The Memorial Service

I first thought I had landed in the wrong place. After a very agreeable transatlantic flight with Air Berlin (including good-tasting meals!) we landed early at JFK, despite leaving about half an hour late. JFK - oh my, I have traumatic memories of long waits here and surly inspectors. We were greeted by smiling (!), courteous people showing us which line to get in. The inspectors were also welcoming, friendly, and efficient, actually joking with people in line before me. When my inspector tried a joke with me and I noted I was here for a funeral, he immediately became solemn and offered his condolences. I proceeded to Customs and again there was just a short line and an efficient inspector.

I was outside the door at the time that was scheduled for landing.

Wow! My brother was waiting and we sat in the snarled New York rush hour while chatting about work, on our way to pick up our other sibling. Expensive, gas-guzzling SUVs, limos, and functioning junk heaps, all honking and cutting lanes along a decrepit highway, accompanied us. But luck was with us, and we made it back home in time for the first concert of a niece who is learning to play the viola.

This morning we had a memorial service at my brother's church. We were sitting around the gas fire relaxing when the rector came in, sat down and asked: When are the ashes to be coming? It was 20 minutes before the service was to begin, and since we had already had one service without ashes we didn't really want to have another one. My brother sat up in his chair with a start. "I telephoned with the funeral home on Monday and they asked if I wanted the ashes delivered to the church right away and I said yes!".

Okay, at least the ashes are in town and not in the clutches of the US Postal Office. The rector tells us to be calm and goes to call. He returns, saying that he's glad it's not his fault, and that the ashes will be here promptly. And indeed, we were able to start the memorial service only a few minutes after the appointed time.

We had traditional readings, and then we began the family remembrances. We read a letter from her sister and then I spoke about her life. She had a master's in mathematics and taught math, computer science, and physical education. She was fascinated with tesselations. She was born in Canada, living in many states as she followed my engineer father around. She loved to sew, to make things, to shop, to do jigsaw puzzles, and to swim. Alzheimer's started eating at her brain in 2000, she had to be admitted to a memory care unit in 2007.

My middle brother played one of Bach's Goldberg Variations and then improvised. It was fascinating following him down the emotional strands he was weaving. It was somehow quite fitting, and very special to hear this music played only once, for this special occasion.  My younger brother then spoke, as did two of his children, before we continued will all three of the girls participating in the prayers.

After the ceremony the ashes were stored in a special niche under the altar. My younger brother will drive them out to Pennsylvania this summer to bury them next to our father's ashes.

It was good to have come together as a family to celebrate our mother's life, no matter what issues we might still have had with her. It is time to move on.

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