Once again, we are in a car together, with me weaving in and out of traffic while you are riding shotgun and providing entertainment. At one point, we are laughing so hard, I have to brake suddenly to avoid hitting the car in front of me and make sure we don’t miss our exit. It could be 1987 and we are skipping class or our sorority meeting to swim in the shoals out at Pancake Falls. It could be 1993 and we are taking the twins to Gymboree. It could be 2004 and we are leading a pack of late night benefit-goers to have their picture taken with a giant mirrored armadillo in our formal wear. But, it is today and we are planning mom’s funeral on our way to my daughter’s field trip at the zoo.
In addition to finding our way through Houston, we are navigating through the 12-page guide for funerals issued by mom’s home parish. What started out as a groovy, folk Mass parish in the 1970s has become ultra-conservative and has issued a 12-page guide explaining in great detail why we won’t be having the flowers, songs and readings we had planned for this day. No matter. We’ve got this. Readings first.
“Goats and sheep?,” you ask.
“No, that’s more Sharon,” I say referring to our livestock-loving friend who lives in the Arizona desert.
“Mary and Martha?”
“Revelations has got to be good. What about this one with the Lake of Fire?”
“Ooh, that could work,” and we simultaneously burst into and adapted version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” I stab at the brake again. All that’s missing here is a six-pack of Mickey’s big mouths.
Later, another friend suggests we replace the New Testament reading from Paul’s letters with “a letter from Susan to Anne.”
All kidding aside, it is important for us to get this right. We have all come a long way together. In our preparations for the funeral, we find a picture from college with my brother before we went out one Saturday night. We are in Laura Ashley dresses and my brother is in coat and tie. It looks so innocent but, of course, we all ended up sneaking into the country club pool in the middle of the night, jumping off the high dive in our dresses and submerging a lounge chair in the diving well – by accident. What you don’t see is my mom on the other side of the camera taking this picture. I bet she never dreamed that these would be the three faces who would be making her final arrangements. God help her.
The last time mom greets you, it is with a “Hail, Mary.” Strokes had claimed most of her speech but this is the one phrase that never left her and these are the last words she ever said. When the priest comes to give mom last rites, her portion of the room is all Catholicked out. We have the Divine Mercy image, rosaries and, of course, a statuette of Mary. She had many but this is one of the last gifts my brother gave her. Mom has not really opened her eyes for three days, but while she is receiving the Sacrament of the Sick, her eyes are locked on the priest with her last vestiges of comprehension. I tell him about her devotion to Our Mother. We pray a Hail, Mary. The last words mom could speak are the last words she will hear. A few hours later, mom passes.
The hand of God through Mary has been all over this. We have had our share of weird coincidences, amazing timing, outpourings of assistance, and lots of love this week. In our Catholic tradition, the Hail Mary prayer asks for Our Lady’s intercession “now and at the hour of our death.” I don’t think it was sheer luck that you had already planned a trip down to see me this week nor that you were here to help me celebrate her life and pull together the planning. I see mom’s last greeting to you as an acknowledgement that she knew the role you were to play in the last part of her life. She knew we would be doing this together. Together, we are all daughters of Mary. and she is looking after us all.
So today, in honor of mom, we will be putting a little ice in our chardonnay, grabbing those rosary beads and praying to Our Lady. She’s got this.