We had to play the song.
Since I was a small girl, when the song came on the radio my mom would say "When I die, I want this song to be played at my funeral. I want it to be LOUD - I want the church to SHAKE. And everyone has to sing and dance and celebrate me. I LOVE this song."
The song was SPIRIT IN THE SKY. What that meant was for the past 40 something years any time that song came on I'd get a lump in my throat considering the mortality of my own mother. It never really seemed possible. My mom wasn't going to die, I certainly wasn't going to play that damn song.
And then our mom did die.
We went with cremation and while I was ambivalent but OK with it when Matt and I discussed it, I realized how much that decision helped me when I walked into the church. I've been in funeral homes and churches many times with the dead. Sometimes they were people I loved. Sometimes they were random people my Grandma or Grandpa knew and we were "calling" because that's what you do. But having said that, and seen all that, I know that had I been required to stand in a room with my mother's dead body I would probably have had a nervous breakdown. I slip close to a breakdown when I even consider it too much.
The home where Dad lives arranged for him to be able to be there with us.
We got a quick pic of him with us and his girl grandchildren when he arrived. He did a great job really, despite being sad. He recognized people and had conversations with everyone. I was so glad he was there, it seemed unnatural to me that a husband not be at his wife's funeral. I guess this is something that nursing homes have to deal with and getting him there wasn't a problem at all.
The people who came were the people we loved. There were pictures for everyone to see of her with her family and this great slide show with so many wonderful pictures. Those of us in the know howled because there were some great pictures included, they just happened to be photos from "the camp" where dad was for a few years. We called those "awkward family photos" since not everyone has family photos taken inside a federal prison facility.
Yes we were actually laughing at the funeral. It was oddly wonderful like that.
Some of my best friends in the world were able to come, I didn't get a photo of everyone but after the family dinner I got one of three of the people who aren't friends, but the family I choose. They're people I have known since forever and who maybe see me once a year although Jeff hasn't seen me in years and years. They're the people I still love fiercely, and who know me better than people who see me every day. When we sat down to eat Tim looked at me and said "You're shaking eat some protein." It's probably been 20 years since we've talked about my low blood sugar. I was amazed.
She'd told me when I was home that she though April's church might be a good place to do her funeral because of the sound system. She'd given me the thumbs up sign and a smile when she said it. So there we were on a early Friday afternoon, and I stood before a gathering of friends and family and announced that we were going to dance and sing - and I gave the guy in the alcove the thumbs up.
He didn't disappoint.
My entire life I thought that dancing and singing upon my mother's death wasn't something I could or would ever do. There are all sorts of funeral rituals around the world and I've read some weird things people do to honor their parents. I've always wondered how they manage, how do you do it? How can you do ANYTHING when your parent has died?
What I learned is that when it's the last thing you can do for them, it's not so hard. I danced, I sang, I cried a little but very little. I made Pete dance with me. It's what my mom wanted. She spent our whole life preparing us for the day that we had to deal with her being dead, and she gave us a song to celebrate her life and to make it a moment where we smiled and laughed.
The song wasn't for her. It was for us. I never once realized that until it was over. It was the last thing she ever gave us as our mother, but it was powerful and important. It changed the day into a sad but also somehow wonderful day, it was an amazing gift.
After we ate a meal prepared by Christian women (nod to Steel Magnolias) the family ended up wandering into the church's gym and then something else wonderful happened. Everyone ended up playing volleyball.
With that we'd done our obligations as children, as humans, as residents of this planet, by honoring our mother the best we could and giving her what we promised. I realized much later she had said she wanted balloons and I totally forgot all about it. I figure she'd forgive me. We'd hugged the people we loved and had been reminded what family means to us. And we played the song.
The song that was for us, and not actually for her at all.