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Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging

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funeral visitations

Porch Story–Chapter 16

image“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (‭1 John‬ ‭2‬:‭15-17‬ NIV)

I opened my Bible to this text this morning. Sitting here before dawn on the patio, the heat already like a living being wrapping its insidious arms around me in a strangle hold. The wind is blowing, imagine that, this is after all Oklahoma, “where the wind comes sweeping down the plains”, but it only reinforces the smothering effect. Of course, it is the tumor, not the wind, sucking life out of me. Still reading this scripture, I know that I have experienced everything in the world offers, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” and not a single one of them filled me up like they so enticingly promised.

I feel it in my bones or maybe in my head a need to pry my fingers from the world and all its fake offerings, the old grudges and even all the good and precious gifts I have here. Turn loose of the world so I can really live these last hours, days, weeks, whatever and then FOREVER! Last entry in Eleanor Brown’s Journal

James Adams slammed the door of the house. Rose who had preceded him through the entry jumped slightly but didn’t turn, instead she bore down on Jessie whose sneakiness had brought on this latest burst of temper from James. Swinging the girl around, mouth agape, scathing words tripped and ready, she froze at the sight of her daughter’s face.

She expected some smart mouthed retort but instead Jessie’s large brown eyes were tear filled, spilling over down her face. Her summer tan appeared like a transparent watercolor over a face drained of color. Rose crumbled the girl into her arms, letting her own anger fade as her tears flowed into her daughter’s hair. She could hear James shouting, stomping about behind her, but she ignored him holding tightly to Jessie for dear life. As her husband retreated still swearing, she lifted her daughter away from her.

“Why don’t we give your daddy some room. Let’s go in the kitchen and talk.”

Jessie nodded, but hesitated. “I need to go check on Megan and Cindy. They get real scared when Daddy’s …when Daddy’s mad.” Without waiting for a response from her mother she scurried down the hall to her sisters. Rose exhaled unaware that she had been holding her breath. When had Jessie become mother to her sisters? Had all this trouble closed her off from her children. James drinking and her own reliance on those pain killers Doc Noble had given her after her back surgery a year ago obviously had impacted their family more than she knew. She thought about the note she had written to herself this morning to call Doc’s office for another prescription as she stood listening to Jessie’s soft voice comforting her sisters.

***
Clara found herself reluctant to leave the viewing room at the conclusion of the visitation, exhausting as that had been. She had asked for a few moments alone with her mother. Settling into a chair on the front row, eyes fixed on the casket, rubbing her temples in small circles, her thoughts always random ran amuck. She felt like she needed to concentrate, but could not.

Perhaps if the visitation had been an orderly affair, which decidedly it was anything but. What with the tumbling of flowers, the children’s evaluation of her mother’s body, the Colonel’s–what would you call it?–outburst, the endless people sharing story after story about her mother. Clara was way beyond overwhelmed.

The children, Les Burton and Jessie Adams, obviously were there without parental permission. After the flowers were uprighted, Nancy had kept them with her for a few minutes, before whispering to both of them and leaving the room. Clara supposed she had left to call their parents, but while she was gone, both of them approached the open casket. In spite of the setting, her raw emotions, the reality that the wide eyed white faced children gawking at her mother’s body, Clara found herself fighting back a bit of a giggle. It was so obvious that neither of them had ever been to a funeral visitation.

Clara watched even as she greeted the folks who had come to express their sympathy as they leaned cautiously over the edge of the casket. The little girl, Jessie seemed to be waving her hand over Ellie’s body. What on earth was she doing? Les seemed to be looking around, his faced scrunched into a grimace as he tugged at Jessie’s arm, sputtering a whispered warning. Clara several steps away and too far forward to see what Jessie was doing took a half step back to try to get a better look.

Jessie’s hand fluttered near Ellie’s face…it was then Clara saw it..a fly had settled on her mother’s face. Seeing it Clara instinctively brushed at her own face as if the fly had lighted there. The child’s hand did not seem to distract the fly a bit, as it continued to explore the nooks and crannies along the heavily applied make-up of the upper lip. Jessie’s feet lifted off the floor as she strained to reach the insect. Les tugged at her pulling her back toward the floor, but she was determined. Just as her hand almost reached the fly, Les’s tugging, her own precarious positioning and gravity caused her to slip backwards. She landed awkwardly, but managed to keep her balance, just as the fly crawled inside Ellie’s nares. Clara gasped slightly, causing her grandfather to rise a bit too quickly, almost toppling into her.

They caught each other grasping at each others elbows both of them upright. It was the closest Clara had been physically to the Colonel since the stiff, forced hugs of her childhood. For all those children who had close relationships with their grandparents, including her mother, Brian, Mandy, and many others, Clara held a deep seated envy.

As a child she had silently pretended that Ann and Paul Stewart were her grandparents as she considered herself a cousin to Brian and Mandy. Her grief when Paul died had mirrored Brian and Mandy’s. It was something her mother noticed, something they both knew, but never spoke of, Ellie, letting her daughter grieve. Clara realized at that moment that Ellie had seen the Stewarts more as parents than merely a friend’s parents, that her mother’s grief plunged the same waters her own did.

In the awkward grasping for balance, Clara realized her grandfather was shaking and as she stepped back, he tightened his hold on her. The still formidable frame of the Colonel heaved with emotion, first silent, but breaking into loud choking sobs. Clara’s reacted first with an unexpected repulsion, an unexplained desire to distance herself from the grasping weeping hulk, who clawed at her enveloping her into his embrace. Never could Clara have prepared for this, she knew how to be polite and restrained in his presence, she did not have a clue as to how to comfort him. As he clung though she relaxed in his embrace.

It was Delia who stepped forward, putting her arm around the Colonel, her face composed, kindly patting Clara’s arm and steering her grandfather back to his seat, calming him as they moved away. Clara followed them with her damp eyes. His behavior confused her while tripping her own raw grief, threatening her composure.

The children’s parents had arrived but Clara paid little attention to the turmoil over that leaving Nancy to manage. The remainder of the visitation was a blur, so intent was she on restraining her emotions. Now sitting in the semi darkness, she stared straight ahead at the still face and frame of her mother. For a woman who hardly ever was still, death did not become her.

“Who were you, Mom?”

After several minutes she rose. Brian and Amanda waited for her in the entry area, but they stood quietly allowing her the silence she craved.

“Hey”

“You ok?”

“I am. Know what, I really want to go home” a gulp then, “I think it is time I got to know the woman who birthed me.”

Porch Story–Chapter 15

rocking chairs “The trees are ready to give to the children tomorrow. I am thinking this is one of those ‘dust in the wind’ ideas, but looking out at the community, I realize how easily deceived we all have been. Looking to the MV Corporation for salvation, depending on the board of directors, the stock holders, the big wigs off in some big office complex in Dallas, Texas to look out for our families. Here we were thinking if you do good work, for honest wages, the company will provide. I know folks think I get in my ‘come to Jesus’ mode too often and be that as it may I also know that folks, Christians and otherwise, have stopped being a real community. They have all been touched by MV Corp’s actions, but rather than looking at their strengths, looking for solutions within the community, they are closing off, hunkering down, licking their own wounds or drowning them. It is as if they have forgotten that 100 years ago this place was little more than a dry spot blowing in the Oklahoma wind. Then the settlers, mostly farmers, formed co-ops, retail merchants came, for a while the train made stops carrying passengers and freight, a community was born from the collective needs of the families who settled here, like my grandmother, and Nancy’s folks. Lord, let these trees and the words I speak to these children tomorrow build a fire that will ignite real change. I cannot do it, but You can.” from Eleanor Brown’s Journal.

Nancy had picked up the most recent journal of Ellie’s. She had settled on her bedroom porch, weary from grief and the endless movement of the day. Brian had gone on into his old room when they got back from the funeral home. Mandy was with Clara. Finally, Nancy had time alone to reflect. She read the words trying to digest and gain some understanding of Ellie’s last days. She had argued briefly after the visitation with Clara. That did not sit well. Clara seemed determined to consider that her mother had deliberately driven into the path of the freight train. Nancy just as vigorously denied the possibility. While not a shouting match, both held their ground with Nancy grabbing the journal she now held from Clara. “Just let me read her final entries. I promise to keep an open mind.”

Clara hemmed and hawed but assented. Nancy understood her reluctance knowing herself that however open her mind it would take a point blank statement to change her mind.

The visitation had been packed with friends, family and gawkers. Nancy had arrived early, hurrying home to shower and change after the visit to her mom and Gavin. Brian followed in her wake, moving quickly forward toward the flower draped open casket and Clara. His arm went instinctively around her shoulders. She stood transfixed, her fingers wrapped around the ornamental handles of the casket, head inclined, her face carefully arranged and not unlike the death mask of her mother’s face. Nancy halted, took a seat at the back and watched.

She wasn’t eager to hurry forward. Mandy came by her reluctance to accept change and loss naturally, Nancy mused. When other people started drifting in, greeted by the staff, Nancy rose and moved to speak to the folks she knew, most of them since she was a child. Staying toward the back she shook hands, hugged, and made small talk mostly about the weather.

Pete arrived with DeWayne and their mother. Ann Stewart looked none too happy in the wheel chair Pete had obviously convinced her she needed…or he needed. Nancy moved away from Frances Ryan with a smile and a pat on the arm to join her brothers and mother. As she approached them, she noticed Mandy step forward, putting her hands on the wheelchair. Whether it was to assist her grandmother or provide her with support, Nancy couldn’t tell. Mandy’s face looked drained of color, her eyes red rimmed, but Nancy watched as she straightened her posture, lifting her chin resolutely. Frankly, she looked a bit like she was about to be executed.

Pete smiled as Nancy approached, “Hi Sis.” She acknowledged his greeting with a hug followed by hugs for DeWayne and her mother. Her eyes met Mandy’s offering unspoken encouragement. Both of her brothers she noted had managed to get cleaned up and dressed without a single word or suggestion from her. A tenderness washed through as she realized how interdependent they all were. Sometimes the constancy of someone or something goes unnoticed. Sometimes, Nancy thought with a little lump in her throat, I am not grateful enough for these two men and all they do.

She stepped away as they joined the line of people moving forward to offer condolences to Clara before edging away yet again to meet and greet. As she did a distinct authoritative voice rose above others outside the double doors in the vestibule. Immediately even after many years she recognized Colonel Frank Brown’s deep baritone, in muter tones a female voice tried to calm him. Delia, Nancy thought and headed toward the disturbance. It seemed Delia had the matter in hand by the time Nancy reached them, for she found the Colonel seated in one of the wingback chairs while Delia spoke in hushed tones to Mark Ryan and a well dressed woman Nancy did not recognize but assumed was a member of the funeral home’s staff.

Ryan’s Funeral Home and Crematorium had been a fixture in the community since Nancy had been a child, but it had expanded, redecorated and prospered over the years. Mark was the grandson of the original owner and his father still worked some since a heart attack had forced him into partial retirement. One thing was for sure, taking care of the dead and bereaved remained profitable. Nancy could have kicked herself for thinking that because she knew the Ryan family, attended church with them and they were kind dear compassionate people. What had gotten into her lately to bring out her cynical side? Gavin’s brain injury and now Ellie’s death had left her without the counterpoints she relied on to balance her tendency to the negative. Obviously, a new plan was needed and fast, before she became a crotchety old snit of a woman.

She’d rather eat rocks than have to deal with the Colonel and Delia, but someone needed to get them up to the front of the little chapel room so they could see their granddaughter and Ellie’s body. Since Delia was speaking with Mark, Nancy approached the Colonel. Touching his shoulder lightly she said, “Hello, Colonel. I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m….” “Nancy Stewart, no that’s not right. You are a Wingate now aren’t you? How are you my dear?” Nancy smiled in spite of herself. As far as she knew this was the kindest, heartiest greeting she had ever evoked from the Colonel. In past meetings he had always seemed a bit confused about who she was and why his daughter was hanging out with her.

Although he and Delia had been invited to her wedding, they had not attended, but did send a place setting of her china as a gift. That he could recollect her married name since he had never even met her husband in the thirty plus years they had been married astonished her. Delia noticed Nancy, broke off her conversation, joined them wrapping Nancy in a particularly warm hug with a bit of sniffling as Delia’s head remained buried in her shoulder just a second longer than was comfortable. Not that the hug itself were really comfortable. Her brain without the appropriate filters screamed, ‘Who are these people and what have they done with the real Colonel and Mrs. Brown?’

Her exterior remained neutral while her insides stewed. She had managed to escort them through the growing crowd to the front where Delia repeated her hugging with Clara, whose eyes met Nancy’s over Delia’s shoulder as if to mirror Nancy’s feelings. Brian smiled and greeted the Colonel, introduced himself. No, he was not Clara’s boyfriend, fiancé, they were old friends…Nancy was his mother and so on. Finally, he walked with the Colonel over to the casket, stepping back slightly so the older man could be alone with his only daughter. Nancy watched him, but did not move any closer to casket. ‘Not yet, I just can’t do it yet.’

She began inventorying the flowers, a virtual forest of color and greenery filled the area to the sides and back of the coffin. As her eyes moved she caught a bit of out of place color and then a tiny bit of movement among the baskets, planters and wreathes. Someone was back there among the potted and fresh plants. Suddenly, a large arrangement of fresh cut gladiolas began to waver, shifting slightly before tumbling to the floor, water and flowers spilling out. The water spread out across the floor splashing up and over the Colonel’s and Brian’s shoes. Nancy heard both Clara and Delia gasp as one, before she heard Mark Ryan’s assistant, the woman she had seen outside in the vestibule hurrying up with a towel to return the glads to their rightful place and soak up the water.

Nancy, on the other hand, moved toward the plants and around to the back of them. There among the foliage two pairs of wide eyes stared up at her.

“Jessie? Les? What on earth?”

The two stood up obviously frightened, but as Nancy watched Les stretched himself out , speaking a voice that conjured a remembrance of herself trying to speak as a grown up. “Jessie and I came to pay our respects and offer our condo..condoll..to say we are sorry about Miss Ellie dying.” He was so serious and both of them were so scared that Nancy almost laughed, but fortunately got control of herself, before nodding solemnly and leading them around the flowers to the front of the casket where mercifully the mess was already cleaned up. She did wonder if either of their parents were present or knew their children were.

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