We held a celebration of life for my mother. She did not want a typical funeral. She did not want to have a time of receiving friends for viewing of the body. We had just a private family viewing time. We were all sitting there quiet and somber when my brother stood up and said that it would be okay for us to talk and remember Mother. Several of us told stories for a little while before the pastor came in to have a prayer with us. He said it was very refreshing to hear laughter because that is what Mother would have wanted.
Then, we went to the cemetery and had her graveside service, which was very brief. The pastor had just a short message, a little scripture, and a prayer before we left to go to the church for a memorial service.
When we were thinking about what scripture to be read, etc.... I thought to look through Mother's Bible to see if she had any special scriptures marked, underlined, highlighted, etc..... She didn't, but she did have some things in her Bible that were of obvious importance to her. There were a couple of pages that she had torn out of some devotional book that had scripture. One of the verses was from James 3:13 "Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom."
The prayer at the end of this devotional read, "Great God, you know our worth, and you love us, no matter what our age may be. As long as we live, teach us the best way to give. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen"
There was a short note that she had written that explained in her own words what one of the scriptures meant to her. This scripture was from Romans 15:1 and in her words is, "Even if we believe that it makes no difference to the Lord whether we do these things, still we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves for we must bear the burden of being considerate of the doubts and fears of others."
Mother lived her life in service to others. She was a teacher and later a social worker for Children Services. Even after she retired she was on the Foster Care Review Board and on the Habitat for Humanity Board, was very active in her church and in ministries of the women of the church. She constantly was reminding us to be mindful of the feelings and needs of others.
Education was important to Mother. She had an undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee in Zoology. She then went to Atlanta and studied to become a Lab Technician. This was in the 40s when not many women went off to college, and if they did most of them majored in education, nursing, or home economics. We never even gave thought to not going on to college when we were growing up. It was just an understanding.
Mother had planned the service except for the part our pastor called "Remembrances". My niece, who is the oldest of the grandchildren asked if she could tell a bit about Grandmother's life and about the kind of person she was to her. She honored Mother in such a beautiful way, by telling about Christmases at her house, the stability she provided to her and her sister when her parents divorced when she was young, and about the little quirky things that made our mother so unique. Then she asked if anyone else had stories to tell. I went first, of course, and told about when mother made me laugh a couple of months ago (I blogged about this in July), and I read a note that I found in her stuff that I had written to her when I was probably about 10 years old. It reads,
I love you very much. You have been kind to me. But I've not been kind to you as much. I'm sorry, for everything, I've done to make you unhappy....
You are the sweatest mother, I wouldn't have another in all my life.
Yours truly, Julia"
(I left the punctuation and spelling just as I had written the original note. I don't know what I was apologizing for but I must have done something pretty bad!)
Then, I told a story that my brother was planning to tell. He chickened out at the last minute.
When he was in the Navy, our mother wrote to him every day. He never wrote back. So.......our mother wrote to his commanding officer and asked if he was okay because she never heard from him. His commanding officer called him into his office and gave him a piece of paper and a pen and told him to write to her right then and there and ordered him to write to her from then on at least once a week. He was in the Navy 22 years, and he never failed to write to her each week from then on.
Another story was told by my cousin, who was 16 when his mother died. Our mother moved into their house to take care of him and his younger brother. The 16 year old liked to stay out late and didn't like rules. So, one Saturday night when he was out late she wrote a Proclamation that said something like this......."Whereas, everyone in this house does pretty much whatever they want to do from Monday through Saturday, I proclaim that on Sunday morning everyone in this house WILL get up and go to church!!!" Sometime later, on a Saturday evening when Mother had gone somewhere with her friends, and my cousin happened to be home earlier than she, he wrote her a note that said, "Dear Aunt Ruth, I can't wate (that's how he spelled it) up any longer so I'm going to bed. I hope you won't stay out late like this any more. Please turn out the lights and lock the door. Ha!" (These aren't the exact words, but pretty close.)
There were a few other stories told that made the service personal and, as Mother wanted, celebratory.
She chose the hymns, who was to sing, play the piano and organ, who were to be the pall bearers and honorary pall bearers. She also decided on the order that we were to do things. That's why the burial was first, then the service, and then........
she wanted us to have a "party" to celebrate her life. She wanted a gathering of friends and family. She wanted refreshments.
So, some of the ladies in our church got together and made cookies, brownies, shortbread, etc.... and punch. We had a display of photographs of Mother from when she was a little child throughout her life till recent photos with her great grandchildren. Some photos were of her with her dear friends at various celebrations of birthdays, church functions, trips they took together. There was one photo of her with her brother and her best friend, who died in August, that must have been taken at Halloween since they all had on costumes. We saw people we haven't seen in a long time. We had so much food brought to the house that we were able to feed over 40 members of the family who were here along with several close friends, for the whole weekend and still have some left over. Everyone in the family has gone now, and most are already back to their homes. It is very quiet in our house. I welcomed the noise, which was mostly laughter of children and of us grownups telling even more stories.
Eureka or not
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