lights. There were two felt decorations around the advent candles - they read Joy and Peace. As the pastor read letters from her sons while they wept in the front pews, as the church filled with voices lifted in song, as a church full of people missed a woman who was bright and funny and loving, I wiped away tears, unsure if I was aching for this particular loss or others remembered and anticipated.

Despite the prayers and readings, songs and memories shared, I left feeling heavy. The snow had ceased when we left the church to make our way home and the world was once again grey with thick clouds and white fluff that was rapidly becoming muddy slush.

"She has gone to a better place." The pastor said during the service. "One with utter joy and peace. We remain here, left to live and love as Betty did until our time comes to join her." Perhaps it is the emotional separation from God I feel of late. Perhaps it is my lack of plan - my inner feelings that are other than joyful or peaceful. I just don't know right now. And my heart remains heavy even as the snow outside melts away.

1 comment:

Mad Hatter said...

My condolences--I'm so sorry for your loss.

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