"So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day." [St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:16]My mother loved picnics. Especially all day picnics. Her picnic basket was organized, her picnics planned and executed without a hitch - we kids only aware of days of total freedom at the beach or a state park. Picnics involved rising at the crack of dawn, Sunday Mass if it was Sunday, driving to the beach or park, perhaps stopping for fresh-made donuts, selecting our picnic spot long before some got out of bed.
Picnic days were rare times when dad cooked breakfast. Outdoors. While mom laid out the treats she had prepared. Breakfast treats. Lunch treats. All-day-long - as much as you could eat - treats. For us kids these were days of near-total indulgence.
She loved those picnics! She must have prepared for them meticulously - for days.
The summer she got her driver's license - I think I was 9 - she took us swimming nearly every day. She loved the water. She loved swimming, sunshine, beaches, lakes, canoeing. I bet the all-day picnics reminded her of camping trips to northern Michigan in her childhood.
Those were happy times. And she had her sad times too. But so much of what was difficult in her life has now been altered by the transformation of how she met her death.
People die in different ways. We choose our dying. If dying marks a life, hers was remarkable!
When it came her time to die, it seemed she met that willingly, indeed at times impatiently. She knew it long before it came. And tried to tell us, was frustrated we seemed not to understand, frustrated too at her growing inability to formulate sentences, find words for what she longed to say. Till the last. When finally we knew. When we could let her know it was ok to go. When she could manage words like: "dying... good." She wanted to go home and the word "home" confused her in the end. I think she tried to tell us she was sorry about that - sorry she was going home and that meant separation.
In the end her dessicated body was nearly weightless, her rib-cage visible. Like a birdcage with her soul inside - waiting to fly free, on those peaceful last days when her eyes no longer opened and words no longer came, her spirit kept growing and I felt we were communing - soul to soul.
I was moved by that. The transformation that was happening. She, in another space. The world, set aside. We, in this in-between space. Waiting. As she transformed: A woman never overtly religious - who had avoided church in later years - whose soul began to shine as she was dying. Welcoming communion, saintly, even angelic, when I brought it - those last times before she died.
I was not there in her last moments - when the cage opened and her spirit soared - as I was driving to see her that last time.
She looked beautiful in death.
In dying, she had given me her soul. Yet death held more: In death, I felt her spirit with me. Drawing me into that resurrection space she'd entered: An eternal picnic, communing with the saints.
[Words prepared for her funeral on what would have been her 88th birthday: 4.21.2010]