Food, Funerals and Family
I know it sounds crazy, but I like funerals. Well, maybe not the funeral service so much, but the wake afterwards. I’ve been to lavishly catered post-funeral dinners at a posh restaurant and also to a wake of homemade casseroles and cakes served in a church basement. But the purpose and feelings are the same; of coming together and honoring the one who is missing.
That is why I look forward to the wake. It is over plates of food that stories are shared and memories relived. The mood subtly shifts from one of sorrow and tears to laughter and a celebration of a life. I am fascinated by familiar events, long past, told from someone else’s point of view. The memories are richer when they are shared.
I remember hearing a human interest story a couple of years ago. It was becoming a practice of elderly ladies in New Zealand to crash funerals for the free food and the chance to socialize. It didn’t matter that if they knew the deceased or not. The wake gave them a place to gather with friends and a good meal. I’m betting the deceased didn’t mind.
My mom passed away this fall. She’d been slowly failing but it still caught me by surprise. The pain of losing her and realizing my brothers and I were now orphans filled every part of me. The funeral service was full of raw emotion. It was then the realization that a she was truly gone hit me. I’d written her a short poem and it was all I could do to get through the reading.
But once the service was over and we’d gone to the Cheese House for lunch my sorrow gave way to the joy of seeing old friends and being surrounded by cousins, nephews and a big hug from my brother. My family was small to begin with then add the fact that we’ve all moved, some farther than others, from Owosso where great-grandpa settled after coming from Germany. It’s been thirty-five years since I moved away, but it still feels like home when I return and I always look for Grandpa’s house on south M-52. The last present mom gave us was bringing us all together again.
The strong shoulders of my son gave me a secure place to lean while I talked to people I hadn’t seen in forty to fifty years. One of my brother’s high school friends came with his wife to honor my mom. Jim brought up some memories I had forgotten. The more we reminisced the more we remembered.
There was also an ex-wife who was so good to see. She’d been a part of our family and knew my mom for over twenty years and I was glad she came. Both of my nephews’ children, who I hadn’t met, were there along with a new baby.
A funeral isn’t only about losing but it is about renewing; family ties and lost friendships.
I remember my mom in the field
of flowers beside our house.
Warm bread fresh from the oven.
Gertie and Norma coming for coffee.
I remember a white enamel dishpan,
the one with red trim,
filled with wild strawberries.
Mom’s fingers stained from the picking.
I remember Saturday mornings spent
sewing and watching cartoons.
Snapping beans on the back step.
Canning tomatoes in the fall.
I remember mom reading in the shade
of the basswood tree,
solving a mystery
with Agatha Christie.
I remember Mom working
in her store.
Rows of tropical fish tanks
back-lit like works of art.
I remember the safety of mom’s arms,
the goodness of her heart,
being tucked into bed,
and a kiss goodnight.