It was easier than I thought it would be to get up before dawn to head home for the funeral. The early morning thunderstorm was a satisfying distraction – it was a wild one, with rain coming down in sheets, lightning cracking flashes of light through the windows, and the reverberating booms rolling under the clouds. My garden needed this rain, as did the brown grass, and the withering cornfields. All I could think about was how happy my tomato plants would be to soak up this rain, and nitrogen, with this one big storm. Did you know plants get nitrogen from lightning? Just learned it myself – from my son’s 7th grade science homework.
In the bathroom, the shower was running with warm water, and I stood outside the curtain, unable to lift my arms to pull off my shirt. My arms felt exactly as if they had been ripped out of their sockets. (What was I thinking?) I warmed bread in the toaster, while I pulled out the luckily-I-packed-these heels-and-skirt funeral clothes, ate my peanut butter toast and snuck out while the boys were still asleep.
I always expected this funeral, but I didn’t expect my Mom to miss this one. Instead, I would sit on the dark oak pew and wonder what life after death means – is my Mom happy to have her sister back again? Are they catching up on news?
Just when I was about to open the door to leave, the rain started pummeling down harder – I grabbed a plastic grocery bag and threw it over my head. The minute I opened the door and ran to the car, the wind ripped the bag straight off my head. I kept going, climbed into the car, and before I turned the engine over, I heard a tap at the back window. There was my husband with an umbrella he had pulled out of his own car. “You might need this today.”
How right he was. The thunderstorm seemed to be attached to my car – there were times I could not see the road – passing trucks was nerve wracking. I had expected the drive to take 2.5 hours – I made it in 3 hours and five minutes, making me exactly five minutes late for the funeral. My brother, a pallbearer, was waiting for me in the back of the church, and had saved me a seat.
On this summer Saturday morning, the sanctuary was as cozy as a midnight Christmas Eve service by candlelight. The stained glass windows were open, as the rain came down in straight sheets, allowing the sound of the falling water to splash in the background to the sounds of the organ, the minister, and the hymns. There wasn’t a drop of light from the sky, and yet the colors in the windows still had their translucent glow, beaming against the warmth of the oak windowsills. Saturday mornings were the days I spent at my aunt’s house as a child – she let me play in the “good room” with my cousin’s Barbie Doll House. My cousin wasn’t around at the time… but if she knew…
This past Wednesday, the ladies from this church were having a picnic, and praying for my Aunt Betty. A butterfly appeared, and landed on each one of their shoulders. Later they would learn that at that same time, Aunt Betty was busy taking her last exhale.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the big maple tree that sat outside of the church window — the trunk was now black from the rain and the leaves held water as if they were big green hands. Tiny streams of water eventually eeeked their way down a dip in the leaf and continued their path down to the earth. Why do church windows never have screens?
The minister stated the obvious – something I had missed while I plowed my way through the rain all morning. How appropriate for this sorely needed summer rain to come down during my Aunt’s funeral. She was a gardener who grew strawberries, beans, corn, and was the master of an enormous rock flower garden where I played in the summer. Her flower garden was full of the old-fashioned stocky flowers I’ve always adored –Hollyhocks, Snapdragons, Stocks and Delphiniums, with Moss Roses growing around the border. People gave her plants that were dying, and she brought them back to life. How appropriate that the flowers would get their sorely needed drink on this day.
At the graveside, I stood under my umbrella and watched them place the spray of flowers over her casket, and floral wreaths around her grave, and smiled as I realized how well this rain would preserve her flowers today.