An Irish Funeral Prayer
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Everything remains as it was.
The old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no sorrow in your tone.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again.
My sister found that awesome poem while planning my grandmother's funeral program, so we put it on there. It has been comforting to me, challenged as I am by Catholic concepts of the resurrection and death in general, in this 15-month span of time where it has confronted me on a few occasions and colored my experience so much.
It was my grandmother's time to die, yes, I truly believe. Her body was exhausted and she was exhausted. She was in pain there for the last few days and pain was nothing any of us wanted for her for one minute. She died after the first dose of hospice-administered morphine, she calmed down enough to slip away.
My grandmother and I were best friends and I've written about that before. This was her birthday post from last year, when we all went to lunch and she started eating her brownie sundae without a utensil because there were no utensils on the table.
This year I left for California on Thanksgiving on morning and was out there for her birthday, so I stopped by the day before the holiday to spend time with her and bring her a little jacket. She was very spruced up, pearls and all, and we had a great visit. I took some video of her and only got one on YouTube yet. I'll post more when my heart can take it.
I'm going through my archives, so grateful I kept a record of her last few years. Case in point, Valentine's Day, 2007. I was so blessed with her. She was my babysitter and my roommate and my friend, my friend, my friend. She loved me unconditionally and whereas it is a beautiful thing to live for a good long time and have so much love in your life, it is still so difficult to lose that life, for you and for the people who shared it with you. That's where the grief comes in.
My life has been coming at me at such a rapid pace in the past nine days, populated with so many people from the past 40 years. I have never felt this tired, wrung out, which my sister and my mother and I reminded ourselves last night was due to the holiday season, graduation, a family reunion we planned for 125 people the last week in December, and for me a bout with the flu that started the week before Christmas.
Besides, my grandmother and I had a lot of preliminary conversation that in many ways prepared us for the possibility that she would eventually not be here, but that was pretty much intellectual. The reality of it is so weird, and so emotionally draining I can't even explain it. The aftermath was full of seeing all the people who cared so much for all of us through the various stages of our life, watching the priest who baptized me lead prayers at the funeral home, putting her sunglasses (see above) on for the two-hour break between viewing times and making my dad's cousins laugh who got there before we got back, watching my little cousins watch their father lose his mother, watching my father lose his mother, walking through this with my sister and my parents like I walk through pretty much everything, sitting like a stone in the funeral home so that the last person there would not be a person who didn't have a close tie, because I'm overly protective of some people and situations.
I've cried a lot. When I saw her for the last time on Dec. 28, we had some important time together and I told her that there were not enough tears in the world for her. There aren't, although they're slowing down. I believer very much in celebrating life, but gratitude and joy will need to learn to share space with sadness and loss, because that's just the way I am, the way people are, if we're honest with ourselves. I feel, in this most significant loss of my life so far, that I am in some ways grown. It keeps coming into my mind, that thought, and I don't really like it as much sense as it makes. I'll never be the same, in some good ways and some bad.
In that last talk, she held my hand as I cried, she comforted me, saying "Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter?" over and over as I told her I was so worried about her, I didn't know what to do, and she knew there was nothing to do, but for us to be there together. I wish I'd spent more time, but I'm grateful for the years of it, for the time we spent and the time we appreciated, because honestly I don't know of many pairs who appreciated each other more. What more can you ask, from this world or from anyone?
I wrote this for my father to read at her funeral, because I could not:
There are some people who will fix games so their grandchildren will win. They’ll pick the bad cards or count up the points wrong on purpose. Sis White was not one of those people. If she got a hole in one at mini-golf, which she was prone to doing, and beat you, she'd throw her club in the air and laugh out loud, and only then give you a pep talk about it if she wasn’t already on to the next hole. If she got Yahtzee first and, again, beat you, she yelled YAHTZEE annoyingly loud and you had to settle for her making you something to eat to soften the blow.
It was nothing personal. It was a game, and the objective, as she saw it, was to win. If you did, great, and if she did, that was greater. And as those of us who have witnessed her fight to continue drawing breath for the past 12 years against often very difficult physical circumstances can attest, she approached her earthly experience with the same fighting spirit. She may have believed with all her heart in a heaven, but she was determined to wait until the last possible second to get there. There is some comfort in the knowledge that she achieved this goal
And years later, it may have occurred to those of us on the losing end of those games to thank her for teaching us that as many times as you might win in life, a lot of times you lose. It’s helpful to know how to handle it, and better that she should have been one of the first ones to teach you how to deal.
Born 87 years ago to an Irish-German Catholic family in Washington, D.C. Marie McGrath White’s life was service – to her home, to her family and to her God. She found necessity and happiness in the every day – her hands in the dirt in the yard, in the sink, in the washing machine, in the sand – wherever she happened to be. She was the rare person who never did anything, to my knowledge, with an expectation of reward or gratitude. If it was there to do and it needed to be done, she did it, the majority of the time for the benefit of other people.
She enjoyed her life. She liked Maryland basketball, Orioles baseball and church, going to the beach and dancing. She liked dogs and for many years she watched All My Children every single day. But regardless of what she was doing, her primary interest was people. First of all her kids, and then her grandchildren, daughters in law, nieces and nephews and friends. She wanted to know what you were doing and when, certainly who you were doing it with and how long you expected it to take. She wanted to know if you’d done it before and if you planned to do it again, and if you’d be stopping back by the house when you were done. She was extremely interested in your physical condition, whether you were sick or well, and what you might need to either make you better or keep you in good shape. Most of all, and ironically for someone who showed so little interest in her own food, she wanted to know if you were hungry, and if she could feed you, repeatedly.
She liked things to have a point and she liked action. Not much of a recreational reader herself, she was a self-taught children’s book expert and an uncertified preschool teacher who could pack a kid off to kindergarten with all the basics well in hand. She was, for a number of years, an unofficial Channel 4 Bob Ryan weather watcher, and at the New Hampshire Avenue house and then later through other screen doors and windows, she spent countless hours predicting whether or not it would storm, estimating humidity levels, and checking on the condition of vehicles in the service road. Many, many nights in the winter she’d announce to Bill that there was ice on the car, for no reason than to keep everyone apprised of the situation, because the vehicles were one of few things she didn’t handle.
Through the many happy years of parenting and grandparenting, of beach trips and church functions up to the last decade of other things not so fun and much more painful, what she had was a faith in the unknown and the unseen that carried her through personal losses and finally the loss of her own physical abilities. She somehow knew where she was going even when she nor anyone else had any idea, and in those times she trusted only that around the next bend she'd have a hallway to maneuver her wheelchair down, heading to dining rooms where she wouldn't eat the food but would poke around for some conversation and maybe even stir something up at a couple of the tables.
And even though the last 12 years with her “bad side” as she called it, were difficult, she, like many people of faith, saw it as part of the program, something to be handled. She rebounded not only from a debilitating stroke but several bouts with illness that many in her life thought there was no way she could possibly survive.
It has been our privilege to see her through it, to turn her over to the Jesus, Mary and Joseph she called upon every day, and now to be grateful that she watches over us and has given us all that we need to live our lives with even a fraction of the grace and spirit that she brought to the proceedings.
The hardest people to let go of, no matter what their age or physical condition, are the people for whom it is unthinkable that they will go anywhere, and the hardest people to thank are the people who don’t want it or ask for it. And they are the ones who deserve it the most.