A few nights ago, my brother, his wife, me, and D all sat around their kitchen table, eating dinner together and shooting the shit. It was my brother’s 42nd birthday, and so we were spending the day together, relaxing and hanging out. It also happened to be the day of my cousin’s funeral.
To be specific, Jean was my dad’s 2nd cousin–she was also a mother, a wife, a grandmother, an aunt, and a teacher for many, many years. Jean was a tough and funny woman who didn’t mince words and who made sure she let you know exactly what she wanted. And her funeral proved no different: Jean knew she was dying (the pancreatic cancer she had was aggressive), and she knew how she wanted her send off to go. So, true to herself ’til the end, instead of leaving any detail left undone, she outlined her exact specifications for the day–how she wanted to service to be, what songs she wanted played, the fact that she wanted no eulogy.
And although the occasion was still terribly sad, I couldn’t help but smile knowing that, even in death, Jean made sure things were done exactly as she saw fit. It left her family no room to worry, or wonder–no fear that they were doing her an injustice in her final recognition: instead, they could take comfort knowing that they carried out her final wishes exactly as she wanted them.
When we went to my brother’s after the services, we kept most of the conversation light–there was enough self-reflection and mourning in the days leading up to her funeral and we had already settled into that quiet exhaustion that comes after saying goodbye. But as we sat around the table, we started talking about the different funerals and services we’ve all been to throughout the years and the ones that we “liked” best. My brother noted how he found the most comfort from my grandfather’s funeral, where those in attendance shared memories of him as a way to honor his spirit and to remind us of the happier times.
I admitted that I often think about what we’ll have to do when our parents pass and how we can best celebrate their lives, and how I thought that kind of a send-off would be so important when my mother passes. I know that sounds terribly morbid, but it’s a reality that everyone has to face, and considering that my mom’s health has pretty much been the focal point of my life for the past 8 years, it’s also a bit inevitable that it’s top-of-mind for me. And for that reason–and because my mom has not been herself for so long–the idea of sharing our most beloved memories about her seems so important.
I am constantly reminded of how cool my mom was and how much she influenced who I am. Just today, for example, I was driving to work when Queen came on the radio and as I turned that shit up and rocked out, I remembered how it was she who first introduced me to them: I was about 11 and on my way to my soccer game, feeling particularly nervous. My mom, sensing my apprehension, told me that I needed to find music to motivate me, to help get me pumped. She pulled out her Queen’s Greatest Hits cassette and played “Another One Bites the Dust” full blast as we drove to the field, and though I tried to play it cool with her, I couldn’t help feeling incredibly cool as we drove along.
Or on Sunday, when I was making her breakfast, I remembered how she used to make me pancakes on the weekends, shaped like the letters of my name. After starting with my first name, S-A-R-A, she decided to get really ambitious and went for the last name, too (a pretty impressive feat, considering it was 10 letters long and included a W).
And even now, the artists that my mom once used to soothe her children–Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel–have become some of my brother and my favorite background music for when we’re working around the house or cooking (or, our go-to to help soothe my mom if she’s having a difficult day).
These recollections push us forward; they help us cope with the daily heartaches that come with losing her a little more–these bittersweet remembrances reminds of who she was, and how she still lives on within us and, ironically, within our memories.