Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Wake

I remember my mom describing my father's calling hours to me when I was younger. "Everyone came to see, Jimmy.  I know that going can be difficult for people, but I found it so uplifting.  I needed to hear how wonderful he was.  I needed to hear about his kindness, humor, and love.  At a time when I had nothing, I could cling to the words people gave me.  Each person who came helped to ease my pain," she explained.

This will be a good thing, I thought.  Yes, you're trying to convince yourself of that, Jane.

I decided it would be a good idea to sit down and chat with Jack about what would be happening when we got to the church.  “Jack, Daddy will be in a casket.  Remember, Aunt Kathleen was in one when went to her funeral.  Dad will be in the casket and the top will be open.”  I explained.  I wanted him to know what to expect.  “Mom, I’m a little worried about it,” he said.  I told him," Jackie, I will be right there with you.  Uncle Steve, Grandma, Grandpa, Grammy will be there too.  It may seem scary in the beginning but he’s our dad.  We need to see him.”  “Okay, Mom,” he said.  We’ll be going first and we'll have some time with him before anyone else arrives.  We’ll go in and see him and say a prayer.  I bet it won’t even feel weird after that."  I gave him a hug and sent him off to get ready.  “Love you, Babes.” I called as he went into his room.

There were loads of people at my house when Steve arrived.  He was going to bring Jack and me;  my parents would meet us at the church and his mom was coming with Suzy.  My church was a modern church (renovated since then) with the altar in the center and three areas of seats around it.  The lights weren’t on when we entered the church.  The funeral director was there and chatted with Steve.  The casket was at the front and to the left of the altar.  It was strange to see it there; it looked out of place in the familiar surroundings of the church we visited for many years.

I took Jack by the hand and said, “Ready?”  He said, “Yes, Mom,” and we walked up to see Rick.  He looked the same as he had for the past few weeks, puffy, pallid and sick.  “Oh Mom, I’m okay,” Jack said.  We said a prayer together and then went to look at the collage that Jack and Suzy had put together that was in vestibule of the church.  They were beautiful!  There were pictures of Rick at all ages and many of the boys with Rick.  Jack was proud as everyone stood looking at the photos. 

Karen, Paul and family walked in and Jack walked over to Matt.  They had been best buddies since they were born.  Karen and I were seven weeks apart when we were pregnant.  They have always been inseparable. The boys walked up to the casket to take a look at Rick together.  When they finished they went back to the pictures and were talking with their cousins.  People started to arrive and we formed a receiving line at the front of the church.  I lost track of him for awhile after that.

I can’t tell you that I remember everyone who came but when they started coming, they didn’t stop.  Many of my friends from school were there.  There were so many walking in.  I was so happy to see all of them.  It warmed my heart to feel their support again.

People from all stages of my life came. My childhood friends traveled from NY together.  Each person that stood with Rick and me at our wedding came.  Parents, students, colleagues from my years of teaching came.

There were people from every area of our lives, our pediatrician, Jack's teachers, friends from school, their parents, his coaches, teammates, his principal came.  Between the Roszels and the Mulherns there was a flood of people who arrived to pay their respects.  It was overwhelming and at the same time so comforting.

Many people had stories and tales to tell about Rick. His childhood friends stood with his brothers telling old stories and laughing about good times.  Guys that he lived with in his early twenties were happy to see each other and share a few laughs.

I looked up and saw my family sitting in the chairs looking like the doldrums. I walked over and told them, this is a celebration of life, get up and look lively.  I told my Mulhern sister in-laws earlier that I expected them to be up and mingling. If I caught their eyes, they popped up and started talking to people. I loved hearing the din of people talking and laughing about Rick.

My mother was right.  It was so wonderful to see people who knew Rick and loved him.  It was a huge gift to me.  I felt such support and empathy; it was a comfort.

At the end of the two hours, I searched for Steve and said, “I can’t do anymore. Get me out of here.”  He just started to make the transition and told people we would be back in two hours.  I was out of there.  Steve drove me to Karen’s and Paul’s house where my school had provided a dinner for my family.  It was overwhelming once again to receive the generosity of the supportive people I worked with; they were life-savers.

I couldn't eat anything, still feeling that nauseous pain in my stomach. We weren’t there long before it was time to leave again for the church.  Steve drove me back.  Jack ran off to be with his cousins.  They had discovered the coffee pot in one of the rooms that the church had provided.  They thought they were drinking coffee with caffeine and were acting like goof balls. It was nice to see Jack laughing and carrying on for a change.  The coffee was decaf, of course, and they were full of pounds of sugar they dumped in their cups.

The night was a blur of people coming and going.  I saw several of my friends in the back who didn’t get in line to come to see me.  I knew it was because of their issues with the death.  Remember, I was the one who had avoided dead bodies at all costs.  I could see the signs and knew.  One friend had been with her dad at age 8 when he died of a heart attack with her at the park.  I knew when I saw her weeping that none of that had to do with me; she was fighting her own demons.

It was exhausting to see people for 4 hours. As soon as my watch indicated "overtime," I told Steve that I needed to leave.  He started the closing prayers and that was the end of it.  I was dying to go home and just have a cup of tea.  I had made it through the first leg of the journey.  I could see the finish line.

1 comment:

  1. I will always remember you saying to me that it doesn't matter so much what you say to the grievers it's that you're there. My mom always says the hardest part is when the ceremonies are over and you're all alone with your grief.