Funerals are fun.
At least that’s what you would have thought had you been with us the day after Mom died, because of how my siblings and I must have seemed that day, smiling and laughing as we soldiered through all the funeral arrangements. Yes, strangely, the day after Mom died, there was laughter among us, the four adult children who were left behind. I’m sure the funeral director probably thought we had completely and collectively lost our minds.
On this first full day of life without parents, my sisters, brother and I were naturally in shock, and grieving. But also I think we felt relieved to not be watching our mother die anymore. We were thankful to be making decisions about music, flowers, and a casket, as opposed to making decisions about life and death, water, food, last rites, estate matters, and hospice care.
Our last stop of the long and busy day after Mom died was the cemetery. We had to pick out the headstone and order it for Mom. She had a plot next to Dad’s, so that was one less decision that had to be made for our last surviving parent.
The cemetery director asked us about fonts, borders, wording, dates, and symbols we wanted on her plaque.
We made some initial selections. We picked out a rosary as one of the symbols, to signify her Catholic faith that was so important to Mom throughout her life. When asked how we wanted her name displayed, we weren’t sure about that. Did we have to put her (second) married name on there? I remember thinking it would look weird to have Susan Fisher buried next to Andrew Clement – would anyone know they are husband and wife? (As if anyone was going to be visiting them anyway….). I cannot explain why I was so concerned about Mom not having the same last name as Dad for eternity. Mom was married to her second husband almost as long as she was married to my Dad.
The cemetery director helped us stay focused and advised us not to leave her last name off. He could see we were getting off track as we tried to process and decide everything. So we settled on including our family name (her first married name) on the plaque as her middle name. The “Clement” in the middle of her name would match the surname on our Dad’s plaque, and they would look more like husband and wife as opposed to two strangers who happen to buried next to each other.
To help us make the final decision about the second symbol we wanted on the plaque (we couldn’t decide between the praying hands and the cross), and how we wanted everything positioned on the headstone, the cemetery director drove us out to see Dad’s plaque. It had been a while since we’d looked at it, and none of us could remember which symbols were on his plaque. We at least wanted Mom’s and Dad’s plaques to coordinate as a pair.
When we got to Dad’s plot, we looked at his plaque and couldn’t help but to laugh with each other. We had just picked out the exact same symbols, same border, and style for our Mom’s headstone that she had picked out for Dad’s plaque more than 20 years prior. I guess on some level, we had committed his plaque to memory more so than we had thought.
We went back to the cemetery office to sign off on everything. Then the director told us we have one more decision, if we so choose. “You get three free words to inscribe on the plaque, if you’d like,” he told us, sounding very happy to offer us this huge windfall. Three free words!? Who were we to pass up such a great deal?
You’d have thought we’d won the lottery: THREE words, FREE, to sum up Mom’s life for eternity. The pressure of deciding on those eternal words hit us, but we were glad to be making the last decision of a long day. We were pretty exhausted, and were pretty out of it after a very tough week. Hilarity ensued.
We tossed out as many three-word phrases as we can think of. Everything from “Live, Love, Laugh,” and “Here Lies Sue,” to “Eat at Joe’s”, and “It’s 5:00 Somewhere.” It was as if we just could not handle one more serious decision – we had reached our limit. We couldn’t think of three words meaningful and significant enough to put on Mom’s plaque for perpetuity.
Suddenly, three words popped into my head. These three words were simple enough, yet might even address the matter of the mismatched names. I was still stuck on that issue, and couldn’t let go of it in my head. I really wanted Mom and Dad to look like a couple in their eternal resting place, not a pair of strangers who happen to be next to one another.
I told the family my idea for the three words. We laughed some more. They liked it. Mom would like it. She had a good sense of humor. Plus, the words could also have a dual meaning – this phrase could also be in reference to God, and eternity, not just the one meaning that we would also know the words conveyed.
We all agreed on this final decision. We had made it! It was all over but the crying. To coordinate with the words we’d selected, we chose the symbol of the praying hands, and strategically moved them to the other side of her plaque, so that they sort of slanted in the general direction of my Dad’s plot, almost as if pointing to it. And just under Mom’s name for eternity are those three powerful words: “I’m with Him.”