Yesterday I was thinking, “never let a Catholic woman plan a non-denominational faith’s memorial service.” I didn’t plan my Mother-in-law’s memorial, it was just a thought that crossed my mind because of all the blogs and columns I’ve written related to her process of dying. She would have approved as she was one of my biggest fans. If she was ever shocked by anything I wrote, she never said so. Though she and I came to a basic acceptance of each other’s religious preferences, we never saw eye to eye over the appropriate methods of prayer. I am of the belief that no matter how you pray, it’s correct. Bring on the saints, prayer tools such as the rosary, and statues that serve to remind us of another level of life, we need all the help we can get. It’s all the same God with the same end result in mind. She felt that one should only rely on Jesus.
I’m not exactly irreverent, but I realize tact has never been part of my vocabulary. Being Catholic doesn’t make me disrespectful of the more conservative non-denominational sect, it makes me less afraid to talk about the reality of death with the dying and the living. Acceptance of imminent death is as powerful as a miracle that saves a life. As with my Cooking Buddy who died a couple years ago, my MIL felt done. I talked to them both about any aspect of life that made them hang on. That’s how I was brought up. Funerals and memorials are for the living and are celebrations of their life. I believe my MIL would have wanted dancing and singing at her service, probably with a Hawaiian theme, because hula dancing was her favorite hobby and she loved a good party.
I understand that many people may be offended by some of the things I’ve written on the subject of dying. Writing about it helps ground me, because none of us will get out of this world alive. Seeing my MIL after her death brought me a lot of peace. As I sat with her in the hour after she passed, I felt like she was about to take a breath. I could hear and see her talking. She still looked like herself, more serene than I’d seen her for months, but without her essence.
I was thinking about what I would say if I were to eulogize her. I fear I would alarm a conservative religious set, because I would have broken into Chumbawumba’s song “Tubthumping”:
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down
My MIL had been knocked down so many times by her health these past two or three years, she just amazed me whenever she bounced back. She was literally on death’s door so many times one would think she was a cat with nine lives. She was resilient, she was determined, she was a fighter. I don’t even think she was ready to leave when she left. Her concern for her husband remained until the moment she died, but her imperfect, human body finally gave out.
The day after she died was a particularly torrential day. A friend of mine commented on Facebook about the blog I wrote that day. “She’ll be at heaven’s gate soon.” I replied that she’s already there and singing up a storm. All you had to do was look outside to see that it was true, because she still wasn’t knocked down.
Gretchen Leigh is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Covington. You can read more of her writing and her blog on her website livingwithgleigh.com, on Facebook at “Living with Gleigh by Gretchen Leigh,” or twitter @livewithgleigh. Her column is available every week at maplevalleyreporter.com under the Life section.