Coming Home

“Delegate everything,” my friend Gayle told me.  She had lost both her son and husband and she’s familiar with the aftermath of death.  “People want to help out — to do something.  Let them.  There’s no reason for you to do anything.”

I could do that.  Everything I didn’t want to do — which was just about everything, I noticed — I asked my husband, daughter or son to do.  Programs for the memorial service.  Flowers.  Driving.  Food.  Delegate, delegate, delegate — why hadn’t I learned about it sooner?

We were all back in Austin, where our house is still rented out, staying in a hotel and driving a rental car.  Everyone at the hotel and rental car office wanted to give me a map of the city.  “I don’t need one,” I said again and again, with increasing vehemence.  “I’m from here.  I know my way around.”

Prowling the familiar downtown streets, I noted with interest and pride that New York isn’t the only city with strange and diverse people.  Austin has its own burned-out hippies, street musicians, plump tourists on segways, intense high-tech types, aging cowboys.  I’d missed that and, I realized, I’d missed the expansive sky — blue and gray, with cottony clouds and a hot sun.  You don’t see much sky in New York.  Life is more circumscribed there in a way it’s not in Texas.

Night after night, the four of us sat in a bar on a second-floor balcony, overlooking the street life on Congress Avenue and the brightly lit state capitol dome at the end of the street.  Texas’s capitol dome is larger than the national capitol; we know this because we Texans measure it every few years just to make sure.

Wednesday afternoon, we gathered at the nearby First Methodist Church chapel for a memorial service for my father.  We saw friends we hadn’t seen in months and family members from Texas and Oklahoma.  We sang hymns that my father loved, that my sister and I loved.

As the pianist played “How Great Thou Art,” I could see and hear my mother sitting at the piano, playing and singing that same song she loved.  Those words were meaningful to her, I knew.  The music went on, verse after verse, voices blending, emotions rising.  I saw and heard and felt more — things I didn’t necessarily believe, but I saw them, anyway.  I saw my mother and aunt and other family members who had died, a host of familiar faces that looked joyous.  They were welcoming someone they hadn’t seen in a long time.

I don’t believe this, as I say, but damned if I didn’t see it.  It’s like that big sky.  You don’t know you missed it till you see it again.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read more about the insanity of loving Texas

12 comments… add one
  • I just had a long conversation with my visiting nephew (who was with me when my mother, his grandmother, died) about what I don’t believe, and then I read what you wrote about the joyous reunion, and I thought, what do I know?  Why not?  It’s such a beautiful concept why shouldn’t it be true?

  • Lovely post, Ruth–both witty and poignant. I’m sorry about your father. No matter how or when you lose a parent, it’s always too soon.

  • How great love is.  Feel surrounded in love. 
    Thinking of you ALL.

  • I home-cared my mom and she had visitors, deceased friends and family, for several months before passing away.  I didn’t believe this was possible, nor did she, but it happened.  I witnessed it.  Right before she passed, the visitors were my dad, her dad, and her beloved grandmother.  So, yes, your mom’s spirit, and that of your aunt, and other family members were probably present at the funeral.

  • Laurie Link

    My beloved aunt had slipped into a coma.  That night I dreamt that I was in her house getting funeral clothes together, and looking out the kitchen window I saw my uncle, her late husband, standing there with his typical big grin and lovely blue eyes twinkling.  Astonished, I asked “What are YOU doing here?”  He said “Waiting for her”   She passed away the following morning.  I’m a skeptic, but I believe he was here, reassuring me and my family, that there is such a thing as love after death.

  • Cindy A Link

    I’ve studied and studied spirituality and religion and have no news to report on the existence of an afterlife, but if wishing there was one, a really nice one, makes it true–then maybe it is.

    “I do benefits for all religions—–I’d hate to blow the hereafter on a technicality.”         — Bob Hope —

  • Steve Link

    And a beautiful service it was.   I was blessed to have been there.  The old soul part of me loves those old hymns.  They can and do provide comfort to the believer and nonbeliever alike.

    Your earlier post about what a “relief” it must be has a familiar echo.  Of course, it IS a relief, just not for you.  It is a relief for the departed; it still sucks for the left-behind.

    I spent part of yesterday framing a hand drawn one-page “newsletter” that my whimsical father sent back from North Africa during WWII.  (Pop always had a strong sense of whimsy that I wish I had.  A few years ago he mounted to the hood of his car a model of a dachshund he made from wood, with ears made of leather that flapped in the wind as he drove down the street.  It was his “go dog” he said.)  The newsletter, “Ye Ass-pect,” had a charicature of him with his new corporal stripes (which I believe he later lost after a bar room brawl that, as he described it to me, sounded like a movie scene).  The newsletter is on the wall now, to one side of the Army Air Corp framed photo and to the other of a truly marvelous pen and ink portrait of him done by a street artist in Tunis.  They all hang above the triangular box I made that holds the honor flag that draped his coffin.

    At one point on this Memorial Day afternoon, my spouse found me standing in the room, pseudo-busy, crying.  “Are you okay?” she asked.  “Just thinking about Pop,” I replied.  The relief is for the departed; it still sucks, months or years later, for the left-behind.

  • Such a nice post Ruth. This made me smile: “Texas’s capitol dome is larger than the national capitol; we know this because we Texans measure it every few years just to make sure.” A little humor make this piece ever the more poignant.

  • I’m glad you delegated. If there is ever a time for it, it is now. The service sounds beautiful. You’re in my thoughts.

  • Ruth–
    It sounds like you had an amazing experience at the service. Music can be so powerful. How Great Thou Art is one of my favorites too. Beautiful post.

  • I’ve had a few visitations, too. I felt it. But I didn’t allow my mind to believe it. Yet I knew it was true.

  • Beautiful post, Ruth! And I agree with your friend Gayle. This is your chance to delegate and make people feel good by helping you. Hope you’re doing as well as could be expected. 🙂

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