This is a portion of my extended family gathered at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery to celebrate my step mother Adele Pearl Shaheen’s 100 years of life and love. My siblings, their spouses, their children and their children’s children. We are a force to be reckoned with. Adele inherited us when she married my dad half a century ago. She took it in good stride considering that she didn’t have her own children. Fully bathed and baptized into instant family, she never complained.
My siblings and I were raised Catholic but we were quick to decide that no priest could give Adele a better send off than we could on our own. Lord have mercy! Since most of us had not been to this cemetery in years- not since our brother, our mother and our father were buried- we decided to make this a pilgrimage of sorts.
We began at my brother, Bobby’s grave. He died at 41 of an invasive brain tumor. Chris, his wife, did a reading and a reflection and we shared a few “Bobby stories” of which there were many! We laughed and cried a bit and sang two verses of Amazing Grace- my nephew Nick said “if Obama can do it I can!”- and then moved on to my mom Dorothy’s grave, a few steps up the hill.
I read a blog that I wrote several years ago- 25 Things I Learned from my Mom. We talked about the gospel that she always hated- the one about Mary and Martha sitting with the disciples (read- the men) at the feet of Jesus. As the story goes Martha made everyone something to eat and Mary sat and enjoyed hearing what Jesus had to say. Jesus said that Mary took the better path. That really pissed my mom off and on the way home from Mass she said “If Jesus wanted lunch he should have gotten in the kitchen and helped to peel the potatoes!”
More laughter. More tears. Two more verses of Amazing Grace and thank you to brother Ronnie and his electronic pitch pipe to keep us all in key.
We got in our cars to jettison over to the cremation section of the cemetery, where our dad and step mother, Adele, are buried. (The Catholic Church is adamant about it’s parishioners being buried in a Catholic Cemetery and not scattered over hill and dale where, God forbid, their souls could be intercepted by unearthly forces.) We quietly discuss the issue of who will you be married to whom in heaven? Wife #1 or wife #2? It is a mystery of which we are accustomed- being that we are Catholic. What cannot be explained is a mystery. Transubstantiation? It’s a mystery. The Virgin birth? It’s a mystery. Why priests can’t get married? It’s a mystery.
Why more priests aren’t in prison? The ultimate mystery.
I read a little note that I had kept in my bible that Adele wrote to me in 1988 the morning after my dad’s 70th birthday party. She wrote “I just feel so blessed in this wonderful family and the place you all have created for me in your affection.” Let it be said that we all appreciated Adele so much. She loved my dad and made him feel like a king. It was good to see him so happy.
More prayers, song and remembrances… and Ronnie sang Adele’s favorite song, Oh Danny Boy.
There were many things we discovered about Adele after my dad died. She was a college graduate. She had a brother who died by the name of “Danny”. She had cancer at 21 and was never able to have children. So she kept to herself lest she deny a man the privilege of being a father. She met my dad in her 50’s and walked into a very large and boisterous family that rivaled her peaceful Irish Canadian roots and surprised her with an amoeba-like inclusiveness and tentacles of unconditional love.
My niece Katie and her husband Jason lived with Adele for the past seven years. Their little boy, Lincoln, grew up with his great grandmother since day one. Adele and Lincoln fed the birds in the garden in the morning, sparred over all the candy and cookies in the house and occasionally flew drones together in the living room. My niece looked after Adele, allowing her to live her last years in her own home with all the comforts, including her cat Monté. (That’s French for Monty.) And yes- Adele spoke French as well.
100 years of life… it’s truly something to celebrate and contemplate. We gathered after the “ceremony” for food and family bonding. The cousins went out for an “after-party” to talk some more. (…probably about us old people and what the heck they are going to do with us when the time comes!)
I’ve had the draft of this blog in my wordpress dashboard for a week or so. I couldn’t seem to find the right ending. Today my niece, Katie, posted this on her Instagram:
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” ~Jamie Anderson
So if we love well, we grieve. And we take all those tears and lumps and love some more.
And love is stronger than death.
So there you have it.