Between a Funeral and a Memory Place


I reached for my phone to call our dog sitter friend: realizing this was the fourth call in a year telling her we needed to travel back to Maryland for a funeral.

Walking into the small limestone church of my husband’s youth, set amongst the mountains in rural Maryland – I saw her lying in the open casket that greeted us as we walked into the vestibule.

Funerals have a way of making old manageable wounds sharpen again.  They bring past hurts to the surface as if your wound was fresh: bleeding, throbbing and needy of immediate attention.  A palpable pain.

Sitting at Aunt Sis’s funeral, looking around at a sea of black, I wondered how many other people were feeling a sharp wound in their heart from a past significant loss.  How many minds were trying to focus on the funeral that was about to start while their memory place drifted back to another time.

My heart broke for Aunt Sis’s husband and three daughters as I watched their memory place being changed indelibly.  I listened intently as each daughter honored their mother with heartrending eulogies.

Worse yet, was the deep sense of regret that was now sitting uneasily between her funeral and our memory place.  We had planned to visit Aunt Sis in a few weeks. Now.  It was too late.

My brother-in-law, Gale, approached the podium.  I swallowed hard.  Trying desperately to steel myself away from the scalpel like hurt his song was about to inflict.  “His eye is on the sparrow,” was the song he sang at our son’s funeral.  Looking at his considerate eyes as he sang so beautifully made it harder still:  as if I’d been thrown recklessly back in time.  My psyche was being bruised and battered with each continuous note.  I tried unsuccessfully to contain my tears that did a free fall from my memory place.  Realizing all to quickly the wound in my memory place had been cut wide open.  And it hurt.  I took deep breaths, desperately trying to keep myself from going to the ugly cry. I noticed tears slip down my daughter’s cheek, as well.  I felt my husband’s strong arm wrap around us both.  Glancing at my husband and daughter, I worried about their memory place.

My standard for what defines a meaningful funeral is – if I were a stranger sitting in the back of the church, would I get a good sense of who the person of honor was.  Aunt Sis’s funeral did just that – her daughters eulogies touchingly and humorously spanned the scope of her life.  We laughed through tears as their stories filled our memory place with images of the lady we all knew doing things in a way that only she could.  They spoke of a grand lady who was a caring and loving mother and wife.  Telling us of the woman who was a ‘sister’ to all, hence her name.  A woman who had battled cancer several times.  A woman who could turn out homemade noodles, mouth watering pies, and biscuits that melted in your mouth.  All without a recipe.

Aunt Sis was a grand lady.  Not because she did things in a big, grand manner: but rather because she did little things in a heartfelt, genuine way.  Her grandness came in the consistency of her love.  The gentleness of her smile.  The steadfastness of her many acts of kindness.  And the love and focus in her eyes as she listened attentively to you.  All filtered through her nonjudgmental heart.

During the meal after the service, Kay spoke of how her husband, Waldy, wasn’t doing well.  How he’d just given up.  Waldy and Kay employed my husband, as well as several other teenage boys, to help work their farm during summer breaks.

I knew what my husband needed to do.  We drove the short quarter of a mile from the church to Waldy’s farm passing Aunt Sis’s new resting place, dug by her brother.  Limestone fence rows bordering rolling farm fields guided our path – echoing the deep rooted history that surrounded us.  Rounding the corner as we turned into their farm lane, in the distance we could see the Washington Monument poking up from South Mountain – where I grew up and where we raised our children.  Greatly pleasing our memory place.

Kay happily greeted us at the kitchen door.  An earthenware crock filled with pink peonies sat on her kitchen table that had been covered with a checkered tablecloth.  Waldy scuffled in with his shoulders hunched over, his hair rumpled as if we’d disturbed a good nap, and his once lively face looking like he had indeed given up.  He looked at Sam with an expressionless gaze.  Examining his face as if he was trying to determine it’s origin.  Noticing his vagueness, my husband quickly began talking about the good ole days working on the farm.  He spoke of hot summer days spent bailing hay, of tractor rides, snakes and silly pranks.  He reminisced about Kay’s scrumptious lunches and wondered out loud how she managed to put up with the antics of those crazy teenage boys.  He reminded Waldy of the last time he visited with a good friend he’d brought along to meet him.

Kay ushered us into their living room to sit down for a visit.  Sam continued with farm stories while Waldy listened carefully, like he was a student in Sam’s class hoping to glean valuable insight that would recharge his memory place.  I was certain that if I could have glanced into his mind it would have looked fatigued.   Sam told story after story until Waldy started to sit up a little taller, offering a smile and a few words and as my husband continued: this once gregarious man’s eyes brightened and before you knew it he was the one telling stories to us.  He spoke of his jousting days and of his three year stint as the Maryland State Jousting Champion.  I wish I would have taken a picture of Waldy and Sam sitting on the sofa together as they beamed smiles and laughter back and forth to each other as if it were a tangible energy source.  Witnessing the ‘real time’ before and after metamorphosis was completely and utterly magical.

As laughter and story telling permeated the room I watched Waldy’s colorful personality emerge once again.  His smile grew wider and wider, at last personifying his true nature.  Seeing this transformation made me sad to realize that when we lived so close we didn’t visit him or Aunt Sis more often.  Sometimes when we’re physically so close we assume things will always be there waiting for us. “Closeness” gives us a false sense of comfort.  Time, distance and a funeral is that great teacher of should’ve, would’ve, could’ve.

The one that shakes your memory place to act before it’s too late, ever again.

We were standing in the kitchen saying our good-byes when Waldy turned to Sam and hugged him tenderly, the way a ninety year old man hugs someone he thinks he may never see again, and with a tear trickling down his face told him, “I almost forgot you,” as his hands gently shook Sam’s shoulders. He then turned quickly toward the sink, looking out the window busying himself with the view.  Our eyes welled up with tears realizing the profound impact our visit had on him.  His reaction left an unforgettable imprint in our memory place.

Walking to our car, instead of regret sitting precariously between a funeral and a memory place, our hearts were full.  I think Aunt Sis would have been pleased.  We left knowing that acting upon the now is the most important way to fill our memory place of tomorrow.

We drove away feeling content, smiling deep down in our hearts – knowing we filled his memory place of today… the most important day.

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”  Robert Frost

31 thoughts on “Between a Funeral and a Memory Place

  1. What a beautiful tribute to Aunt Sis, but also to our memories of all those we love. You took me to that place-sitting in a funeral for someone dear but also remembering pain from another loss. That has happened to me many times. I always get emotional at funerals, even if it is someone I am not really close to. I’m so glad you ended with a visit to Waldy and that lasting imprint he made. Beautiful post, Karen.<3

    1. Thanks so much, Becky. Aunt Sis’s love was truly grand. Yes, no matter the significance of the loss it always takes us there, doesn’t it. I think the universe sent us to Waldy so we could ‘mend’ each other. ❤

  2. I am crying in the library. I am sad for the moments the hurt you, Karen, the opening of those memories, that are always there, but still, quiet, not always rampant and slashing painful ones. I am so glad you described what a meaningful service for Aunt Sis, was shown, through all the ones who loved her, sorry you were not able to visit before the funeral, as planned at a later time…
    Your husband and you did a wonderful and powerful thing, by visiting his Waldy. There were angels swarming and giving you both such uplifted spirits, as Sam woke up Waldy’s memories, his sitting taller and remembering. I love the simple words he said, “I almost forgot you!” So poignant and meaningful, you did not only the ‘right’ thing for this old couple and their memories, but for you and your husband, to follow through and carry out a mission. That helped all of you to move into the sunshine and light, Karen. Hugs, Robin

    1. Oh, Robin…I’m picturing you in the library reading this and crying. Sorry I made you cry. ❤ And you are absolutely right, the angels were very busy that day. We saw both the darkness of death and the lightness of love within hours. But to end it with helping someone come alive was magical. The sun was shining very bright indeed! Thanks as always, for your very kind words, Robin. hugs

  3. So beautiful is your wonderful tribute. My heart feels how hard it was for you all and I send you the warmest hugs I can find. The message you drive home to us is gentle, yet urgent. Thank you. Peace be with you all ❤

    1. Thank you, Lorrie. My heart receives your warmest hugs and I send them back to you, as well. The urgency to be with those you love and to be consistent with that love was driven home profoundly that day. Sending you love and light. ❤

  4. Naturally this post got my attention immediately. I am lying in bed, propped up on pillows, warm air from the heating blowing and birds singing their morning song. Normally when I get up, I grab my IPad and sit on the couch. I saw your post and knew sitting up in bed was the perfect place to read this.
    There could be no other way of writing this, as once again you have written from your heart. I am so pleased that the Eulogies brought out the essence of who Aunt Sis was. This is so important, to have not only the sadness but the joy in a Service. The celebration of their life is paramount as it can help stop the ‘ugly tears’ but rather to bring out the perfect memory ones. Music and words always bring more emotions to the surface, sometimes I have to contain myself, when a song is chosen that stirs me too much. This has reminded us to try and be with those we love, as often as we can, as a ‘moment’ can change our world. You would have been taken back to your memory place so often and I wish I could have sat there and held your hand. A cathartic visit to Waldy afterwards, reminding you of how precious life and time is. I shall finish now as I could talk about this all day. Beautifully written, heartfelt and I’ll close your door quietly on my way out. xxooxx ❤

    1. How remiss of me, I realised after I hit send, my indiscretion at not passing on my condolences to you and your family. Hugs xxx

      1. Condolences received my dear. Thank you. ❤

    2. Ahh, Jen, I chuckled at your first line because I almost always read your posts first thing in the morning with a cappuccino in hand – in bed! I was so pleased that the eulogies touched on all facets of her life. Her 3 daughters did a fantastic job. When I saw that my BIL was singing I silently prayed, please God don’t let him sing “that song.” Knowing they do have the power to transport us back in time. Thank you for “holding my hand,” sweet friend. Yes, visiting Waldy was cathartic beyond belief. We needed to do something tangible with our love that day. And even more beautiful, still, our daughter was with us to witness the power of compassion. As always, thank you for your very kind words, dear Jen. “Quietly closing the door touched my heart.” XOX ❤

      1. I actually ask my families and assembly when it comes to the Reflection and the DVD photo journey, if they want to sing out loud, if they know the words to the song chosen. I’ve had families and friends sit and hold hands singing so their loved one can hear their voices.
        ❤ xx

  5. Reading this on Dad’s 80th, I get such a sense of the void I’ll feel when he’s gone. I treasure all the time I have left, even if that means he snoops through my desk, reads my mail and baits me at every turn. 🙂

    1. I’m so touched by your words, Andra. I’m glad it resonated with you. I laughed at the thought of your Dad snooping through your desk. Too funny. All the best to you. ~Karen~

  6. You may know, Karen, that our daughter is brain-injured and will never return to us as she once was. She is still alive, yes, but the daughter we once had is long-gone. And so I relate on such a deep level to every word you’ve written here. We went to a wedding this weekend. You remark that funerals have a way of sharpening old wounds. So do happy occasions. Ahhh, sometimes the tamping down of emotion is all you can do to get through an event. Thank you for ending this story on such a happy and uplifting note. In and amongst all the sorrow is lots of joy too. It was wonderful to read of Waldy coming back to life.

    1. Oh Barbara, I had no idea. I am so very sorry. Truly. That’s a very interesting point you make. Depending on your life situation weddings can be painful too. I used to experience the same thing …realizing Preston would never marry. Yes, we needed Waldy as much as he needed us that day.
      We really do need to get together for a glass of wine soon! hugs and love ❤

  7. Karen what a day full of emotions. I’m so sorry for your losses and pain. But even through that pain I could see the grave of having a beautiful person in your world. And what a tribute to your aunt to go and take that love of yours to someone else, and share more love. What an emotional day for you all. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. It was an emotional day indeed, Colleen. But as with most things in life…there is always something to be gleaned from even the most painful experience. To leave with light hearts, big smiles and Aunt Sis smiling down on us was truly a blessing. Thanks. ❤

      1. You’re welcome Karen. ❤

  8. What an honor to visit you and learn of your stories for Aunt Sis, and a beautiful reminder of how to live in the now. “Memory place” tied us in a more emotional way. I appreciate that.
    And sad, but true, “Funerals have a way of making old manageable wounds sharpen again.”

    I have to attend a funeral this week, and though it’s painful of the could’ve, should’ves, But it sounds like you got a chance to reopen a door and share some laughter and kindness. I have a feeling it’s the beginning of something new for you.

    I am going to embrace all that I can…and be present with those who are presence. Thank you for this post. Take care and bless you. ~Marie

    1. Well thank you, Marie, for your beautiful comments, and what an honor it is to have you! For me “memory place tied together so many different things – I’m so glad you could relate to that. I think the angels were fluttering about opening doors that would benefit us all. They’re like that. 😉 So sorry to hear you have a funeral to attend…I’ll be offering up healing meditations for you. Sending you love and light. ❤

      1. You are so sweet. Thank you so very much. I appreciate your kinds thoughts.

        And yes, angels are like that. :0)

        Have a blessed weekend. Marie

  9. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

    1. Aww…thanks Jonathan! I’m glad you liked this story. And I hope it sits well in your very special memory place. hugs ❤ ~Karen~

      1. YES…I have a few places of my own like this!

  10. What a wonderful memory of your Aunt. You do her proud.

    1. Thanks Jacqui…mission accomplished. ❤ ~Karen~

  11. I agree with Jacqui, you wrote a wonderful tribute to your Aunt. There comes this time in life when we attend more funerals than weddings and four in such a short time is a heavy load. I’m so sorry for your losses.
    Best regards, Dina

    1. Thank you kindly, Dina. So very true, it’s sad when we reach this milestone where funerals trump weddings…tis life though. I greatly appreciate your condolences. I need to stop by and pay you a visit. All the best. ~Karen~

  12. Karen what an inspirational post, a great tribute for Aunt Sis, such sad memories for you and your husband and the effect your visit had on Waldy leaving you with such a positive meaning to a day which would otherwise have left your feeling bereft. Virtual hugs from me for the hard part of the day and thanks that I too will take from your post the value of the memory place of now being such an important, potentially life changing action of the moment. Cheers Irene

  13. Thank you kindly, Irene. Hugs received and very much appreciated. It was as if the day had been choreographed so all could glean something positive and lovely from an otherwise sad day. My memory place has been forever changed. ❤ ~Karen~

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