The mother of a guy I went to SJSU with died on November 21, 1998, the night of my birthday party. Hers was nice a funeral as I’ve ever attended.
Johnny P. and I were our own little funeral procession. We each drove our respective vehicles to the church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal on Saratoga Avenue.”Butt-f*ck nowhere,” was his way of putting it. He’s a very spiritual man.
We got to the church at 6:35 for the 7:00 service. John and I parked facing each other, and a minivan pulled in to the left of me. Two kids and their mom and dad got out.
“I don’t know about wearing jeans to a funeral,” he said, referring to one of the junior-high kids exiting the minivan. John was wearing an Armani jacket. “I’m gonna be dressed up, so don’t laugh,” he warned me the night before.
“John, I would never…”
“Oh, right,” he said. “I would.”
“Just part of your charm.”
I wrote a sentiment in the card purchased for the occasion, licked the envelope, put on my brown fuzzy hat and got out of my truck. “OK, I’m ready.”
The church grounds were huge, and there appeared to be an elementary school on the premises. St. Andrew’s has lovely stained glass windows. The entryway is cavernous.
Dave saw us after we entered and approached. He looked pretty good, considering his mom died five days before Thanksgiving. He shook John’s hand, and then offered his hand to me. I hugged him instead.
“How are you doing, Dave?” I asked.
“If I can get through the next two hours, I’ll be OK.”
I pulled the card out of my purse and gave it to him for later. His dad came over and Dave introduced us. I commented on the loveliness of the windows, and asked “is this where your family worships?”
“No, uh, we never got into the church thing.”
“I really like Rev. Maggie. She’s great.” Dave piped up.
“That’s wonderful,” I assured him.
Dave’s dad said that the Reverend needed to talk with them, so Dave walked away and John and I signed the guest book. It had a three column page and our signatures are square in the middle of the first page. We stood around in the vestibule for a while, until I got a little concerned that one of Dave’s creepy friends who had an unrequited crush on me the entire time we were in the photojournalism program might show up, so we entered the sanctuary. Flags hung lengthwise across the cruciform worship house. The organ and choir loft were actually on a loft in the back of the room. The pews were dark and uncomfortable-looking, but we were spared from them because someone had arranged padded chairs in an alcove to the left of the altar.
I was about to comment that we wouldn’t have to kneel when I looked down and saw the kneelers hinged to each chair. A grand piano stood behind us, and a pianist played songs that ran the gamut from “Mona Lisa” to “Try to Remember” to “Annie’s Song”.
At 7:05 the family filed in. Then Reverend Maggie led us in an opening prayer and addressed us. She hadn’t known Dave’s mom, but the family had spent a lot of time talking with her. The audience members who had known Dave’s mom smiled at Rev. Maggie’s comments. We read Psalm 25. Dave read us a poem he wrote that was really lovely. We prayed again. Dave talked about his mom, and what she had meant to the children she taught and the neighbors she cared for.
A neighbor who had been her neighbor for more than 26 years described the collecting and genealogy projects the two women had undertaken. Dave’s mom entered more than 1,800 names of relatives into her PC before she died.
“When Nadine and I started going to the genealogy library twice a week, she wouldn’t go near the computer. Not at all. But a lot of data is on the computer, so she finally took some tentative steps and began to use it. After a while, she learned that the same genealogy software is available for home PCs, but her family only had Macs in the house. So she said, ‘I want my own PC.’ And the family laughed, but soon Nadine had her computer. She learned Microsoft Office and went to town with the genealogy software.”
I thought that was really neat. What a lovely way to be remembered. I never knew Dave’s mom, but by the time the neighbor was done with her remarks I felt pleased to be among the crowd honoring her ascent into afterlife.
Rev. Maggie led us in another prayer, and then the Lord’s Prayer. I hesitated when we reached the “forgive us our…” part, not knowing whether Episcopalians seek forgiveness for debts or trespasses. They say trespasses. Are Presbyterians the only ones who say “forgive us our debts” and don’t kneel?
Her benediction addressed Nadine’s entry into the Kingdom of God, and although we are sad for the loss we should celebrate that she is back with her Creator.
AMEN! Imagine a life of pure bliss. And no rent payments. And no creepy people to watch out for. And no ascribed kneeling. That’s Heaven.