Your memorial service went off without a hitch. You came close to filling the sanctuary of your church, which is rather large. Your pastor did a good job. He has a good voice and obviously knew you well. He read scripture and a young woman played a haunting Irish hymn on the flute. It was one of those we should all know the words to from a collective cultural memory, but can’t quite hear. Another man sang beautifully and played the guitar. I had wanted there to be something white at your funeral and there was - it snowed, sending a bright white light through all the windows.
Your pastor talked about your nature and your loves. Family came first, of course, then your work and your love of learning. He talked about your cooking, the practical jokes (how do you get a locker that full of packing peanuts?), your tattoos (at least the ones on your ankles, he didn’t mention the lovely twining dragon on your backside), fencing and showing off bruises, and your beautiful little car. It all hit the mark. Then he read more scripture and I must say we were all surprised when the back row didn’t go up in a puff of smoke as he called on God to guard us from “perfidious ways.” Obviously he didn’t know that much about the fencing club.
We were there, as many of us as are left. Paul snuck in just as the service was starting. He even turned off his pager. Melissa came from work. Anne, too. Shelley came with Paula, her new girlfriend. I think you’ve met her. Ken brought Noreen; she still is not driving because of her eye, but that’s probably better for her blood pressure anyway. John was there, trying to take care of everyone. I think he was trying to play the tough guy, which is sweet, but doesn’t work so well when surrounded by tough women. Vernita came and Don and Sue flew in from Atlanta. Sue was making jokes as always. “Better we sit in back so we have less distance to travel when they have to throw us out.” Lisa came with Liz, Warren’s fiancé. Warren and Lisa’s girlfriend, Pam, were out of town but sent their love.
Of course, the church served food. The fencers sat in a group, rearranging tables as usual. John was bit by a chair. Only Jared was brave enough to come over and say hello. Everyone remarked on how much he has grown and changed. We teased Paul about his lack of beard and Jared for the one he was trying to grow. I said hello to your Mom and Dad, your brothers and sister, and to Erin and Brad, and Wally. I think you will be glad to know your children were doing well. I saw each of them smile at least once, Erin when I gave her the little green crane, the last I will make for you, Brad when he hugged some young people, friends or relatives I don’t know, and Jared when he teased Sue about her laugh. “I heard that sound and knew who was here,” he told her, which only made her laugh more. Only Max was missing.
Afterward, we all went to The Upstream, those who had to calling in sick to work. We ordered Glenlivet and Guinness in your honor and raised a toast. This was the wake, our true wake, which we held for you. I’m sure, we all are, that you would have loved to have been there. We ordered appetizers and desserts and drinks. The table conversation ranged from flaming vibrators to iambic pentameter. We finally got Don to admit to having given up “Don-World” and becoming a corporate whore. He and Sue run a software company called “Spring Widgets,” but they are owned by a conglomerate. Don’s title is “Lord of the Springs” and Sue is “Herder of Cats.” It says so on their business cards. Anne came to the table late. She had begun toasting you early, sharing a nip from your very own flask with some of your coworkers in the parking lot of the church.
After dessert we all moved upstairs and spend the afternoon playing darts and billiards and discussing the meaning of the very strange painting on the wall of the lounge we took over. The afternoon wore on. We all spoke of when we’d seen you last. I came to see you on Friday at four o’clock. I had heard earlier that week from Melissa and John and left studio early on Friday to come. I don’t know that you knew I was there, but I was glad to see you, still wearing your Celtic bracelets. Jared was there with Helen, and Brad and Erin were on there way. Other people were there as well, so I didn’t stay. Melissa and John saw you later, and Anne came too late.
Paul asked me if you were ready. He was worried that you sometimes seemed ambivalent about it. I told him I thought you were ready to go, but that you just weren’t ready for your children to loose their mother. I don’t know that anyone ever is, but that in the end, you were ready. I think this reassured him, though even I can’t say for sure that I was right.
I left the wake just before five, trying to get back to Lincoln before dark. I imagine the others might have stayed for hours more, they seemed in no hurry to be anywhere. Even reclusive Ken seemed happy to let Noreen stay as long as she wanted to. He even played pool with John and seemed to be having a good time.
Oh, how I wish you had been there! This was what you loved so much. Friends talking and eating and drinking and having a good time, being loud and obnoxious and teasing the wait staff to join in. It was a determined happiness, but not grim or forced, overlying a long settled grief. We were happy because this is what you would have wanted, the kind of gathering you would have wanted to be part of. And we were, in a way, happy for you. That your pain is over. That you are free.
Know this then, that we are happy for you, Marilyn, and that we love you. Goodbye.