She died this week. The funeral was this morning.
I knew Strong Quiet Woman from all the events you attend when you marry into a family that lives in town: weddings, baby showers, birthdays, funerals, and holiday get-togethers. I'd talked to her at baptisms, First Communions, and Confirmation parties. Hundreds of times, we've chatted while balancing plates of food on our laps or pouring punch into paper cups. She was the mother of Peppermint, my husband's brother's wife.
My sister-in-law Peppermint was especially close to her mother. Her father died young, and Peppermint was the only daughter. After graduating from nursing school, she married my husband's brother and stayed in Traintrack Village, not far from her mother's home. I can remember visiting my sister-in-law when her first son was born, 23 years ago, and noticing the look in her mother's eyes as she gazed at her daughter and her newborn. Motherhood became another bond between the two, and Strong Quiet Woman spent all kinds of time with my three nephews as they grew up.
The death was not unexpected. Cancer gives all kinds of warnings, and Peppermint is a nurse. She knew exactly what to expect when they moved her mother into a hospice facility a few months ago. She had time to talk to her mother about her death, time to reminisce and talk about the future and even plan the funeral. She knew death was coming, no doubt, and yet still, I am sure it was difficult. I don't think anyone is ever ready to lose their Mom.
The funeral was brief, just as Strong Quiet Woman had planned. No calling hours, just a quiet Mass with her children, their spouses, her grandchildren, and some old friends. The altar was decorated with flowers, and the priest put a cream coloured cloth over the coffin. A woman sang Eidelweiss, that Austrian folk song that everyone knows from The Sound of Music. The priest walked about the casket, shaking big puffs of incense into the air.
My sister-in-law's three sons are all athletetic, and even in their dress shirts and dark pants, they looked like basketball players as they stood around their mother, a solid shield hiding her from view. The altar is directly under a big skylight, and sunlight flickered across the sanctuary, coming and going behind big clouds, as the priest spoke and the congregation gave the familiar responses. As we walked out of the church, following the casket, the woman at the microphone sang the words to Danny Boy, her voice following us as we stepped out into the sunshine.
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.