This past weekend was our family’s celebration and memorial of my mom’s life. Indirectly, our dad’s life was also included as one goes hand-in-hand with the other.
I am very grateful for this past weekend. The last time our entire family was together like this was in 2004 for my nephew Joe and his wife Monica’s wedding. We each have seen each other a number of times, but all seven of us together is a difficult thing to accomplish.
Instead of this weekend being a two-day event, it really turned into a long four-day event. That was really nice. It was a real emotional roller coaster from day one. I should say that I am speaking for just myself here in the post. Excitement and happiness at seeing all the nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters, and in-laws. Spending time with everyone and exchanging stories about mom and dad. Many of us learned of events that we didn’t know about until this weekend. Of course you couldn’t talk about such things without the sadness that comes with the passing of your mom.
Shelley and I arrived on Friday evening. I was the last sibling to arrive in town. Some of the other in-laws arrived late Friday night (there was a tropical storm on the east coast delaying flights).
We arrived Friday evening to a backyard of food and drinks. Of course, upon my arrival there was much fanfare as “Richard the Spoiled” had arrived. Shelley and I got unpacked and we visited with everyone and snacked on food. Later, Carol and Bob and his family joined us for dinner at the Maple Leaf Grill.
Saturday was my mom’s service at St. Johns. The service was nice. It was a full Catholic mass followed by two readings from Sylvia and Jolene. They weren’t really “readings”, they were more like memorial statements. The service was easy to get through. Sylvia and Jolene’s stories were more difficult. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place afterwards. I was in the front row on the priest’s and musician’s side of the altar and I could see the priest wiping tears from his face along with the musicians. Sylvia and Jolene did a great job remembering mom.
I think my lasting memory from the service, however, will be looking back over my shoulder near the very end of the ceremony, after Sylvia and Jolene finished, and seeing my nephew Nick in the row behind me. Sorry Nick for telling this, but it really hit home how much my mom meant to all the grandkids. Here was this big kid, “man” I should say, standing there with his hands behind his back, head down, eyes closed and just crying. We all felt the same way at that point.
After the service we took photos of all the siblings, as we were all dressed up fancy. Then we had a big BBQ at my mom’s apartment building. This way all her friends in the building could come by and pay their respects as well. Some of her friends came to the service, but some were in wheelchairs and it was easier for them to come by the BBQ.
The BBQ wrapped up around 6 pm, but the family gatherings didn’t end there. It seemed like everyone wanted to stay around each other, so we headed over to Barbara’s to hang out on her deck. I should mention the weather was very nice this weekend.
Shelley and I had to keep going by the house to let the dogs out for breaks. They had a miserable Saturday being cooped up in the basement for hours, getting a little break, then more basement time, then a break, them more basement time. I’m surprised they didn’t chew up our clothes or pee on the bed.
I had my surreal moment of the weekend during this break before going over to Barbara’s. My mom’s will specified that all her belongings were to be distributed equally among her children. So a method was devised to do this. All of her belongings, which had been moved to the patio of the 5th Ave house back in July, were moved out into the backyard. Each sibling had to look through the various items in order to determine what they were interested in. So before going over to Barbara’s, while Shelley was breaking the dogs, I took this chance to look through some boxes. I spent about 45 minutes doing this and then had to take a break as there were a lot of memories.
I took a seat on a chair and was looking at my list and all of this “stuff”. Some of it in the form of furniture, but most of it spread out into about 39 boxes in the backyard. 86 years of life, stories and memories and it all fit into some furniture and 39 boxes.
There it hit me. Nearly everything my mom and dad did during their entire life was for us kids. They didn’t buy property, or save for retirement, or buy expensive toys (they never really had that kind of money anyway). They didn’t go on big fancy vacations (except for their Swiss trip in 1968). Everything was spent on us to help give us the opportunity to be better off then they were. And when they were done, it all came down to some furniture and 39 boxes.
I guess you can say they really gave us their all. For 60+ years it was all about us. Never about them. Wow. How do you live up to that? I guess I can only hope I am, just like I know my brother’s and sister’s hope they are. The rest of the weekend I kept having that vision of the furniture and boxes and I would look around the deck at Barbara’s or the dinner table when we ate out and I can say with pretty good confidence that all seven of us our living up to that expectation.
I brought this up at Barbara’s that Saturday night as some of us sat around her living room. Nick got immediately what I saying. He said, “It’s all around us, here.” Pointing at me and Carol and those sitting in the livingroom. Our inheiratance isn’t in money or valuables. It’s in what they gave us over that 60 years. In what they taught us so we could pass that knowledge on to our kids and they onto theirs. Their impact on our lives will be felt in Sophie, Luc, Ella, Olivia and Cameron in years to come. Just like it has been felt in Nick, Lauren, Emily, Joe, Skyler, Claire and Ben.
Sure it would be nice to get a large cash inheritance, but they never had a lot of money during their lives and I hate to wonder how we would have all turned out if they saved up their money or made decisions based on leaving us something instead of giving it all to us as our lives developed over those 60 years. I’m glad it ended with just some furniture and 39 boxes of stuff.
I feel like such a heel for not seeing this 20 years ago. I hope that’s just human nature.
Sunday was distribution day and the whole family met again in the backyard at the 5th Ave house. That was an interesting sight to watch as well. I won’t go into the details of how the belongings were distributed as that’s long and complicated. Suffice it to say that Barbara and Bob did a great job developing it and running the whole show. I can only imagine the work that went into all of it.
Once again, you could see in our picks how their lives impacted all of us. With only a few exceptions, everything that was being chosen was of no monetary value.
Dad’s WWII uniform, the swiss bell and rock they brought back from Switzerland, a recipe box with mom’s recipes in it, a photo album from their swiss trip, some framed photographs of our grandparents, dad’s Good Conduct medal from WWII, and on and on. There were only three conflicts out of 49 items and one of those conflicts was over a photograph of no monetary value at all.
All three conflicts were resolved quickly and without arguments, nasty comments or anger at the other party. In fact, many times over someone would pick something and others would say, “That’s great! I’m so glad you got that.” Others would see someone pick an item and say,”Shoot, why didn’t I think of that!” Then everyone would laugh because we all had memories of that item. Don’t get me wrong, there was disappointment in some items. But there were so many sentimental items that everyone got something to be very happy about.
When Laurene picked the recipe box, I just thought to myself, “Wow.” She didn’t pick the leather couch or the computer or the $1,600 rug. She chose an old wooden box with mom’s recipes. Okay, maybe the rug was gone by then, I don’t remember, but you get my point. I would rather have Laurene picking the wooden box of mom’s recipes then a cash inheiratence. I would rather have Jolene picking dad’s dog tags from WWII or Bob taking the swiss rock they brought back from Switzerland then cash.
You just can’t buy that kind of character.
Surprisingly, maybe not to Barbara, the distribution took nearly all day. A lot of us went to dinner at the Greenlake Bar and Grill afterwards and then I took Bob home as Jennifer and the kids left earlier in the afternoon and he lost his ride. We both had the same observations about the distribution and about how smoothly everything went. On Monday I spoke with others about it and got the same feedback. So it wasn’t just me.
Monday we went through all of mom and dad’s historical documents and made decisions about what we were going to do with them. I like the final decision and glad it was suggested. All the historical documents are going to be archived and placed in a safety deposit box. They will be in photo albums designed for archival storage and copies will be distributed to those that would like their own copies. I think that is best.
Then it was back over to Barbara’s for the rest of the day. Jolene left that afternoon to fly back to D.C. Most of the in-laws had flown out or drove home on Sunday. Shelley and I hung out at Barbara’s with Carol, Laurene and Sylvia till late Sunday night.
So, the long memorial weekend ended. It was a great weekend. I’m glad it was a long four-day event. It was fun to visit with everyone and to hear stories that I had never heard before. It was also fun to hear the ones I had heard before as I never get tired of them.
I’m also grateful to the support I had from Shelley. She knew this was an important weekend and she went and did whatever was asked. I couldn’t ask for anymore from her. She wanted this chance to memorialize my mom as well, so it was good for her to be apart of the family celebration. She even saw and learned some things about me from the stories and memorabilia.
I will close with a line that Jolene mentioned in her reading at the church. It’s from a song the Beatles (Paul, actually) wrote in 1969 and is the last song all four of them ever recorded together. I agree, Jolene. It if very fitting.
“And, in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”