It wasn't until late Wednesday night that I made the decision to fly back to South Carolina for my Uncle Bill's funeral. Even though my cousin Margaret had called (twice) and told me that she (really) wanted for me to come back, I was sitting on the fence until I talked to my mother.
My mother is Aunt Grace's sister and they are only a couple years apart in age. They have an extremely close relationship and as such, my mother has always been close with Uncle Bill.
Mom was the maid-of-honor in their wedding, 56 years ago. She visited them when they moved away from Massachusetts and lived in Georgia. And then Florida. And then South Carolina. And when my parents divorced - Uncle Bill was a pillar of strength for my mother.
When I talked to Mom on Wednesday night, I could just hear it in her voice. While I knew that my cousins and Aunt Grace would be surrounded with friends and family and have the support that they needed, I really worried about my mother.
My mom never wants to put any one out, so I expected no less when she told me during our conversation, "I'm just fine. Please don't come. I hope you're not planning on leaving Charlie and all those babies." But something told me I needed to go. So I got the nod of endorsement from my husband and booked the ticket that would have me departing less than 10 hours later.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Grace have a beautiful home in the country and they have always derived inspiration for decoration from the Biltmore House, in North Carolina.
Growing up, I remember that they decorated their house so beautifully for all the holidays, but especially at Christmas. When December would roll around, Auntie would place live trees in various rooms and each window along the front of the house was adorned with an evergreen wreath. While the adults would bake, the kids would be sent hunting in the woods for holly, mistletoe and pine cones. When finished, their house would look like something from a magazine and smell like something from a gingerbread dream. Uncle Bill would walk around - the King of his Castle - beaming at the beauty of it all. He was always so proud of his home.
That's my memory.
Because having their house look beautiful was always so important to Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill, my mother picked up four pots of mums that she wanted to use in decorating the front step.
When I drove over to drop the plants off on Friday morning, I decided that we needed just a few plants more. So I asked my cousin Lisa to come with me for a major dose of retail therapy.
First we went to Home Depot where we bought 18 more pots of mums. (Did I mention I have a problem with moderation?) Then we carefully selected 21 pumpkins. Five big ones to represent the five children of Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill and 16 little ones to represent their 16 grandchildren. Because I'm all about symbolism.
From there, we headed over to Pier I Imports where we bought candles and centerpieces and garland and a vibrant wreath for the front door. And then, we went to McDonald's where we ate our weight in french fries and chocolate milkshakes. And for the first time in two days, the grief that had clutched us, lessened. Just a little bit.
The funeral mass was on Saturday and this was the first time I had been in to a Catholic Church in ... 10 (15?) years. My cousin Lisa's children, Matthew, Stephen and Kathryn were the altar boys and altar girl and it was so special to see them up there helping with the service.
Several more of Uncle Bill's grandchildren served as pallbearers and as they proceeded in to the church, while my mother's other sister, Aunt Ann, sang an absolutely beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace", I dissolved in to tears. The whole experience was surreal.
Fortunately, it was just a matter of time before I was distracted with the formality of the Catholic Church. Kneeling. Sitting. Standing. Kneeling. It didn't seem like anyone was doing anything in synchronicity. Some would be sitting. Others would be standing. While a handful were on their knees, looking around confused.
My mother tried to kneel at one point and then yelped over the pain from her new knee. During all this, there were recitations the congregation was making. The priest would say something, the congregation would respond. I kind of remember this from my days in Catholic school, but not enough to preclude me from stealing a glance at my mother to see what I should be doing.
At one point, my cousin, Sue, who was in the pew directly behind me, leaned forward and said, "So, Jenny! I can't wait to see what happens with you and Marylou!" When I turned around and gave her a curious look, she continued, "I READ THE BLOG, YOU KNOW!"
Unbeknown to me, it seems a lot of my family does and I should probably watch what I write a bit more. (Hi There! Why haven't you donated yet to my 3-Day Walk?!)
(Or better yet, donate to my friend, Debbie. She still needs to reach her minimum. It all goes to the same place and it is all very much needed.)
(Except you - Uncle Bernie. And you - Peggy. Please send me your e-mail and mailing address so I can forward you a tax receipt.)
Here I am collecting a donation from my Uncle Bernie. Not only was he the youngest Sergeant Major in the history of the United States Marines, he ejected from a plane just before it crashed off the coast of Coronado Island in 1945.
Who says REAL MEN don't wear bracelets?
(You tell Uncle Bernie that and he'll kick your ass to Guadalcanal.)
While I'm on the topic of real men ... here are two more.
This is my new stepfather Jim and my Uncle Paul watching a baseball game.
Of course the Red Sox were playing.
The service was as beautiful as it could be and I felt incredibly honored to read my Uncle Bill's Eulogy. Because several people have asked me for a copy of it and because I don't have everyone's e-mail (or mailing address), I plan to post it here in the next day or so.
If not for my mother's distraction of telling me I needed to genuflect at the tabernacle before I stepped on to the altar (WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!) and my cousin Anne Marie's promise to make me fudge with nuts (I'm still waiting, Anne), I never would have made it through my reading. So thank you for helping to keep my mind occupied with doing things correctly and savoring homemade chocolate.
Later that night, as a gorgeous full moon raised above the country fields, I convinced my cousin Margaret to go on a midnight flower run.
See, my theory is that although fresh cut flowers are beautiful, once those flowers start to wilt and die, it triggers a whole different type of depression. And because my Uncle Bill is so adored by so many - his home was filled to the brink with fresh cut flowers.
So once the family had enjoyed the flowers for a full day, we loaded up several baskets in to the back of Margaret's husband's truck and we drove around, dropping them off on the doorsteps of the people who had done so much to help the family over the past few weeks.
It felt great and we laughed like crazy, depositing these gorgeous arrangements and RUNNING as fast as we could before the unsuspecting recipients opened their doors.
The weather forecast had predicted rain all weekend, but that didn't happen. Instead, we had the most spectacular Fall weather I have ever seen.
Which was quite fitting, since we were there to honor one of the most spectacular men I've ever had the privilege of knowing.