Friday, October 24, 2003

Of prayer cards and poetry

I attended Uncle Paul's wake. I could only stop in for an hour, but thought it best to at least stop by. There would be no chance tomorrow to see him one last time.

I get there and greet all the relatives, making my way down each row. I hadn't seen anyone in years, so had to stop and chat with each one. What are you doing? What are you up to? Otherwise in their minds, I'm still 5 years old, just taller. They ask if my sister is married yet, but not me, though I'm ready to answer that too. I'm grateful they don't ask that.

Me and my sister fell in age just slightly younger than Uncle Paul's kids, but older than the oldest grandkids, so the lines between who is uncle/cousin/auntie are a bit blurred. One of the grandkids I had last seen as a scrawny teenager, I turned around and he's quite the young man. Unlike my mom's side, these 2nd and 3rd cousins have mostly boys in their families. I quickly got caught up with which kids belonged to whom, their ages, and names.

It seems like all chapels were built in the 1970s and there are always attendants that dress from that era too. This one was a woman with the large brimmed glasses, bouffant hair, and loud blue large floral dress.

All the while Uncle Paul is resting peacefully at the end of the room. Numerous large flower bouquets on each side. To the left a picture of him, with a quote from Eclesiastes 3:1. You know the one, a time for every thing. To the left, a framed photo of his college picture. He was quite the handsome fellow. Auntie is sitting in the first pew flanked by other aunties some widowed others not, some of their faces are weary, tears are heavy. Each new person only reminds her of why they are there. It is hard. They were married for 50 years.

This is the 7th wake I've attended in my life (two for family of friends, 3 family, 2 friends). You know when you've been to a lot of wakes when you note how well the embalming went. These are things you notice. You'd hate for this person to meet their maker and not look good. He does look at peace, with a nicely squared tie and hands clasping gently a rosary. The inch long scar on his forehead from the aneurism surgery is still there.

My friend's grandmother had been a hair stylist. At her grandmother's wake, the hair stylist she had been in business with, looks at her grandmother in the coffin, takes out a comb and starts to style her grandmother's hair.

It's mostly the immediate family and retired folks there. It's early. Most everyone has not yet come home from work. I head to the back and hang out with the kids, get to know them again. One is in college, likes to fix up cars. Another is an apprentice hair colorist and make-up artist. There are other boys I don't quite know. They don't know me either. One of the older boys tells his 7-year-old sister to say hi to Ate Michelle. She's like, "who?"

I go to look at the large frames filled with pictures of the family over the years. Numerous pictures of him with each new baby. I joke with Uncle Paul's youngest son about the "Miami Vice" look he has in one picture. He replies, "I was hot! Break all sorts of girl's hearts." As his young daughter races around, I say, "oh and this one here will probably break yours."

I leave just as most everyone else is arriving. I have a class to teach. There is traffic on the freeway, but not for an accident or car crash, but for the sunset. The clouds take an unusual pattern, a strange swirl as if the lips of the Twin Peaks exhaled a smoke ring. It captures the colors of the setting sun, amazing oranges, reds, blues. If you could embrace a sunset, that's what it would have looked like.

I leave before they say the rosary, but say a private one in my heart, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for our sinners now and at the hour of our death. And may the perpetual light shine upon them. Amen"

I pick up a prayer card as I walk out the door. On the back is a poem:


I'd like the memory of me
to be a happy one,
i'd like to leave an afterglow
of smiles when life is done.
I'd like to leave an
echo whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and
laughing times and
bright and sunny days.
I'd like the tears of those who grieve,
to dry before the sun
Of happy memories that
I leave when life is done.

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