Saturday, December 15, 2012

Today We Gathered To Honor Her Memory : Yule : Day One

Today, on the First Day of Yule, we gathered at Mom's church to be among family and her many friends, and we said goodbye. Together, we sang the hymns she loved, including The First Noel, (despite the pastor's reservations, eh hem), as this was one carol we all remembered  to be one of Mom's favorites. Heather, Alex's sister, read a moving and perfectly chosen poem by Mary Oliver and her family clutched hands, knowing how hard the day had already been on her, but she read beautifully. On the ride up to the homestead this morning, I wrote these words and read them, following Heather:
My mother-in-law was an optimist, unflinchingly so, at times. If you were seeking sympathy for what ailed you, she would advise "have a glass of water, go take a walk." It wouldn't matter if you were suffering a minor cold or a broken heart, a walk and a glass of water were the remedies she offered.

When I first got to know her, 22 years ago, I found her remedies a bit on the stoic side and feeling rather motherless most of my adult life, I guess I was hoping for some motherly comfort from her. As the years passed, however, I began to understand that her remedies for all that ailed us was her optimism. She believed that we could overcome and persevere anything, and to do it, we might simply need a brisk walk to lift our spirits and put a flush in our cheeks, again.

But it was through her gardening that I understood her optimism best. A gardener plants not just seeds, but hope, however tender and tentative. In the darkest days of winter, she carefully set seedling tray after seedling tray under lights, and she nurtured life into being. In the spring, she would work the soil and place her dreams of autumn bounty into the earth. All they needed, too, was a little fresh air and a cool drink of water.

I think it was Emily Dickinson that wrote about dying and needing someone to tell her garden that she wouldn't be there in the spring. So we'll tell Mom's garden that their caretaker has returned to the earth, and we'll also continue her legacy of planting our dreams, our hope for the future in the soul she once turned.

The day before the service, Heather was at the homestead and dug through chests to find family photos, and Alex and I put together a board, at home, of photos, and finished it this morning before we all went to the church. This was our way of honoring our mother, grandmother and friend, as we shared a bit of her life, from her chubby babyhood to her last days in her garden with her grandchildren in October.

memorial service for mom today : photo project for the memorial service
Dad and the photo board at Mom's memorial service

We arrived early for the service and it gave us a chance to be together, in the quiet comfort of each other before friends and other family arrived.

Adam, 13 : looking so sad and handsome
Olivia, 15 : before the service
fragile but together

Just being there with my family, looking at them, seeing them, I was overcome with pride and gratitude for them. Here we were, all sad, shaken with grief and loss, so recent and fresh, the depths of which most of us have not even glimpsed, and we were laughing. We were holding one another in love. Later, after the service, as we sat around the old pine table in the warm kitchen at the homestead, we reflected on the day. Alex and his dad went through papers, Heather read the sympathy cards, plans were sketched and made and I was again struck with that feeling that I was surrounded by remarkable, strong people.

There were others, too. The friends who gathered in mom's memory, they were remarkable in every way. These reserved Mainers, who stood to speak about mom, moved us all to tears. Friends remarked on her perfect grammar and spelling skills, her organized and efficient nature during projects, and her capacity for jumping in and doing work that needed done without complaint. They remembered her propensity for seeing the best in people, and moving past their faults. People she had worked with, people that knew her through church, people that were her neighbors, they all came. When the service was over, we met with each of her friends downstairs for the reception. Everyone had lost their good, solid, friend. To each one, in hugs and handshakes, we told them how sorry we were. I would be remiss if I did not mention Heather's co-workers. Her boss and work family also attended. The support they have given her has been immense and again, we are grateful.

These Twelve Days of Yule will have a poignancy about them, certainly, as we bake and prepare our home to have family here. What I do know, more than ever, is that we will gather in love and we will remember, our mother, grandmother and friend.

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