Her memorial service was scheduled for 3 in the afternoon. I wanted to be able to cook for her family because they'd been on the heart-wrenching hospital road with her for several years, and the last months were especially difficult. This woman had enough energy for 20 people when she was healthy and vibrant, yet she never lost her sparkle, even when she lost the use of her arms and legs and her body caved in on itself. Her spirit continued to shine.
I knew the last thought on the family's mind would be shopping for food, cooking food, or cleaning up after food. It's hard to nourish our own bodies when we're weeping, weeping, remembering, and holding our beloveds in our hearts. So I asked Rob if we could arrange for a platter of sandwiches and some comfort food salads to be delivered to their home. This is something that our childhood babysitter did for my family when my father passed, and it was such a blessing. No one was hungry but we knew we had to eat. The big platter of sandwiches sat in the middle of the dining room table and we could grab a few mouthfuls when we knew we had to eat something. It was a little bit of love.
So Tuesday morning Rob did some internet research and discovered a place called McAlister's Deli.
We drove over there and went to the counter, explained that we needed a special order made, and they had a young man who's main job there was taking care of catering. He sat down with us and took notes, helped us figure out what kind and how many sandwiches would be best. We chose four different kinds, each of which would be cut into little triangles, little finger food. I explained that this platter, if it was anything like ours, might last a few days and we didn't want anything to get soggy, so he wrote down "no tomatoes," all sauces and mayo on the side. And he helped us pick out a couple of big containers of potato salad and macaroni and cheese. He said he'd make it himself the next day (we wanted it delivered the day we left, when all the travelers would be going home and the family would be hunkering down). He said he'd call the house to make sure someone would be there to receive it.
Lord, I had to figure out on this sacred day how to let Ron, Betsy's husband, or Joel, her son, know that their phone would ring the next morning and it would be the deli guy. I planned to look for the most appropriate moment.
I was really impressed with my husband's steadfastness that day, because not only was it a very hard day for the family, but it had begun with a phone call on Rob's cell phone and it wasn't the deli guy. It was his sister Barbara's long-time boyfriend. They'd let us know she wouldn't be able to come from Wisconsin for the funeral because of work obligations, but that wasn't what he was calling about. Barbara had had a heart attack. She was in the hospital. They put in two stents, and she would be coming back for three more once she had recovered from the first operation. Lord, lord.
We didn't tell the family. They had so much grief and worry that they were climbing up from, and it wasn't the day to give them even more. They weren't close with Barbara, so we could wait for an appropriate time, but Rob said, "Hey! What did they put in the Berghage genes?!" I told him he'd already had his turn, with his heart attack in 2011, and the docs fixed it and he was strong and healthy, so not to worry. He said he thought Barbara would be fine, and that if they could fix the trouble with stents and medication that was a good sign.
So not only was he navigating the emotional roller coaster of Betsy's passing, he was also checking in on the phone throughout the day to monitor Barbara's condition. She came through her first operation with flying colors, was released from the hospital Friday, and her boyfriend was taking her up to their cabin to recover. Nature heals us. It would be good for her heart and soul to be there.
So after the phone call and sandwiches Rob and I went back to the Magic Mosaic Table for a 10-minute smoke break before we went upstairs to get dressed. It rained a little bit while we sat under the shelter of the tin roof, while the sun was still shining, and we figured there was probably a rainbow up there, but we didn't go out to look. It was about 87 degrees and hot and muggy and the rain made steam waft up from the ground all over the place. That's Florida.
We got dressed, I don't know how the men did it - putting on long pants, white shirts, ties, and jackets, but they all looked just gorgeous, and respectful. I wore the same dress I'd worn to my sweet Jessie's memorial service. It's a favorite, long, black with just a few soft blue flowers scattered along the sides. My patent leather sandals. I couldn't wear my hair down in that humidity, so I just pulled it back into a clip. And off we went to the church.
The family met in the little chapel while the other people attending went into the beautiful sanctuary. There were a lot of people. Betsy was well-loved. And in the little chapel Ron gave us an outline of how things had been planned out. He was going to speak, Joel was going to speak, and Rob was going to speak, to celebrate and share the oh, so special stories about this woman.
We sat with the family in the first two rows of the church. There were some flowers there, and of course they were gorgeous, and beautiful photographs of dear Betsy with her kids, her grandkids, her husband, her parents, her friends. She had a very full life.
The service was exquisite. Heartbreaking. Uplifting. This was the time I had been afraid I would pass out or just die, feeling the anguish of my daughter's death all over again, but I did not feel that. I felt the love just wafting throughout that place from the people gathered and from all the loving sessions that had taken place there over the years.
I wanted to bring the minister home with us and be able to attend his Sunday sermons every week. He was a man made of love. He just radiated it. Ron had chosen three hymns to be sung at various points in Betsy's service, and during the first one we all stood, some with hymnals open, and I couldn't sing. I had to close my eyes and listen to all those beautiful voices because that is one thing that I love and miss so much about church. I'd attended several churches over the years but they always lose me when they call me a sinner. I don't believe in the fire and brimstone of it, only the love. And this minister had such a gorgeous understanding of it.
Do you know what he did? He loves his work, and he does things people wouldn't ordinarily think to do to give his sermons meaning. For Betsy's service, he had researched the authors of those three hymns and he told the story of each one. When he began I felt confused and thought "Hey where are you going with this, it's Betsy's day!" But by the time he was finished my heart was feeling uplifted. Because what he found through his research was that each of the people who had written these hymns had beloved family members who had also gone through incapacitating illness. The words they wrote came from their hearts as a direct result of experiencing the same kind of pain, love, care, and loss that Ron and Joel and Cathy had experienced. Wow. And the words were very beautiful.
His Eye is on the Sparrow is one of these beautiful hymns. It is a song of faith. It is a song of life. Eternal life. Connection. Belonging.
When the minister spoke of continuing life, he looked directly at each family member, especially Cathy, Betsy's daughter, and his eyes just beamed love and certainty. He was reaching through their darkness, pulling them into the light. And, as I thought about my sweet Jess, he pulled me into the light too.
The remembrances were especially moving. Betsy was so personally involved with all of those she loved. Her husband, Ron's tribute to her after all the years of their marriage was glowing. He made us laugh and he made us cry. Joel, Betsy's son's tribute was also just gorgeous. He made us laugh and he made us cry. We could feel the love wafting all over and around us. I was so proud of them both for being able to stand up there and speak from their hearts.
My sweet husband also told a story about being Betsy's big brother and it was one that made us laugh, and I was pleased to see that Cathy even laughed, as she was having a real hard time. Here is what he said, which I share with his permission:
"My memories of Betsy growing up are somewhat limited - she was significantly younger, she was a girl. Not just any girl, but a very girly-girl. Her room was full of stuffed animals and she liked brightly colored pretty things. Being a boy growing up in the 1960s I couldn't really relate to these things. But she had another side, an independent spirit, a zest for life, and a will and determination to make the world a more beautiful place that she carried with her throughout her life. She also had an impish spirit that surfaced from time to time. One story, a classic in our family illustrates this better than any other I can think of. Our parents had gone out and left me, the older brother, in charge. I don't exactly remember the incident or exactly what the transgression was, [Rob remembered later that Betsy and Barbara were having a water-pistol battle in the house], but as related to me later as an adult by our mother, Betsy would not do what she was supposed to do, and was misbehaving so I picked her up and set her on top of the refrigerator in the kitchen so she couldn't get into any more mischief. Being a child of relatively small stature, she could not get herself down, and apparently it had the desired effect. I will miss this impish spirit, my sister was a caring, creative, lively, independent soul, and I am grateful to have known her and to count her among those whom I have loved and those who have loved me in this life."
I just love that story. Rob is a very good-natured person, creative when problem-solving, and this cracked me up the first time I heard it. I felt very proud of him too, for being able to share his love for Betsy.
After the services the family was ushered out the side door and back to an area that had been arranged for sharing food and drink, more stories, and love. I hadn't expected to eat! I wasn't sure I could, though the service had been so very special. We still had the interment to get through. But as I've discovered, Spirit plays with us even amidst our grief, and gives us gifts to uphold us.
I went over to the woman who was pouring tea for peeps. She had silver hair and a gentle smile, and she was wearing powder blue latex gloves, having done the food preparation in the kitchen adjoining the room we were in. "Would you like sweet tea, or unsweetened tea?" she asked me. "Unsweetened sounds wonderful," I said. Then I noticed that her sparkly diamond ring had popped right through her glove and was shining like a million bucks surrounded by all that blue latex. I said to her, "Your glove looks especially beautiful with all that sparkle shining through!" And she said, "Why yes, that ring has popped right through!" We chuckled, and I hesitated but then decided to take the leap and talk with her a bit more about this ring.
"I notice you're wearing your diamond on your index finger," I said.
"Yes," she wiggled her fingers, and said "it's the only finger that doesn't have those big old knuckles. My ring slides right on or off when I want it to, so I wear it there."
I showed her my fingers and said, "I'm almost out of fingers for rings and I have those big old knuckles too, so I don't much change mine. But I have a diamond ring that's very special. My grandmother gave it to my mother, who gave it to me. I gave it to my daughter, but when she died, I got it back. I never expected to get it back. She wore it constantly from the day I gave it to her and I've wanted to wear it but the only finger I can get it on is my index finger. I want you to know you've inspired me, and I will wear it there and enjoy it."
She twinkled her eyes at me and we shared soft giggles.
Magic Mystery Roadtrip Revelation Number 5: Spirit sends us lightness and encouragement through serendipitous exchanges when we least expect it. And that's how the eating part of the services went.
That's also the time I realized it was the perfect moment to let Joel know that his phone would ring the next morning and it would be the deli guy. That went fine.
We all shared some more special stories and it was good for the family to be surrounded by very close friends and other family members. It was an intimate group, and shortly after that we all headed out to the cemetery.
It was a really beautiful cemetery with headstones that were so lovingly chosen. Angels everywhere, flowers on the resting places, and well-tended, vibrant trees, flowers, and bushes throughout. We went under the canopy they'd set up and Betsy's ashes rested in her beautiful urn, awaiting blessings and respectful burial next to her son Jonathan, who had died about the same time my sweet Jess did. His grave was so full of love. Every time someone had visited they'd left mementos, including beautiful angels, flowers, stuffed animals, "boy" toys that were special to him, and it was a place that radiated love.
Ron had mentioned that some of Betsy's physical decline had accelerated after the death of her son, who was the same age as sweet Jess, only 26 years old. Ron also mentioned that Betsy had 12 doctors (Jess also had 12 doctors), and when she received treatment for one sickness, the medicine caused another sickness, and the medicine given for that sickness required additional medication to balance things out. Jess went through similar experience with her body. Autoimmune diseases are hard to cure and treatment allows us to manage them for a while. And when the body is tired, we find ourselves digging deep to find honor, respect, celebration, love, and the ability to let go of the physical part of our beloved.
The Spirit carries on. The love never stops. "Is, was, and always will be," is something we understand and it sits in our hearts surrounding our Celestial beloveds.
Our hearts are with the family as they climb back up. Our hearts are also with Betsy as she rejoins her Celestial family in joy.