Saying good-bye to my mother

My family and I celebrated my mother’s life on May 17.
Family and friends gathered together in one place—each of us taking our last steps with my mother; remembering her bright light, remembering her smile and her enthusiasm.
I think the celebration of my mother’s life was perfect, as perfect as saying good-bye to someone you love can ever be.
She was a mother to me, but she was an aunt and a cousin to others, a precious friend, a favourite teacher and a feared teacher, a sorority sister, a neighbour, a sister-in-law. As I watched the slide show of photos, I was reconnected to the child Shirley, the teenager Shirley, the young woman Shirley, the new mother Shirley, the teacher Shirley, and everything in between.
There were moments of excruciating joy during the service. I use that adjective because the faces of those who took the time to join us caught me with a tsunami of gratefulness; gratefulness for which there are no words, gratefulness that took my breath away.
The faces that took me back to the past. It got me thinking about being connected to those lives that were woven through mine while I was growing up, when my family was intact without loss; before grief became something that I wore like a medal of honour.
I can’t begin to name names of the many, many faces that made me suck my breath in quickly; faces that made me work hard to remember and faces that hadn’t changed even slightly.
I wish there had been more time; more time to catch up on the tiny details of his/her life, to remind them of how significant they have been in mine. The time together all passed too quickly, in a blur at times, my heart swelling and making room for each wonderful shining face.
I’m still trying to process all the positive emotion that rushed in during our time together.
Some time ago, I received a letter from my father’s first cousin; she wrote to share her stories of my father and his family, and we have become letter-writing pals. When an envelope appears in my mailbox with her beautiful script, I know the day is going to be a good one.
We all are on the move these days—by virtue of jobs, by virtue of seeking adventure—because of how the world has become accessible to all of us. The downside of exploring the world is families are diluted by geography and time, memories sometimes weaken.
And sadly, it is often the death of a family member that brings us back together.
How does one let all those faces know my gratitude? How can I be certain their hearts register the love-filled appreciation from me, knowing they forgave me my emotional voice during the eulogy, didn’t mind if our family anthem wasn’t quite polished as we gathered from both coasts of this massive country without sufficient rehearsal, and smiled at our baby’s loud voice.
Thank you to those who came. Thank you to those who couldn’t but thought of my mother on that day. Thank you for remembering her, though she had slipped away from your every-day lives.
And when I want to remember the moment, I shall conjure up Travis with his bagpipes and though I will weep again, I will also smile.
I think we gave my mother a proper send-off and your presence made that possible.
wendistewart@live.ca

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