Sunday, January 08, 2012

Mourning into dancing

I had to think a little before deciding Mary Louise wouldn’t mind if I reviewed her funeral. She had a wry sense of humor after all and might even have done something similar, circumstances being a little different.

But the first thing spotted this morning after coming downstairs to make coffee was the carnation brought home from yesterday’s service, parked in a glass of water beside the kitchen sink. I took that as a sign.

I’ve mentioned the circumstances previously --- a heart attack prior to Christmas, then a time of marginal consciousness prior to final departure Dec. 30 from the hospice house in Creston, near her sister and nephew.

Mary Louise was not an intimate friend, more of a fond acquaintance. We’d last met at the Lucas County Genealogical Society’s Christmas gathering on Dec. 12 where the big platter of chocolate in various incarnations she’d brought up from Russell led to a feeding frenzy.

I think she would have been gratified, perhaps a little surprised, that those of us who gathered at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) late Saturday morning to remember and celebrate her life filled the parking lot with our vehicles. It’s a big parking lot.

I prefer funerals held in churches, when appropriate. Nothing against funeral home chapels, but if you’re affiliated with a church and it’s big enough why not use it? These places are intended for all phases of life, beginning to end, after all.

Besides, First Christian has wonderfully comfortable pews. Yes, I know that shouldn’t be a consideration.

And the Disciples are accomplished cooks (lunch followed). Another inappropriate thought on the long march from the end of the parking lot to the church door.

The carnations were a lovely touch. Mary Louise’s sister, Catherine, greeted each of us as we entered, handing out flowers in various colors from vases on a big table near the guest book --- color-coded to reflect how Mary’s life was intertwined with our own.

She was a busy person, wearing many hats accumulated since her 2007 retirement, when she moved to Russell to be near her late mother, Mary Ellen --- genealogical society, Russell Historical Society, Pioneer Cemetery Commission (which she chaired) and First Christian, the childhood congregation she had rejoined, where she had been deaconess, Sunday school teacher and church board member. Memorials, appropriately, will go to the church’s furnace and air conditioning fund.

As at any church where militant ushers are not present, the back pews filled first (I was a little late, marched in typical self-absorbed fashion past the pewful of people I should have sat with and ended up toward the front). Balance was restored only when the family entered.

The ashes were wrapped in a roadmap. Wonderful! Few people enjoyed road trips more.

Mary Louise was a person of great calm and deliberation, always moving forward but, as someone said, as a rule rather slowly. I thought about that after sitting there reflecting on what a great service it had been (and about lunch) when it became evident we’d been listening to an extension of the eulogy and that the sermon was just beginning (it was a good sermon, however; I’m not complaining).

Pastor C.J. Latham did as good a job as I’ve heard of capturing in words the essence of the departed. It was a pleasure to listen to.

And the lunch --- well, Mary Louise certainly would have enjoyed that. Loose meat sandwiches, cheesy potato casseroles, deviled eggs, many salads, cake. Good conversation in a packed parish hall, too, about Mary Louise and everything else under the sun.

I’ve walked away from far too many funerals over the years --- occasionally depressed, sometimes distressed and now and then lifted up. This was one of the latter. I hope Mary Louise, wherever she’s traveling now, is able to appreciate just how effectively her family and friends echoed the Psalmist:

"Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness."


Ken said...

Frank, I can't say that I've ever read a review of a funeral, but this was a good one. And it sounds like Mary Louise was indeed someone special.

Linda said...

Thank you for these descriptive words. it is very much appreciated and as always, well done.