A Funeral for Mother’s Friend

“Hello, mom?” there was a long pause on the other end of phone.

“Do you remember my friend JoAnn Shipley?” my mother had a shakiness in her voice as she tried to get the words out.

“Yes, I remember meeting her; a fiery red-head with the personality to match. You met her when you were both in nurses training at St. Teresa’s Hospital,” I hoped my recollection could encourage her along.

“Well she passed away last week,” her voice trailed off.

“I think I remember you telling me how she had a long battle with MS and cancer?” I was questioning my own memory, feeling a little frustrated that I hadn’t been more attentive to my mom and the conversations we had about her friends and the things that interested her the most. Pangs of guilt started to take hold as I could see where this was going. My mother was in her early seventies and her own battles with the long term affects of arthritis had reduced her to a shadow of her former robust self.

“I went to her funeral today,” another long pause. I certainly didn’t want to trivialize this, so I waited for her to continue. “I drove myself in.” I knew this was like saying I just climbed to the base camp at Mount Everest.

“Are you okay, I mean, how did you manage?” I was at a loss for words now, feeling seriously guilty for not being there to support her and drive her more than fifty miles into the city. Her driving had been limited to only driving back and forth from her own church and to the recreation center where she went swimming. I could feel my eyes welling up and wondered if I shouldn’t make the hour drive to go see her in person.

“Well the drive was okay,” her melancholy seemed to lift a little as she began to relate her experience from that afternoon.

Let me preface this story: My mother, who suffered from the long-term effects of arthritis, was not as coordinated as she could be. She walked with a can, had leg braces, orthotics in her shoes, wore a neck brace and had wrist braces. She had been a nurse for over forty-five years and her deteriorating health had forced her retirement when she was in her late fifties. My sisters and I fondly refer to our own clumsiness and lack of coordination and mishaps has having the ‘curse of Marion’.

“I got to the church late and had to park more than a block away,” I pictured my mother, not sure of where she was in the city, not sure where to find parking, unsure of where to turn when there are so many one-way streets now. The whole finding parking image, spelled disaster.

“I am not sure if you remember the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, but it is really quite small, with more than 12 steps to the entrance,” my mom definitely does not do stairs. How in the world did she manage going up more than a flight of crumbling concrete stairs?

“Why didn’t they have it at St. Teresa’s?” I asked.

“Guess there was a wedding there. Speaking of weddings, the priest was rushing things because a wedding was scheduled for right after the funeral at the Holy Trinity.”

Sensing the aggrevation in her tone, I tried to get her to focus on the funeral, “So you managed the stairs?”

“It wasn’t a walk in the park, but I got there,” my mom explained that as she opened the door, she was worn out from her crippled climb up those concrete stairs and leaned against the guest registry table.

“The usher tried to get me to move along, and I wasn’t able to. That is when I fell back against a coat rack. I reached out to steady myself, against the table, but it slid against the wall,” mom’s voice was starting to race as she relayed her mishap.

“As I reached for something to break my fall, the ceremonial staff with the cross of Jesus on top of it fell on the floor,” I could picture this happening.

“Well, the cross crashed to the concrete foyer floor and the head off of Jesus broke off!”

“Oh, no! What did you do?” I could feel myself smirking as she related the incident.

“The head rolled through the foyer, into the aisle of the chapel and rolled about three or four pews up,” My mother said she was also on the floor at this point. A member of the Catholic of the Woman’s League helped to pick up my mom, and then picked up the head of Jesus and put it in her pocket. “She was rather indignant over my clumsiness. She turned on her heel and walked into the chapel,” I sensed how embarrassed she was.

“I was just getting back on my feet when the funeral procession, with the pallbearers carrying JoAnn’s casket came up from the basement of the church led by the Priest,” my mother said she tried to move back, but she wasn’t quite steady on her feet yet.

“The priest reached past me for the cross and I fell back into the registration table. He took the cross with the headless Jesus and led the procession into the chapel,” she explained in a matter-of-factly.

I lost it. I began to laugh. “So anyone in the chapel, looking up to Jesus as a symbol of solace will see Jesus hanging on the cross, with his head decapitated?”

“I was mortified,” my mother couldn’t contain her own laughter at this point. “I waited until JoAnn’s immediate family went past and then composed myself and joined the procession, singing “Rock of Ages.”