If funerals are hard, then mourning is even harder. Mourning is especially hard when your emotions are a mixture of laughter and tears. I mean, even surrounded by funeral music and family members dabbing at their eyes with tissues, I could feel a big bubble of laughter wanting to escape. Now, would that not have shocked them? But then, that is how my mother would have wanted it, would she not? I mean, all those years she talked about how funerals were unnecessary expenses and how she did not want all those flowers when she was dead if no one sent them when she was alive. My mother had kept a mental file full of funny funeral stories. There was the time she and my aunt went to pay their respects to a co-worker who had passed. Back in those days, the bodies were laid out in homes. They were looking for a white house with a “slow funeral” sign. They found two, side by side. Not sure where to go, they tossed a coin and went in to greet the bereaved. Of course, it was the wrong house but they played it cool. They shook hands with people they did not know, said the appropriate words, and then when they exited the house, looked at each other, and one of them remarked, “He looked the best I have ever seen him look!.” Now that was my grandmother.
Sitting in the church with the low key lighting and the soft music playing, I wondered, “Why do they not play ‘Mustang Sally?’” Her name was Sally, and she really would have appreciated the light-hearted gesture. Or would she?
When a person dies, when they are suspended between two worlds looking down, do they suddenly acquire a taste for the solemn? When they look at their own body lying there, or in this case, their ashes in a jar, do they suddenly wish they had said, “Yes, send flowers! Yes, cry and cry loudly! Yes, let everyone there know without a doubt that I am missed!” I wondered these things. And I wondered also how she would have felt if she were sitting in my place and I in hers.
The music stopped and the minister spoke. He did so with respect mingled with humor. It was very appropriate. This man really had known my mother, and he somehow seemed to know that with death even those who avoided the lime light in life, want to be acknowledged as having been semi-great in some sense of the word, once they have passed to the other side. He expounded on her greatness, while at the same time shedding light on her all too human traits. My mother loved to talk. The minister made the comment that he was surprised that God had not already sent her back because she was wearing out His ears. There was laughter, but there was also a great tenderness as he told about how her physical limitations no longer applied. She was now free of pain, no longer bed ridden. She had her voice back after years of living with a trachea tube in her throat, unable to speak.
He talked about how she made people laugh. He talked about how she came from a family of hard working, hard headed people. As he spoke, I realized that I fit into both categories. Looking around at my siblings, my children and their siblings, I smiled even as I wiped a tear away. As he continued to speak, a picture began to form in my mind. I saw her spirit hovering in the room, floating around and peering into each face in the congregation. At certain ones, she would have paused and wondered what in the world they were doing here. She probably did not even like some of them, but yet was pleased that they put in an appearance. I could imagine her critical eye on some of the clothing. She would have been wondering why so-and-so was wearing a tie, since she had never before seen him out of overalls. More than likely, she was thinking that my sister needed to go back home and take off some of her make up. Beyond those thoughts my mind rose higher to what awaited her upon her ascension to her new home. I knew God had better not offer her a mansion because she would be quick to put Him in his place and tell Him she was not about to get above her “raising.” I smiled again, and then I cried.
At the end of the service, we filed out into the courtyard. My niece had filled balloons with helium, and she offered one to each family member. The minister spoke once again and invited anyone else to speak who had a memory to share. There were some who shared stories, while others like me were silent, choosing to keep our thoughts to ourselves. It was a touching finale to a fitting tribute to her life.
When it is all said and done, you can say that life is a vapor, or you can say that life is a river. Both of these things are true. You can also say that the end of life is the cloud where the vapors gather, or the ocean where the rivers return. Or you can say the end of life is like getting a brand new Mustang. As the balloons were released and I watched them rise, I squinted against the bright afternoon sun. Smiling while streaming tears inwardly, all I could think of was, “Ride, Sally, ride.”
Works Cited: "Mustang Sally" is an R&B/straight-forward blues song written and first recorded by Sir Mack Rice in 1965. It gained greater popularity when it was covered by Wilson Pickett on a single the following year. Pickett's version was also included on his 1967 album The Wicked Pickett.