Friday, July 18, 2008

Come Up Full (Meg Hutchinson)

I feel as if I've been coasting on this blog since my Aunt Marie's death - too many Gimundos and Writer's Almanacs and Mark Morfords, oh my! Hard to believe it's been a month (then again, it feels like just yesterday) since I flew up to Atlanta first thing Saturday morning (6/14) and came back to Florida Tuesday evening (6/17), spending four full, bittersweet days dealing with funeral arrangements - hoping to get some closure as I download these ever-present thoughts from my head/heart to cyber-paper...

Snippets of magic moments:

~ someone beautifully singing Danny Boy in the Atlanta Airport MARTA (rapid transit) station as I was waiting for my train, the mournful melody echoing through the acoustically-perfect train tunnel...

~ helping to clean out Marie's room at the nursing home, finding homes for a pair of her shoes (across-the-hall neighbor Nancy), her clock (roommate Chris) and a pink plastic jewelry box decorated with butterflies (for down-the-hall friend Nelda, whose room is festooned with butterflies everywhere!)...

~ a planning meeting lunch with my mom, sister and brother... productive and peaceful, yet with undertones of sadness, envisioning we'd be doing this for mom sooner than we'd wish...

~ meeting with B, the deacon at mom's church, to choose readings and songs to use in Marie's service - everything he was recommending was entirely too fire-and-brimstone for us but as soon as we'd make a suggestion of something else, he'd reply with "is it in the Bible?" or "is it a sacred hymn?"... thus no
Kahlil Gibran or Way Marie. However, we were able to use Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 (which in my mind, is equated with The Byrds, by way of Pete Seeger) - I also borrowed a book by Daniel Berrigan from the church library, which quite irked B (him: "he's a Catholic priest"... me: "he's a peace activist")... so I felt my job was done... :-)

~ my Uncle Fred (Marie's brother) and Aunt Jo (his wife) drove down from New York to be there - despite the somber occasion, it was wonderful to see them and catch up (their daughter Jennifer is getting married in September but we'll be unable to make the wedding)...

~ watching 24/7 coverage of Tim Russert (who died June 13, the same day Marie did) all weekend - viewing someone else's pain (his family, friends and colleagues) actually helped ease, and take our minds off, ours...

~ more bittersweet moments during the visitation before the service, with many of mom's past neighbors showing up to pay their condolences - it had been entirely too long since I'd seen many of those couples who were at one time surrogate parents (our neighborhood was that close)...

~ my brother Brad (Marie's son) doing the eulogy (reprinted below)...

~ going out to lunch after the service with many of those who attended (maybe 20) and celebrating the joy of appreciating life while honoring Marie's memory - there was indeed an official toast (and an empty chair... :-)

I leave you with an e-mail written by my sister after Marie's passing - we should all be lucky enough to leave the world this peacefully... this nurtured... and this well-loved...

I want to thank my family and very good friends for the love and support that came my way during this very difficult week. The plan was that once the doctor came in this morning that we would transport Marie (Ree Ree) to the hospice facility - well - for those of you who knew Marie pretty well, she was not one for keeping to the plan. She died very peacefully, gracefully and comfortably in her sleep at approximately 2:45 AM this morning, surrounded by her family as her son (Brad), sister (Connie) and niece (me) were all with her.

I think I told you all that we were all with her yesterday. Then at approximately 2 PM, my mom and brother left, as it was my turn for the night shift at the hospital. At 9 PM or so, her oxygen levels started to drop - not significantly - but enough to cause concern, and once again dear Laura, I thank you for your medical advice because you made me realize that if I had any kind of gut instinct about things, I needed to call the rest of the family.

Both Mom and Brad got on the road, with Mom arriving first. At one point, Marie's oxygen dropped below 60 - but mom and I talked to her and let her know that Brad was on his way and I swear - that damn thing shot up to over 90. Once the 3 of us were settled in, the levels stayed pretty steady. At about 2 AM, I felt like I needed to update my sister again since she was unable to be here yet as she lives in Florida. I emailed her - and damned if she wasn't up and emailed me right back. In her return email, she asked me to give a kiss on Marie's forehead from Sue. I read her email out loud and mom mentioned that Sue had mentioned that to her earlier and she had forgotten to do so. Right then, while telling her what I was doing, I gave Marie two kisses on her forehead, telling her they were both from Sue and that one was via mom and one via me.

I swear that she felt like Sue was in the room with us, and within the next 15 minutes, all vital signs started to drop quickly. Marie was very comfortable and peaceful throughout it all, and there was no final gasp for air - she simply slipped on to the other side.

Marie was a very special woman - she is so much more than "just" an aunt, and I love her dearly. I know this got lengthy and personal, but I feel better writing it and sharing it with the special people in my life. Thank you for your kindness and compassion.

Also, here's my brother's eulogy for Marie:

Good morning.

I want to thank all the friends and family gathered here today to celebrate the life of my mother Marie. As long as I can remember, she loved me as much as a mother could possibly love her son. The lady truly had my back! Growing up whenever I would approach a fork in the road – right being the proper path and left being the wrong path, I would choose to go left! And believe me, there were many lefts over the years.

She was always there for me! Whether it was money to buy me a new car because I had wrecked the previous one or funds to get me out of some other jam. She lovingly did everything she could do to make my life right at the time. As I have grown older through the years I realize all the sacrifices she made for me without hesitation. I am truly a blessed man!

As most of us here know, Marie faced a mountain of obstacles concerning her health that started in the prime of her life and really never ceased. But I never heard her blame anyone or anything regarding her condition – she really was a strong soul. Oh and how Marie loved the Lord. She was a devoted Catholic and obeyed God and all the church’s teachings.

It was truly amazing to me how she never lost faith. I know God is very pleased with her.

In the last week of her life while in the hospital it was very difficult for her to speak to us. She wanted to but it just wasn’t going to happen. But she did say four words to me. She said to me with all the energy she could muster and said “I love you Brad.” Incredible!

After she passed away into God’s hands, I promised her that I would live a more meaningful and better life so God willing I too will see her in paradise one day. I Love you Marie! You’re the Best!

Come Up Full by Meg Hutchinson

Heart: A Personal Journey Through Its Myths and Meanings by Gail Godwin

Sunset by Rainer Maria Rilke

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colours
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so helplessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs -

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

QUOTE: "The best exercise for the heart is lifting someone up, and raising them up." ~ Tim Russert


  1. I hope you have printed out and saved this post, my dear friend, as it is a lovely tribute to your aunt.


  2. Hey, M ~

    Thanks for the good idea, as well as the kind words - it's been a hard month, and writing helps process (as you well know... :-)