“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)
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