Monday, August 18, 2008

Letting Go in Celebration

Only when the video was posted on YouTube did I really feel the significance of our gift to our father.

All together for the first time without my mother, on our island in Maine last week, we chose the pivotal night between arrivals and the first sad departures to celebrate birthdays. It was to be for the several just ahead when we would be off-island again, but became one big celebration for all of us since this family is so spread across the country (and in England).

What I did not know was that earlier my father had remarked to my sisters that he appreciated how his sister had held a “living wake” a year before she died because she wanted to actually hear what people would say. Of course, my sisters took the not-so-subtle hint and offered to “Roast and Toast” him before we cut into the traditional spice cake. My father, who has been a largely quiet, reserved and unknowable icon to his children, was glad to proceed.

Out side Philadelphia, there is a tiny church, a true oasis (as all should be), serene on the top of a hill surrounded by the bustle and noise of suburbia. The Quakerism on one side of the family bristling at the rites of an organized religion on the other, still it has been a special place in all our lives. Our parents were married here. My earliest memories were moving among the pre-revolutionary markers while my grandfather tended the stones of his wife and mother-in-law. I had brought my own children there for picnics and history lessons.

In 2005, my Uncle Bill died at the age of 74 on a motorcycle after playing in a softball game. We brought some of his ashes to lay by his mother. He would share this spot with my parents when the time came. On a beautiful May Day full of blossoms and sunshine, we gathered to say “auf wiedersehen” to my Uncle, but for my sisters and I, it was to say good-bye to our parents as well.

They stood hand-in-hand, my mother wrapped in her ever-expressive colors, a bit bewildered by all the fuss and the number of vaguely familiar faces, but delighted by the colors of the flowers, the sunlight, the music and the laughter.

“Oh, I could really live right here!” she purred.
“We’ll be sure to come visit you,” my sisters cried.
“I’ll bring my guitar and play for you some more,” I promised.

Except for her and the babies of yet another generation, we all knew that the next time all of us would be back to this place together would be to mourn their loss and celebrate the life of this wonderful couple. For me, having that living moment, the image of my mother and father in that place, so happy and fulfilled at the end of their lives, the slow, agonizing deterioration of my mother has been easier to bear.

So last week, when it was time to speak to our father, to let him hear the tales one more time, to voice the honor and appreciation we hold for his countless gifts of love and support, no one held back. There were many tears, but so much more laughter. More flowers bloomed, burning the image into our hearts that will last our lifetimes.

And to think we can see it all on YouTube!

Please share with your friends


Hayden Tompkins said...

What a WONDERFUL idea! I find it fascinating that, even though your father is a reserved and quiet man, he was interested in having a living wake. That's very cool.

Kip de Moll said...

"quiet and his children". He showed a very different side to his colleagues and friends. I think he is relishing all the attention!