My mother was never a fan of funerals. Her own mother died of pancreatic cancer when Mom was only 14 years old. She couldn’t bring herself to be at her mother’s funeral, and in fact for most of her life she could not go to funerals. The ones she did attend were hard on her, and she swore that she would never put her family and friends through a funeral for her.
However, when Mom was in home hospice for the last three and a half months of her life, she told me that she finally understood about funerals.
“They aren’t really for the person who died,” she said. “They are for the people who loved that person who died.” And from then on, she planned her own funeral, and actually had a lot of fun doing it.
Mom, being the ultimate organizer, planned every detail, even the music. The last song was “Heaven, I’m in Heaven” (from “Cheek to Cheek” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers). She and I decided together what she would wear on her last day, and, bizarrely, it was kind of fun. Then she called Dad into the room and asked him to pick out what he should go to his grave wearing.
Honestly, the whole thing turned into a hilarious day. Dad kept walking into the bedroom with suit after suit, until Mom ok’d his “final” outfit.
When Mom died, we had a viewing the day before her funeral. I had promised her that I would do her makeup, and her hairdresser came with me to fix her hair. She really did look beautiful.
When everyone came by to see her, the Crankee Yankee’s daughter and husband came as well. With them was Ava, who at that time was four years old. Her bright spirit, her laughter and her smile cheered up everyone around her. Dad said afterwards that she made the sun shine for Mom.
She came up to me and asked who that was in the “box.” I told her that that was my mother, whom she had met earlier that year. She asked if Mom was sleeping, and I said that she was. She asked if Mom would wake up and I told her that she would not. She looked a little confused, so I had a chat with her.
I told her what my grandmother had told me years and years ago when I was about her age. She said, “when I die, don’t be afraid of what you see in my casket. That will only be my “shell.” The real me will be in Heaven with the angels.”
My grandmother went on to say, “you know, when you go to Heaven, they let you pick out the color of your hair and your wings.” Well, I thought that was wonderful, and asked her what she was going to pick.
She said, “well, I was a redhead, so I think I will pick shiny black hair, and pink wings.” I told her that when it was my time, that I would pick red hair and silver wings.
In telling Ava about this, she asked if my mom had wings yet, and asked what color they were. I said that yes, she did, and that they were deep blue. She asked if she could see them, and I told her we couldn’t, but God and all the angels could.
In my grief in losing my mother, Ava was a beam of bright light. in fact, she was a light and a gift for everyone who was there for Mom. On a day that could have been filled with tears and regrets, Ava in her own way, made it easier for us all.