Snow Drops and Hope

My mother in law has snow drops in her front yard. They are around a brick wall that until last fall surrounded a huge, huge tree. The tree shaded the house from the western sun, and it was covered with ivy and full of squirrels. The deer would come right up through her yard from the river bed to nibble the leaves of the ivy.

Last year they had the tree taken down, the ivy had rotted it and the danger of it falling on the living room was sort of real. But the bricks are still there, and the snow drops too.

I spoke to her tonight on the phone. Today was the funeral service for her mother, who passed on St. Patrick’s day, peacefully, surrounded by her children. The preacher kept calling her sister Cora, or sister Courteau. He kept saying how even if she could she wouldn’t come back.

It made me think of how the mayor of the town in The Dome talks, he’s eatin dinner with the baby Jesus. Sort of like that. I know most of the people in that room never called her sister Cora, not her daughters, or her sons in law, not her grandkids, not her great grandkids.

And you know, Price is starting for the Tigers, and I think she’d like to see that. And the sky is pink tonight, a line, a delineation right at the horizon, and I think she’d like to see that too. My mother in law told me that her mother didn’t want to go. But I guess when God’s verger pokes you with his verge, well, there isn’t much choice.

It was an odd sort of service. A few people have said, well, that’s how you grew up right? No. That was not how I grew up. Go back and youtube the church scenes of Little House on the Prairie, that’s how I grew up. I didn’t have a muslin bonnet with lace leftovers, I had a black felt hat with a sunflower on it. It matched my one-piece pantsuit.

Tonight my friend Kelly and I sang for the Savvy group at St. John’s. This is, Seniors Acting Very Very Young. We sang the Irish Blessing, and Kelly just KILLED Danny Boy, and I sang When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.. and I even hit that F, that one at the top of scale, and it didn’t sound screechy or scary to me, it sounded like home.

At the funeral today we listened to the Old Rugged Cross, piped in over the funeral home speakers. We just listened. I had not done this before and kept expecting people to sing, but no one did. We listened to two different preachers. We listened to more piped in hymns during which no one sang. I twitched and wiggled in my uncomfortable for sitting dress, shot awful looks at my children when they got wiggly, had Ave feed her aunt Kleenex as she cried. This funeral for a mother being too much when she is still so wounded, so raw, from the loss of her own mother.

Casey said, you guys talked for a long time, is everything ok?

I said, everything is fine. It was nice to be able to listen to her talk.

Right now she is in this sort of paper bag of grief, like a cat, turning and turning, not being able to see the end or the light. She said that she thought on Tuesday she cried every single tear in her body. But of course she will find more tears.

Of course she will.

Kelly and I sang The Parting Glass tonight. I was a little nervous about this one. I said, when she came over on Friday to rehearse with me over a beer or two, I think we should just pick an Irish hymn, I don’t think this is going to sound good. One of the reasons I really love her is that she knows that I need to be checked gently. So she said, let’s just try it, and if it’s awful we’ll do Morning Has Broken. So we tried it, and it was divine, and then we sang it tonight, and all of our 50+ friends were spellbound (or so I like to think). My dear friend and choir master and our accompanist liked it too, and I know he gets a little itchy around a capella music, it has a tendency to go so far off key.

At the funeral today there was The Old Rugged Cross, there was some gospel clappy style hymn I’d never heard, there was I Come to the Garden Alone, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. I can hear my grandma’s voice singing these as she played her Clavinova piano in the living room at 2 in the morning and I huddled in the hallway, dead silent, not moving, wanting to hear more; always wanting to hear more.

So I guess, even with the random amens and hallelujahs, the “and the congregation said….. amen”…. I guess there were some redeeming moments. All those kids, her kids, together again. All the littles out in the anteroom playing, it was like before the peace at church, we can hear the Sunday School kids out there knocking each other about and laughing and talking. Its a little bit of levity. And so to hear those old hymns, and to live in hope that Casey’s grandma loved them, that that’s why they were chosen; well, ok then.

I asked Casey what his favorite hymn is. He said that he isn’t sure, he can’t think of one. He said, I wish that families got together more than at weddings and funerals.

I can’t pick one, a favorite hymn that is, and I know that even if I applied my fabulous party planning skills to a family re-union, no one would come. We don’t function that way anymore, that awkward interlude where we try to remember all the names of the people. And then finally, finally, the sounds of second and third cousins laughing as they play and race around the picnic tables laden with taco salad and KFC. The clink of horse shoes in the pit, the dribble of a basketball.

I know at our family funerals we sing, One glad morning (just like this, in case you go and listen to the link), when this life is over, I’ll fly away. Or we sing, Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.

Somehow this repetition helps.

The sky is dark blue now, the moon a sliver, but I can see the whole moon hiding under the shroud and shadow. Venus shines bright above the moon.

Tomorrow will be a long day, but another day that I get to live. Another day to sing, another day to confess, another day with my family. I’d like to find time to stop by and see the snow drops, their bright hopeful heads poking out, searching for the sun.

And I know that even in this, in losing a mother, my mother in law is, at her heart, like a snow drop. Brave. Beautiful. The first one to notice that the sun is shining. The one that brings unexpected joy. What a wonderful mother she must have had to be the woman that she is now.

A woman filled with hope, a woman devoted to her family and to her faith. I hope to be the same, to be just like her. And I am so grateful that my girls have the very distinct grandmas that they do, and that they are building memories with all three.

And I am hopeful. Because Easter is around the corner. The reason for all of this, the proof that even as we go down the grave we are not defeated, that even as hell touches a corpse, it meets God.

Snow drops, friends. Go see if you can find some, and then come and tell me about it.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. As morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee, in life, in death, oh Lord, abide with me. 

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