As my cousins carry Grandma's casket to the car, a cousin's brave voice lifts to sing along with the piano..."I will meet you in the morning....Just inside the eastern gate."
One by one, we try to join through our bittersweet tears. My dad - sitting in front of me - struggles for sound. But as her grey box comes by us, I hear his voice gain strength and hope and resolve as he sings his last song to his mother...I will meet you, I will meet you. Just inside the eastern gate over there.
And we all - sons and daughter and cousins and grandkids...we sing it to her.
During the funeral, I glance at the row of my mom's family who had come to support. The Wolfs and the Parsons have a rich history. They are acquainted with grief. They know what it means to be present.
I see my Aunt Nancy - who had driven hours just to be there for the short service. She has buried a 3-year old daughter and a nephew and a brother and father. And my Uncle Charles....who said goodby to his son Gabe in that very room. Then buried his father and father-in-law and brother. My Grandma Parsons - who has met the challenge of stage four cancer this year. And my cousin Brett in the back, holding my baby. He stays out of the room that holds too many memories. And in front, in the Wolf row, my cousins who buried their two-month-old baby girl.
Grief lines run deep on our faces. But there is a peace - a knowledge and hope - that comes from realizing so vividly that this earth is not our home. There is an understanding that helps us to love even more fiercely. To hold tighter and looser all at once. When we sing that song that we've sung at too many funerals, we mean it with every fiber of our being....
After the funeral and burial and dinner, we drive to Overland Park to Grandma Parson's. I drop suitcases and breathe and drink in deep the smell of her home. The look of her blue glass reflecting in the kitchen window. The sweet familiarity of Grandma's. We talk as she fixes a chili and salad supper. She looks beautiful in her cancer wig. She cries as her gratefullness pours out - grateful to God for more time with her family.
We talk so often about the gifts of our grief. What do those do who have no Hope? Heaven holds treasure so dear.
I fly home to hug my little family close and go about the joy of the season with fresh perspective.