I mentioned earlier that we had a death in the family. I've got more time to share details now. First, here is the elegy I wrote ... She was a woman who wanted children so much She was a woman who hunted rabbits, She was a woman who sometimes slept upright, These are the stories that we tell of her, When the house and the bowl and the chair
-- an elegy for Leola Edwards (June 27, 1925-June 8, 2012)
She was the lady of the House on Mitchell Street
that held five generations of family in a hand-built duplex
with a yard where pear trees bloomed in the Michigan spring.
that she walked away from her first marriage to make them
in a time when that was Just Not Done.
and once shot one while most of it hid behind a tree,
and once clubbed one when it ran right up to her.
leaning against a wall in the evening after work,
coffee cup in hand, without ever spilling a drop.
clear as a glass sugar-bowl,
smooth as a pearl-backed rocking chair.
have all gone to dust, these stories will yet remain,
passed from breath to breath for memory of our love.
* * *
Those, by the way, are the stories that I had heard often enough -- most if not all of them from several people -- to repeat in summary from my own memory without asking anyone else. All I did was have the poem fact-checked. One of my regular roles in community is as a storyteller, someone who works with the oral tradition part of family history. A litany of memories is one of the recurring patterns used to create elegies. This is one type of poetry that I never sell; it comes to me from the universe and is always freely available as part of my service as bard and priestess.
What we've been busy with the last couple of weeks has included preparations for an expected death and then the memorial ceremonies. During this time we made two trips to Detroit, Michigan from our home in central Illinois. We got to touch base with a lot of family members. Happily, all of Leola's adult children and many of her other relatives got to say goodbye to her shortly before her death.
Several folks sent flowers for the Monday visitation, including my parents, who chose some of my grandmother's favorites -- the bouquet included pink carnations (symbolizing affection, or "I'll never forget you"), pink lilies (nonromantic love), and white lilies (purity, or a regal woman). The coffin was perfect: plain knotty pine with a clear finish. I'd never seen one like that; it was beautiful and very different from the usual highly finished furniture-looking ones. This one looked like something out of a real woodshop: perfect for a carpenter's wife, and very much akin to the paneling in houses where she had lived.
The Tuesday morning funeral service was lovely. That's always hit or miss for me, and usually miss, but we got really lucky. The pastor went out of his way to acknowledge that not everyone attending was Roman Catholic, to coach people through possibly unfamiliar steps, and make sure there were ways for everyone to participate who wanted to. So for instance, when communion was offered, there was a choice between that and a general blessing. To request the blessing you simply crossed your arms over your shoulders. (As a liturgist myself, I was greatly impressed with the elegance of that, and made a mental note: when ritual options are offered, give people a simple way to indicate which they want. That's really useful, for instance, in a big public ritual if both wine and water are offered. I've done a lot of rituals for interfaith audiences and I know that's not easy.) The organ playing was beautiful, and the singer had the most celestial voice I've heard since a world-class concert we once attended. It's nice to see that some clergy are quite good at their jobs and that some Christians seriously follow the loving, welcoming example that Christ set. That always makes me happy to see, and I make a point of mentioning it in a time when negative examples get a lot of attention. The etymology of "religion" itself is "to connect again." It was well done.
What was really interesting is that the service contained material mixed from the very beginning of Christianity through Vatican II right up to the current time with the most recent changes. I was surprised to find motifs that I recognized because most of my familiarity with Roman Catholicism is very ancient -- but the formula for the incense and the holy oil were traditional, the highly recognizable frankincense and myrrh. Most of the service and songs were in English, per the vernacular of Vatican II, but one of the songs was in Latin. Some of the prayers had just been updated last year. It was an odd thing to do, most services are consistent within a specific timeframe; but as a religious historian I loved the blend. It meant there was something for everyone, the old folks and the younger ones alike, the roots of the religion and its current fruit so that it is neither trapped in the past nor abandoning that. Same with the church decorations, there were some very old bits and some much newer. I particularly admired a trick of lighting with the statue of Mary: two downward spotlights fell across her outstretched robes to cast the image of shadowy wings behind her.
There was also a family brunch on Tuesday. That gave people a chance to socialize. The food was good, notably the spice cake with almond frosting. Must remember that combination, which was also new to me. Lovely glass sunroom (rather too warm) with a sparkling view of the river. We got contact information from a lot of folks. Then we drove home Tuesday and arrived just before midnight.
Thanks to all the folks who have been offering condolences. It's good of you to think of us.
She was a woman who wanted children so much
She was a woman who hunted rabbits,
She was a woman who sometimes slept upright,
These are the stories that we tell of her,
When the house and the bowl and the chair