It was the perfect autumn morning. Wearing a black dress with netted stockings and low-heeled pumps, accented with a green scarf, I walked towards the church building underneath a crystal blue sky, bathed by the sun in an otherwise brisk day. It seemed that everything was as it should be. Then I heard a gentle bell go off on my cell phone, as it often does to remind me of the upcoming scheduled activity on my calendar. At this particular moment it reminded me that things were actually not as they should be at all. Something about this moment was not perfect. I took the phone out of my pocket to dismiss the reminder: 11am, Ana’s Funeral.
Something about the reminder that a funeral was occurring just didn’t feel right. Maybe it was my swift motion to dismiss it… as I would dismiss any other activity in my regular day. Coffee with Jen. Dinner with John. Grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. Ana’s Funeral at Ascension. No. It just didn’t seem right. This certainly was not just a regular daily activity, even if I have accepted death as an inevitable part of life. I will not accept it nonchalantly, with my emotions detached. I will feel the full grief and loss of the moment. I will not allow the death of a human being to ever become another scheduled activity in my life.
I walked up to the church and saw that all of Ana’s family had just arrived, embracing each other. Some weeping, some silent. So many, if not all, of these faces were familiar. Something about this gathering seemed all too familiar. I knew almost everyone here, and I wondered when I had met them all. Then it dawned on me. Just 3 months earlier we had all gathered for another, entirely different reason. It was the wedding day of Ana’s son, Mike. Ana beamed with joy that day as her son married his bride, Jem. Today, Ana beamed for a completely different reason. And today, we gathered to honor Ana and her departure from this world.
Death makes time stop. I stood there reverently, silently, and without any adequate words, hugged Ana’s family. I looked up at the sky. It was still. I turned my head to look at a statue of Mary. It was still. And peaceful. I felt the chill in the air and the warmth of the sun. I stood still. Then it was time to walk into the building.
There was a picture of Ana in the front of the center aisle of the sanctuary. It was a picture of her giving a speech to the happily married couple at the wedding reception. She looked beautiful. Happy. She looked elegant in her light purple dress. She looked so motherly. Love was overflowing from her face.
I sat down with my friends from New Life. I have to say, it felt good to sit among people I care for and love deeply. It was good to be near each other. It was good to be there together to support Mike and Jem. Sitting with friends made me feel like I could cry if I needed to and smile if I wanted to. Today isn’t about me, in any way, shape or form. But I felt it was important to be present, in my full, true self.
Then something weird happened.
Someone noticed that the picture of Ana up in front had someone else’s face in the background, on the lower right hand corner. Upon further examination, it was discovered that it was MY face. (!) It was a bit blurry (thankfully), but indeed, it was unmistakable. There I was, in that picture with Ana, on display for all to see. Quite honestly, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But laughter came out first. It felt like something out of a comedic sitcom, like Tina pointed out, perhaps, in an episode of “The Office”, or as Cindy mentioned, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. What was my face doing there in the picture of Ana? (There is a good reason for my face being in that picture when it was captured during the wedding reception, but that’s beside the point.) I had been immortalized, along with Ana, in a picture that would commemorate her for at least as long as we are alive to remember her and keep her legacy alive. We all laughed together as the news was passed down our pew. We shared this momentary laughter and soon the funeral service began.
I didn’t know Ana very well, but had seen her several times over the years, as I have been friends with Mike and Jem for awhile. Mike and his brother David shared beautiful words with us about the strength, courage and love of their mother. Even in my limited interaction with Ana, I could attest to the truth of all of those sentiments. Without fail, she always exuded a spirit of openness and welcomed me into her home anytime I happened to drop by. I remember giving her a hug while we were preparing for Mike’s marriage proposal to Jem. She wanted everything to be perfect and I could tell she couldn’t be happier for her son and for that special occasion. I remember Mike telling me of his relationship with his mom. Even when they had their mother and son fights, he was always able to talk to her. Really talk to her, in a vulnerable and honest way. That was such a gift. She wanted the best life for her sons and gave to them sacrificially. One year ago, she found out that she had cancer. She was brave throughout the past year. Staying strong even through 3 months ago for Mike & Jem’s wedding. About 2 weeks ago, I stopped by her house. The cancer had taken a toll on her body and she was as weak as a person could be. We were all in deep prayer for her, for a miracle. She didn’t have to see me… but she actually got up and sat on her bed as I embraced her frail body. That was the last time I saw her alive. On October 28, 2010, Ana took her last breath and went home to be with Jesus.
Friends and family gathered at Ana’s home after the funeral service. In a lot of ways, it was like nothing had changed. There was a ton of food (as always), Nacho (their beagle), wine, wonderful company, laughter and sharing of memories. But we all knew, nothing would ever be the same again. Ana was no longer with us. To be quite honest, it was odd to be in that house without her. It just didn’t feel right.
There is peace in knowing that Ana is with her Savior now. At the same time, losing her is incredibly painful and I pray for her family as they enter into grief they haven’t known before. That tension between life and death seems much more tangible than ever these days. It is a reminder to live every moment fully, as each day, each breath is an absolute gift from God.
Ana, you will be greatly missed.