Last night was the visitation portion of Mom’s funeral activities. That’s the word most of our family uses. The body lies in state, surrounded by flowers. Friends and family gather to reminisce and hug and cry and laugh. It is a great opportunity for the catharsis of emotions to begin in a safe setting. In our case, it sure felt like there were hundreds of different people who came by to offer condolences and show respect for Mom. Twenty or thirty on-duty fire fighters were there to show support for their comrade Nathan. That caused no end to comments by the other visitors, who entered the building a little tentatively, cautiously looking and sniffing for the source of the fire. The Assistant Chief and two Battalion chiefs came by. Even some of the honor guard came by in uniform. I’m pretty sure they had been standing guard at the visitation at another funeral home for a retired fire fighter, Joe Peck, so we were honored that they would stop by to see us as well.
I don’t have access to the sign-in book yet, but I remember seeing people from just about every phase of Mom’s life. Family, of course. But also Grace Episcopal Church (I saw a guy I haven’t seen since high school. We used to be acolytes together), Gulf Village (Can’t beat those neighborhood folks. They have already been bringing over food. The Cagnola girls were there - we bought their house – as were reps from the Families Whiteman, Alessi, Odom, and Glinski), My high school days (Eric from just down the street, Charlotte who gave us the tokens at the hospital, Robert who was also a baseball cohort and just happens to be Betty Head’s son), Seaside (the Stones, Bollmans, Boyers, and Robert Howard. Sam was by the house earlier), the secretary from the roofing company Mom and I worked at, square dancing (Jack Solari as well as a few of those aforementioned neighbors), our Spring family connection (that would be Spring the place, not the season), Oleander Society (I didn’t know the sweet lady, but that’s how she introduced herself), Libbie’s Place (always great to see Alice). There were lots more, I’m sure, but we were pretty overwhelmed at the time. And I haven’t even mentioned the phone call we got from one of Chris’ best friends, Olivia, or the many texts and emails and FaceBook posts we have enjoyed.
All eight of our grandchildren were there as well as Mike and Serena’s son, Wyatt. They staked out a place in the back of the room where they could play and color and enjoy being cousins together. Mom would have that no other way.
Speaking of children, they have their own ways of figuring out this whole grieving, visitation process. Cailyn immediately went up to the casket with Chris. She studied the situation carefully before quietly asking, “Is that blood on her lips?” Chris assured her, “No, it’s lipstick.” And that was fine. Cailyn said, “Oh, OK,” and was off.
Later in the evening, when she had become an old hand at this, she grabbed me by the hand, “Come with me, DadDad.” She dragged me (literally) up to the casket. Pointing reverently, she quietly said, “There’s MeeMaw, DadDad.” “I know,” I responded, copying her reverent manner, “I saw.” She continued, “Look at her, DadDad.” I took another glance, and quickly returned my gaze to Cailyn. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hear what she might say if I couldn’t see her lips. I replied, “I did. I saw her.” Apparently I moved too quickly, though. She chastised me with, “Well look for a long time.” Well, OK. I guessed that must be part of how she was making sense of this whole thing. She wasn’t quite finished, though. “Will they close that lid so we can see what it looks like on top?” Valid question, I guess. “Not tonight while we are here, but they will tomorrow.” And then the real reason for the concern, “Will it squish her?” There it was. The perfectly logical question to be asking. I reassured her, “No, it won’t squish her. And remember, MeeMaw is not in there anyway. She’s with Jesus and right there in your heart where you can remember her. That’s just the body she used to use.” She still looked a little concerned, so I pointed to the contour of the casket and continued, “Besides, see how it’s kind of curved? It won’t squish the body either.” The wheels were still turning, though. I waited to see where she would go next. Didn’t have to wait long. “Well, how about her hair? It looks like that part over there will push on it and mess it up.” Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? Not so much about the disposition of the body as it is how her hair looks. Well I sure felt like a dumb old … boy. I replied, “No, it will be fine. It’s kind of like she’s in a bed, sleeping.” That was what she wanted to hear all along. The hair will be fine. A quick hug and she was off to search for more cousins.
Job 36:26 says, “How great is God — beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.”
Father, thank you for chicken spaghetti and fettuccini alfredo, KFC and Subway, chocolate chips and peanut butter cookies. But most of all, thank you for hugs. They seem to say your heart better than anything. Amen.