Do It Well

Today’s daily inspirational email advised ‘Whatever you do today, do it well.’  Today I had to attend a funeral.

How does one do a funeral well?  Cry more?  Cry less?  In my experience, one doesn’t do funerals at all.  Funerals are done to you.

General sentiment was one of relief that my aunt had finally been freed from her torturous body.  But the joy for the deceased cannot obscure the sorrow of those left behind.  I gazed at the massive hole in the cemetery ground and thought, ‘there is not dirt enough on the planet to fill in the hole left by the departure of a dear one.’

Hugs and kisses and condolences greet me at the door of the funeral home.  I am both relieved and guilty to be in the arms of family seen only at marriages and deaths.  And I’m grateful for the rituals that force us together when we’ve failed to sustain connections otherwise.

Together, we bolster each other, forming a collective cocoon around Auntie’s closest family – the ones who risk the greatest sorrow.  Our unspoken promise is to hold tight and not let go.  Fall here and we’ll catch you.  You are safe in our arms.  Take what you need from our open hearts.  And fall they do, spilling open with abandon.  Love and sorrow are one voice intertwined.

After all these years, I learn things I didn’t know about the woman who held me at the altar of God at birth and pledged to help my parents watch over me.  Her life is no longer a still shot but a panoramic movie.  A motion picture in which she is the star.  And here we are, her supporting cast, applauding her as she accepts her final award.  She is center stage and has never appeared more perfect.

The bittersweet sound of church bells unleashes my tears.  A song pleads, ‘Hold me close God.’  Yes, God, please do.  Because I feel myself unraveling.  The world is suddenly unfamiliar.  Someone important is missing.

The clock in my world has stopped, yet the people outside of my circle carry on, oblivious that the world is forever changed.  They watch, unaffected, and perhaps even annoyed as our processional of cars slides by.  I gaze into their strange eyes willing them to pause and commend Auntie to Heaven with a prayer of their own.

It’s hard to guess when the healing will come.  It will be different for each of us.  Healing is not to be demanded.  It must be invited and allowed to arrive in its own time, after it has negotiated its way past the darkness.

For now, I wait.  I am at once drained and replete.  It’s as if I am a bottle that has been emptied of its contents and scrubbed out with a brush that reached deep inside.  Empty but clean.  Ready to fill again.

I vow anew to live more consciously and to love more fully so that I may fill myself this time with only the things that really matter.  This, I know, is a promise I will make a thousand times over.  It is my own repeating death and resurrection story.

Returning to this morning’s instructions to ‘do it well,’ I maintain this as an impossibility where funerals are concerned.  But if by this statement one is meant to be present to life and death, to open to vulnerability, and to give from the most sincere part of one’s heart, then yes, I did it well.  And I have an Auntie to thank for it.

Thank You For This

With my 43rd birthday in sight, I feel like I’m approaching a finish line.  As I gaze at the month ahead of me, the home stretch, I realize that I am no more immune to death now than I was when I first experienced my premonitions of death at age 42.  I am acutely aware that if Heaven wants me, it can grab me off the race track of life whether I’m thirty years from the ‘finish line’ or thirty days.  There are no rules, no fair and square, where death is concerned.

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Sibling Lovelry

When my son, AKA Beagle, was four years old, husband and I announced that baby number three was on the way.  “I want a brother,” Beagle announced with conviction, as if his wanting was enough to manifest a baby boy.  He already had an older sister so…..we broke the news gently.

“We do know what the baby is,” I admitted.  His face lit up with anticipation.  “It’s a girl.”  Instantaneously, Beagle’s head dropped with a thud onto the table in despair.  With face buried in forearm, he lay silent.  While older sister, AKA Principessa, danced in celebration, I attempted to explain to the top of Beagle’s head that we didn’t get to choose.

Silence.

I added sugar-coating like the fact that he would always have his own room as the as the only boy.

Silence.

I assured him that he’d be a great big brother.

Silence.

Then Beagle raised a single hand in the air, head still down, and solemnly replied, “I’ll be okay.”

Beagle was more than okay.  This is a picture of him when Peach arrived.  Could he be any more smitten?

As it turned out, Beagle and Peach formed a close bond.  He adored his little sister and she him.  Eventually though, the novelty wore off and he went his merry boy way.  I feared that their lack of common interests would prohibit a close relationship between them.  But when Peach turned six and couldn’t ride a bike without training wheels, Beagle stepped in.

It was a casual summer day when Beagle marched in the kitchen and accused me of negligence.  “I can’t believe you haven’t taught Peach how to ride on two wheels yet.  She can’t start First Grade on training wheels!  Leave it to me.  I know what I’m doing.”

Staunchly determined, Beagle grabbed a fistful of lollipops for reinforcement and headed outside.  Honoring my promise not to interfere, I watched from the window.

Like a pro, doting older brother ran up and down the driveway holding the back of Peach’s bike while shouting out instructions and encouragement.  Within the hour, Peach was riding solo with big brother running alongside and cheering.

Beagle strutted back into the house, chest puffed up, and declared, “Mission accomplished.”

I was reminded of that favorite story today, three years later, when I sat poolside watching Beagle teach Peach how to dive.  With characteristic patience and sensitivity, big brother devoted his afternoon to imparting this new skill.  All the while he exchanged secret smiles with me, each of us enjoying the process.

These are the kinds of moments that make my mother heart swell with joy.  These are the shreds of hope that restrain me when I want to choke the next child who fights with a sibling.  I need these reminders from time to time to balance the sometimes excruciating task of establishing family harmony. Like, for instance, several weeks into summer vacation.

Today I decide that I can rest peacefully, knowing that no matter how much my little ones bicker and compete, they do love each other.  When the rubber meets the road, they travel together.

I suspect that when I’m old and gray, and my children are grown, they will continue to have their differences.  They may even try to involve me for peacekeeping.  And I will sit back in my rocking chair smiling at their sibling lovelry.

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