My mother’s funeral was yesterday. It began with a Rosary and ended with rifle fire. Just the way she would have wanted it. It’s still so hard to believe that she’s gone, after such a sudden and unexpected illness and death. But she’s gone from this earth now and I can only be thankful for the time we had together.
The day was a mix of emotions, as most days like this are. But in the end, there is a sense of peace knowing that we did our best to honour Mum. Indeed, my youngest sister, Royann, and I helped Dad with a lot of the little details of the day*, all focusing on what Mum would have wanted (and what Dad wanted, too). And I think she would have been pleased with the results that included a Catholic Mass and full Military Honors.
We held Mum’s Funeral Mass at St John the Baptist Catholic Church in Cle Elum, Washington, the same church where she and Dad were married nearly 53 years earlier**. Father Francisco Higuera delivered the Mass and the graveside services and my nephews Adrian and Brendan (Royann’s eldest and middle sons) did the readings. We also had the honour of Georgia Chepoda as the organist and Rosie Rifa as the vocalist/cantor.
As people arrived at the church, they were given a funeral card. With Dad’s input and ultimate sign-off, I designed the card with simplicity in mind – and a bit of symbolism intertwined. Although I am not sure most people noticed the symbolism, I think Mum would have appreciated the little details – from the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor to the 6 red hearts (one for each daughter). And, of course, a photo that was taken by Dad last spring, with Mum’s smiling face in amongst the blossoms of her crabapple tree (which is called John***).
Royann and I had the honour of leading Mum’s Rosary. We split the decades with each of us alternating between them. At each decade, we included short mediations for the Glorious Mysteries. Dad also gave the opening Sign of the Cross. Knowing it would be an emotional day, and that neither of us had led a Rosary before, I made “scripts” for us to follow. At the time, I thought I was being a little overly meticulous as I included text for all the prayers (which we each know by heart) but I found myself having to look at the text a couple of times because of the emotional charge of the day. Later, Royann said she found herself doing the same thing. So, I am really pleased we decided to have scripts! I don’t know how many people participated in the Rosary, as we were in the front of the church, but I like to think that even those who didn’t participate found some peace in the recital of prayers.
The Mass itself was peaceful. It was sad and at times funny, and it was quite heart-breaking, too. I sat next to Dad in the front pew and got choked up by the incense a couple of times and had to suppress coughing as much as possible. (A peppermint candy helped.) I especially liked the calming and gentle manner of the Priest and how he was so generous and inviting during Communion. He took the time to explain that the Catholic Communion is only for Catholics who are in Communion with the Church, but that anyone was welcome to come up for a blessing rather than Communion if they wished. I appreciated his acknowledgement of the multi-faith (and the non-faithed) in the Church, and I think Mum would have appreciated it, too.
Funeral Mass Readings
First Reading: Isaiah 25: 6a, 7-9, proclaimed by a Brendan
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd”, by the Cantor
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15: 51-57, proclaimed by Adrian
Gospel: John 14: 1-6, proclaimed by Father Francisco
Music for Mum’s Funeral
Entrance: How Great Thou Art
Presentation of gifts: Prayer of St Francis
Communion song: I Am the Bread of Life
Communion medication: Ave Maria
Exit: Let There Be Peace on Earth
After leaving the Church, we made the procession to the cemetery with me driving my father (who was carrying Mum’s ashes) in the lead car. It was a slow and sombre drive, and I did everything in my power to not let my emotions show. (No one needs a sobbing Frances, let alone when driving!) As we pulled into the cemetery, I could see members of the VFW standing proudly with their rifles and the United States Marines, in full Dress Blues, began to make their way over to the gravesite.
At the grave, the Priest gave his final prayers and consecrated the ground and then two of the Marines unfurled the flag before folding it whilst Taps was played on a bugle by a third Marine. The flag was then presented to Dad and the VFW gave Mum a three-volley salute. I don’t know if the Taps or the rifle fire was the most emotional part, but I am not ashamed to admit that it was the Military Honors that brought on my biggest tears for the day,
And then Dad lowered Mum’s ashes into the burial vault… and I tried not to cry again.
When we left the cemetery, we went to a post-funeral gathering at my eldest sister’s house. A simple potluck BBQ, just the way Mum would have wanted it. And the weather was lovely, despite the metaphorical clouds hanging over the day.
Oh, yes. The day was such a mix of emotions. And Mum’s absence was made even more poignant by the knowledge that she would have loved so much about the funeral. She would have loved seeing her cousins and visiting with them at the post-service gathering. She would have enjoyed the music at the funeral Mass and would have loved the excuse to break out her favourite rosaries (for her use and to lend to those without beads). Oh, and how she would have loved the United States Marines who showed up in full Dress Blues for the Honors Service – including the presentation (and folding) of the American flags and playing Taps.
Of course, the reason for all these things that Mum would have loved so very much is that Mum is now gone. And we honoured her with the things we knew she would have wanted.
On top of her urn was a custom-designed, hand-forged leaf engraved with her name and the years of her birth and death. The leaf was made by an artisan blacksmith in Scotland, commissioned specifically for her. A leaf that she would have loved from a place she loved. Also placed atop the urn was a rock that she and Daddy found on their travels; a final token of love after he lowered her urn into the ground.
At the BBQ were her favourite foods – and even the rhubarb cake (made by Dad) that she brought to every potluck. And we listened to music from her iPod to ensure that we had her favourite music. And we sent people home with some of the beautiful rocks that she collected and treasured so much – all polished up and ready to be loved by others as a forever memory of Mum.
Yes, my mother’s funeral was yesterday. It’s hard to believe that she’s gone, but this isn’t goodbye. No, she lives in my heart today and every day… and I will carry her with me there forever.
Until we meet again, Mum. I love you!
* The post-funeral gathering was at Veronica’s, who organised that part of the day, and Dad asked Claudia to organise the flowers, which were very lovely and included a USMC theme and American flags. Again, Mum would have loved both things so very much!
** This is also the church where I married Paul (2005) and where we held his Funeral Mass (2009). The most recent happy family event here was my Godson’s baptism in 2018. It is certainly a place of joy and sorrow for my family.
*** I can’t remember why we chose the name, but the tree was a Mother’s Day gift from me to Mum about 20 years earlier. It began life as a scrawny little twig and after a couple of years of careful tending, it established itself with pride in the “bird garden”.