In May, my family gathered in Charleston, SC, for a wedding. I’d been asked by my brother to prepare a tribute to our mother; at her request, there’d been no funeral when she died in January. Some were skeptical: “You can’t do a memorial at a wedding reception. It will ruin the mood.” To Brian and Ann’s credit, ruining the mood didn’t worry them.
Our mother loved music, and she loved weddings. I realized an event with wine and dancing was the perfect setting for her memorial. I asked the family for songs they associated with her. The initial list was long – more than forty tracks. My intention was to compress those to a 3-minute collage, but that first attempt was a jumble. Listening to the playlist over and over, I settled on twelve that seemed most representative.
These are the essence of Adult Contemporary programming, staples of radio host Delilah’s nighttime request program, as well as the soundtrack of my childhood:
Evergreen – Barbra Streisand
Stuck on You – Lionel Richie
Forever In Blue Jeans – Neil Diamond
How Deep Is Your Love – Bee Gees
Can’t Help Falling In Love – Elvis Presley
You Needed Me – Anne Murray
Longer – Dan Fogelberg
Perhaps Love – John Denver
Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
If You Leave Me Now – Chicago
I Won’t Last A Day Without You – The Carpenters
Over the Rainbow – Eva Cassidy
That final track was suggested by Megan, a surprise to me. It’s the only one on the list I hadn’t previously associated with our mother, and yet as I listened, I knew it summed up everything else. The final mix came in at six minutes; longer than the ideal homily, but I imagined asking her which one to leave out, and I knew she’d want to keep them all. So I did.
The speech was written as I listened to the mix, getting the tears out of the way so I’d be able to keep it together when the time came. I thought a long time about one part:
“She wanted me to tell you, she’s here with you now, but there’s no heaven, either.”
That came during a conversation last September, after my brother-in-law John passed away. John had said his family could have a funeral, or a party, or whatever they wanted to do in his memory. It wasn’t up to him, because he wouldn’t be there. I asked her what she’d want. “I won’t be there either. Have a party.” “Do you think there’s a heaven?” “That would be nice… but I don’t think so.”
Over the next few months, we talked about death a lot. I asked if she was ready, and she said that although she’d rather be healthy and stick around, dying seemed better than the pain she’d endured for years. Sometime around Christmas, before she went back into the hospital for the last time, I asked what she’d want me to say at her memorial. “Tell them to call their mothers, and say ‘I love you.’ If they don’t, I’ll come back and haunt them.”
I love you, Mom.