I've never thrown a funeral before. I had never really thought about it. Yes, my mother was in her nineties, and yes, I am an only child, but I honestly never thought about that aspect. My mother passed away on Wednesday January 9, and, this past Wednesday, she was buried in a cemetery plot next to my dad.
Mom was 92. She would occasionally joke or make some sort of reference to “when I go”, I would have to go through stuff in the house, or find some important thing somewhere. My response was usually something like, “When you go? Where are you going? Are you moving to Boca?” I knew things would have to be dealt with, but we never talked about a funeral, or anything about her wishes.
I knew where the important papers were, and when she passed away, the hospital asked me where I would like mom's body to be taken. Not having looked at the papers, and not even knowing if the answer would be in there, I chose the mortuary where my father's funeral was held in 1981. They had changed locations, and I even later learned that the name had been changed, but that was the first big decision.
When I did open the important papers, I found a form will that leaves everything (good and bad, assets and debts) to me, but nothing about burial wishes. All of it was up to me.
Although I did have to make the final decisions, fortunately I had plenty of help. My mom's caregiver for the last five years, Ana, picked an outfit for mom to be buried in, what kind of makeup and nail polish she liked, her favorite jewelry, and the type of flowers that would surround the casket—stuff I wouldn't have known where to even start thinking about. I was on my own picking out the casket, but even though I had to pick it out from a picture (I really didn't want to go into a room with a bunch of caskets, but you can't always tell the finer things from a photograph), I liked the choice and the way it turned out.
I don't have any siblings, but I do have four fabulous cousins who sprung into action. Diane came up the night before my appointment with the mortuary and prepared me for what to expect—even the number of copies of the death certificate I would need. Gayle wrote some amazing words and spoke about her “Auntie Carole.” Korey helped organize the food at the house after, Andy helped get the word out, and all of them bombarded me with old photos that I could use for the video montage.
The funeral director put the video together, but I assembled and numbered the pictures. I was very pleased with the way it turned out, but I also wished there were more people there to see it. I placed an obituary in both the Los Angeles Times and Antelope Valley Press, but a lot of local people don't ge the Times, and for some reason, the earliest the local paper could run it was the day of the service. I didn't take (or really have) the time to make many calls, and many of mom's former co-workers have retired, and I didn't know how to reach them.
The service at the mortuary turned out nicely, I thought, although there was no one there to lead it. I got a phone call the next day from a guy who was supposed to be the minister. It was just a voice mail but he apologized profusely, said in his 40 years of ministering or whatever, that that had never happened before, started to explain, but then felt like he was just making excuses, so he stopped. He left his phone number, and said if I was angry he would understand. I wasn't angry, just confused. I didn't call him back.
I ended up leading the service at the mortuary, which was fine. I just told about my mom's life, then introduced Gayle, who introduced the next speaker, and so on. Andy's oldest son Payton said some wonderful things, and so did my friend Kevin who had a fun spin on growing up with his “second mom.” Andy, and my friend Allison, who grew up across the street, also spoke, and it was a loving tribute to the sweet lady that was my mother.
Fiasco might be too strong of a word, but at the graveside service that followed, I had no idea what to do. Not only was there no minister, but because of a dead tree just removed from next to mom's grave, the “graveside” service was about 30 feet away. My mom was Jewish, although not very religious, but I still wanted the traditional ritual of actually shoveling dirt into the grave. We made do with putting dirt on top of the casket, while my cousins Googled the Hebrew words to the prayer, and recited it, reading from their phones.
If that wasn't strange enough, I waited for the cemetery crew to hoist the casket with a skiploader. It was lifted it in the air, and over to the grave, where they lowered it in. One person there made me feel better by saying it was a ride that few people get, and mom probably enjoyed it.
All of that was Wednesday. The headline above says two funerals in two weeks, but it was actaully two in five days. Allison's father, Bruce Hickert, passed away the same day as my mom, and his service was Sunday. It was an Episcopalian funeral and unlike my mom's, very religious. The church service was very traditional and ceremonious, but except for the end, not very personal.
The Hickerts lived directly across the street from me growing up, and Mr. Hickert was an air traffic controller. He got his training in the Air Force, so the military honors concluded the service, complete with the playing of Taps, and the flag-folding ceremony that followed, and the presentation of the flag to Mrs. Hickert. You could hear a pin drop in the church.
A 'reception' followed in a ball room at a local country club, and, with the exception of food at the site, was much more like my mom's service. There was a slideshow of old family photos, Allison gave a lovely speech on behalf of the family about growing up with her dad and the family household and traditions, and others (myself included) also got up and told stories.
The Hickert service was very traditional and well-organized, My mom's? Well, I guess not quite as much. Both were wonderful in their own ways, and both did an excellent job at conveying the essence of the people they were remembering. I had never thought about planning a funeral before. Being an only child, there was a little extra burden on me, but again with the help of family, that burden was eased. However, being an only child, and with both parents now gone, and no wife or children of my own, I likely won't have to ever do this again.
I did the best I could, Mom. I hope you understand. I love you.
Too soon?: After not having the TV on for a week, I decided Thursday night that I guessed it was time. TBS is my go-to channel for what I call Flop TV (reruns and such), and I caught the final couple minutes of a Seinfeld episode where George's fiancée dies (from the poison glue of the wedding invitations). I took that as a sign that it was too soon to be watching television. Sunday night, after Mr. Hickert's service, I heard that the Patriots-Chiefs game was in overtime, so I turned on the television just in time for the Tom Brady winning TD pass, and the Pats' third straight trip to the Super Bowl. It might be best if the television (at least at mom's house) not be powered back up anytime soon.
Not Cal-like just yet: Okay, I lied. Actually, I just changed my mind. I wrote last week that I would likely be ending this silly little foray into my life, or my opinions about sports, and award shows and whatever, but this weakly little weekly column lives. Besides, I heard that the Rams made it to the Super Bowl, and if that can happen, then so can this column. A couple of months after Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's record of consecutive baseball games played, be finally decided he'd had enough, and sat down. That wouldn't be a fair analogy here. This blog is more like Steve Garvey when he set the National League record in the 1980s. He didn't get to Gehrig, and on a couple of occasions, just pinch-hit in the ninth inning to keep the steak going. Hopefully this edition is more like starting the game, and leaving after five innings with a ten-run lead.
Definitely not the mountaintop: The irony didn't hit me until several miles later. In Merced, there was a sign that said the Highway 99 offramp to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way would be closed Monday January 21 for repair. First of all, Monday January 21 (today) is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and you're telling me the offramp to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way is closed? Secondly, workers don't even get Martin Luther King, Jr. Day off because they have to fix the offramp to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way? That's just not right.
Super blood wolf moon: As eclipses go, lunar eclipses are far inferior to solar eclipses, but this prime time start-of-the-year show was a worthwhile attraction. High in the sky, and at one of its closest approaches to the Earth, the moon was very dark for over an hour, with the entire event lasting most of the night. Standing in mom's backyard by myself, all kinds of weird cosmic thoughts were running through my head. Kind of a fitting end to these last couple of weeks.