Saturday, June 24, 2006

Burying Mom

(This was written on June 20th and 21st)

Today started a little chaotic. My father and I are staying at my cousin’s house in Rapid City. They have a cleaning service that comes in every Tuesday around nine o’clock. So we had to be up and out of the house before then.

We started the day with breakfast at the Colonial House on 8th street. I had a really good mushroom and cheese omelet. The caramel rolls were also really good. My sisters and I went over to the funeral home early to check on Mom. My sister, the funeral director, was concerned about how she would look. We were very pleased. The local funeral home here in Ridgecrest, Holland and Lyons, did a wonderful job. Mom looked a lot like she did several years ago. She was much thinner, but still looked pretty good.

That afternoon my Father wanted to stop by Boyd’s Drug Store to pick up some Old Dutch potato chips. He really likes that brand and can’t always get it at home. While in the store my sisters and I wandered down the candy aisle. There we started noticing all the different types of candy that we were used to seeing my Mom eat while she traveled. So we picked up several bags of her favorites – circus peanuts, boston baked beans, maple nut goodies, orange slices and Brach’s Jelly Beans. Then when we got back to the funeral home we placed Mom’s traveling candy in her casket with her.

At 6 PM that evening we had a prayer service for Mom. The service was pretty informal with the Pastor leading a few prayers and then just opening up the floor for people to share their memories of Mom.

I’m afraid that I wimped out. I sat in the back of the room with an old high school friend of mine. I do not like standing up in front of people and talking. I certainly didn’t want to stand up and talk about Mom that night.

The next day we all met at the funeral home again. We gathered most of the family together for several dozen pictures. My nephews in their Navy and Marine uniforms were spectacularly handsome. My nieces were all dolled up and very beautiful.

When we were taking pictures my cousins Karen and Kathy arrived from the east end of the state. This was a very emotional time for me. This whole last week has been very surreal. I have been so busy and so tired that the entire series of events had seemed to just blur past. But when my cousin Karen reached up to give me a hug the entire day suddenly became clear. It really was my Mom’s funeral. So I had a short cry on Karen’s shoulder and then started collecting myself. I think Karen’s arrival was such a trigger because the last four times that we have been together were at funerals. Growing up, Karen was a stranger to me. She was 8 years older than me and we didn’t see much of each other. Her parents were my godparents. But while I was playing with her younger brothers she was busy growing up. We didn’t really get to know each other until I was in my 30s. I was back in the old home town for a Christmas with my grandmother. We stayed at Karen’s motel. During that week we discovered that we had a lot of similar likes and dislikes and that while family we became friends. I discovered that I enjoyed joining her morning coffee group for coffee, Danish and gossip, event though I didn’t know half the people they gossiped about. Over the last 10 years we have shared the funerals of her parents (my godparents), my grandmother and now my Mom. It was really good to have Karen there. Her presence helped me accept the reality of my Mom’s passing.

Next we processed from the funeral home to the cemetery. The funeral processional is something that we don’t see too often out here. It seems to be becoming an outdated custom here in California. I have stopped for processionals here only to be honked at by the cars behind me for holding them up. In South Dakota as we were driving by, a large man on a Harley pulled over on the other side of the road got off his bike and stood quietly by the road side as we drove by. It was nice to be back were people put some importance on being polite and respectful.

Once we arrived at the Black Hills National Cemetery the procession stopped by the Rotunda. There Mom was laid in state while the Pastor led us all in a brief interment prayer. Then we were told where Mom would be laid to rest. Then we all milled around visiting for a while before heading into back into town for an informal reception at Trinity Lutheran Church.

As we were leaving the cemetery we slowed to view the spot where my Mom was to be interred. The workers there seemed to be waiting for her casket. So we stopped and asked if we could wait also. We were warned to stay 20 feet back for safety reasons. So we all sat on the grass and waited about 5 minutes. Then the white van with my Mom’s casket arrived. We watched until Mom’s casket was loaded onto the straps and slowly lowered into her grave.

My family has been luck with our burial sites at the Black Hills National Cemetery. My grandfather is buried in the central area surrounded by a ring of American Flags. My Mother, and eventually my Dad have a burial site on a hill overlooking the rest of the cemetery.

After the interment we all drove back into town for a reception at the church. We enjoyed several trays of homemade snacks and good old fashioned Lutheran coffee. We had a chance to visit with old friends and relatives.

Then we all adjourned to my cousin’s house where she hosted the entire family for dinner.

Black Hills National Cemetery

The view from Mom’s Gravesite.

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