And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
— Raymond Carver
If my mother’s celebration of a life well lived was any indication, she was beloved on the earth. Scores of people filled the sanctuary last Saturday: family, friends of my mother, friends of mine and my sisters, friends of the next generations who never met my mother, Girl Scouts who earned badges under her leadership in the 1960s, my father’s work colleagues or children of those who were, neighbors, church friends, friends of Seminary Hill, her caregivers and property helpers over the years.
It was a grand celebration. One Girl Scout friend told me we earned our funeral badge.
And now the planning is done. Some of the ashes are inurned with my father. The eulogies are written, edited, delivered. The experimental “poetry smash” was a moving successful. The church, from which we dragged items from everywhere to decorate the chancel, is back together. All the family has gone home. The food is consumed or thrown out. The beds are stripped. The fir tree and rhododendron shrapnel tracked into the house is vacuumed up—okay, maybe not that. The toys are put away. The cards are read. The tears are shed.
About that last: I hope there are more tears to come for my sisters and me. It’s hard to grieve while you are planning a blowout, 90-minute send-off for your mother; and, also, a little bit for your father. There was no memorial service for him, 23 years ago next week, on the summer solstice. He didn’t want one, my mother said. She regretted it later. “It wasn’t about him,” she said. “I should have planned one for you girls.” And maybe for herself? I have been in awe of all the details of death she did by herself without asking for help. Was planning a service too much? Why didn’t my sisters and I do it for her? Did we offer? Did she refuse, wanting to honor his wishes? I hope my mother’s service expressed our love for him too.
I suppose most bereaved are not so hands on in the planning of a service. I see now it’s hard to settle in and let memory, grief, and love roll over you when you are watching to make sure all the elements go smoothly; or, perhaps, trusting that, but reveling in the how it did all come together into a beautiful expression of a very long life. I think what my sisters and I wanted to do, though, was give a gift to the community that has embraced my mother for nearly 60 years, to give them the opportunity to remember and grieve; to see more of who she has been over her century of life than just the small piece they have known.
My sisters and I and my daughter—representing the next generation—each wrote a eulogy. (Links at the bottom of this post.) As I wrote, I opened the door a bit further into my mother’s life. I shed tears as I fit the mosaic of her life together into a whole and as I listened to my sisters’ unique take on our mother’s life and Emma’s memories of her Nana. We didn’t share our writing with each other ahead of time—each choosing qualities (all different) of our mother’s we believe we embody—and yet there were almost no overlapping stories. We are each five years apart. We were born into different families and had a different relationship with our mother; in some ways, even, different mothers.
I don’t know that I believe there is any capacity in which our parents can be proud of us in this honoring; but not knowing otherwise, I choose to think they were there. And they are proud and humbled. I expect my mother is overwhelmed and astounded.
We haven’t shed all our tears. We have many more opportunities to remember, to weep, to laugh; to be relieved that she is finished with this life. Not the least of which will come when the house is cleaned out. Someday.
As I wrote this two days ago without internet connection to post it, I was ensconced in the fog in a tiny cottage on Hood Canal—generously offered by a friend—reading, writing, watching movies, sleeping, hiking. Ignoring the bedding at home waiting to be washed, the photographs that need to be put away, the thank you notes to be written, the property maintenance that has been ignored.
The ashes on the cedar chest.
And pondering a life. Did my mother get what she wanted from this life? I think she would say that she did. Did her family get what they needed from her? Perhaps not all we wanted; but yes, all we needed. And she gave all she had. Thank you, Mama.
Jo Ann’s eulogy. Gretchen’s eulogy. Rebecca’s eulogy. Emma’s eulogy.
4 thoughts on “A Life Well Lived”
Thank you for sharing this story of an important time in your life. Your writing moves me deeply 💕. I love your mother’s poem. (Any chance you have it in a digital fir you can send?)
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Thank you, Grace. Her poem is pretty terrific, isn’t it? Send me you new (?) email address, and I will send you the poem.
I was blessed in attending your Mama’s celebration of life! Although I never met her, I received a remarkable sense of her in this creative and sensitively crafted ritual of remembrance. How does one even begin to distill the essence of nearly 102 years?! The individual eulogies and sharings, and the melding of those amazing poems rising and falling throughout the sanctuary gave me such a sense of her! So beautifully done! xo
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Thank you, Melissa. I am so happy you were there to share it with me. It means the world.