by John E. Simonds
A woman who cared about flowers and music died in pain near 90 in a place that boasts gentle endings as part of its pitch. Ambulance calls and morphine pumps made close family want to forget. From a distance we rallied a ceremonial time of good-bye. Our plans troubled those by her side at the end, a sibling too shaken by symptoms he saw and a father, 92, still stunned. From Hawai’i we sent flowers. From California people made plans. From New York we organized photos. In Connecticut we phoned the obit to papers in towns where she’d lived. Bereaved local family grumbled: Not a good time for all this…No problem,the Hawai’i side answered. We average a funeral a month. We chose the mortuary, phoned time and place to the widower’s list of her friends. The undertaker knew the drill, maybe too well. You’re planning to have a reception here? As in food and drinks? He shook his head. It’s against the law to serve food at a funeral…We told him we’d shipped flowers but would add some pink blooms from her yard. They aren’t laurels, are they? he asked. That’s the state flower, he said,against the law to pick…An organ’s available if we hire someone to play. We suggested light songs, but the regular player only did standards and wasn’t sure she could be there. The retired minister the old couple liked was a peripheral friend but would serve. I have a good voice, he added. I can lead the hymns without an organ …One box of flowers arrived from Hawai’i. Another was sent to an hour’s drive away. A third was an off-radar missile in twilight, anthuriums missing somewhere… Neighbors had questions on how the old man was doing. Fine, thanks. (if you’d only stop asking.)… Obits appeared. Friends saw them and drove… Morning of the service, the organist said she’d be there but church music only. Worried sibling agreed to escort father outside if the old man found it too much … Here in this urn was a shrewd, careful woman who led garden and music clubs, raised three sons, kept a good home, dabbled in school boards and party campaigns, sang, danced and smiled her way through shows, concerts, hospital drives and rummage sales in a small Hudson town of the ’40s and ’50s… Three grandchildren shared in readings. Minister thundered “A Mighty Fortress.” Organist played softer hits from the hymnal. In a group of 80, the old man sat with eyes calmly open, not a tear or missed breath… Cousins distant for decades joined in food and drinks later at his place. This was a wonderful day, he said, in his blazer, blue shirt, tie and gray slacks. Laurels still bloomed in his yard. Altar flowers all came from Hawai’i. Only we islanders noticed. Next day a truck left the box of anthuriums—an encore bouquet for a player of roles, her curtain down and the audience gone.