On the second day of April, Peaches was buried. It was a lonely ceremony that was surreal to witness from a car. Peaches birth name Carolyn was my husband’s only sister. She died in the hospital and was buried in a cemetery under the gaze of a family isolated from one another. It was unnatural; I missed how it should have been, how it used to be. It’s a COVID-19 world and yet Peaches didn’t even have the virus. She died as many died before coronavirus: cancer all through her body.
I have been to many funerals in my lifetime, including my son’s. Seven years ago, when Justin died suddenly at the age of 16 from an undiagnosed heart condition, I was devastated. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tm1Mi1mzr6
On the morning of his funeral, I was emotionally and spiritually paralyzed. But I didn’t have to worry about my family watching me from a car window. My sisters and brothers, my nieces and nephews, my friends held on tight to us that entire day as my husband and I struggled to breathe, to expel air.
Because a human story is meaningful, when their story ends, it is repeated among the mourners, and then repeated to those, not in attendance, and then repeated in our loneliest moments, and repeated in our dreams for our ancestors’ benefit. The story then is the footprint they leave behind that we gingerly walk in. But in a coronavirus world, the footprints are invisible. The story is condensed and oftentimes gone. I wrote this poem because I wanted to share the service of Peaches’ life to more people than the handful that were present. I wanted to remember and not ever forget. I also thought about the song from the play Hamilton… “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?
Never thought these words could be formed into a sentence
They can now because I witnessed one today—and wished I didn’t
For two weeks now we have been following the coronavirus stay -at- home rules
So, dressing in street clothes was a thing of the past
We are wearing comfortable sweats and pajamas not knowing how long the policy would last
As I was taking a shower before getting dressed up to leave
The words “Drive-up Funeral” hit me and I couldn’t comprehend or conceive
So, and I wrote them down
With a sigh and a frown
We got dressed up only for no one to see
And sit in the car and this was how it was to be
Husband put on his suit and tie
I put on my black and signature turquoise and wiped a tear from my eye
Rode to the cemetery where our only son rests
Along with his grandparents and two uncles who proceeded him in death
Another hole was dug next to the family plot for the only sister whom we celebrate today who took her last breath
The weather was clear and not a bird insight
Just like the day we last saw Peaches–barely a month before
At our beachside memorial for Justin with plenty of hugs and butterflies in flight
How did this happen? I am asking again how?
As we entered the unmanned cemetery gates
Who would want to buy a ticket for such an untimely fate?
The place was empty. No people or cars in clear sight
And once again to me the whole concept of a Drive-up funeral just didn’t seem right
We drove to the designated marker and parked for our perfect view
Pulled up behind the hearse and I thought “ Oh Pugh!”
Two mortuary attendants shooting the breeze stood casually guarding the hearse
They were talking freely without gloves or masks until it was time for their usual verse
Eight family cars pulled up and parked on either side of the road
But no one got out only those that were told
Only the immediate family— no more than 8 could get out
Of their cars and wonder about
It was showtime for the attendants to start the procession
It was to be short and I knew that was their intended mission
Instead of handing out programs, they gave the select few gloves and masks
Trembling hands of all sizes somberly took them without even having to question or ask
This was the first glances of the family since we all got the news that their wife, mother, sister, grandmother had died
It was the day after Peaches death we gathered via a Zoom video call and we saw each others faces and had time to confide
They walked toward our cars standing six feet away donning masks and looks of despair
They waved and we waved never attempting to roll down a window for words or fresh air
Unimaginable to say the least there are no words…
This surreal funeral with no hugs, no handshakes no ability to comfort or to be comforted
No need to hold back our tears so you just let them flow
Can’t say words of sorrow or remembrance
Because the rolled-up windows sealed our emotions
The golden casket draped in a cascade of pink roses was swiftly moved by the hands of her loved ones, her husband, her sons, and her nephew—who could only do this jester but he had to back swiftly away from the limited seating services
Watching the mask-wearing family in shock sitting off the edge of their seats and holding their hands
Positioning themselves 6 feet apart as the mini service began
Can’t add 2 more people because all you get is 10
You must save a spot for the minister, mortuary and one for the patiently waiting cemetery groundsmen
Just before it began my cell phone rang in the car
It was Peaches daughter calling me so we could hear the service from afar
She asked could I hear and she turned on her phone speaker
I connected the people in those cars in front of us and behind even though the sound was weaker
This was the closest we would get the hear the minister speak
We listened carefully not to miss a word
The sound went in and out, but we managed to understand what we heard
Under tween granddaughters standing together 40 feet or more away from the casket under a tree with Mom
They could not be with Dad who stood by the casket of his mother numb
Surviving brothers, us wives, and sons and daughter sitting in separate cars
Nieces and nephews also sitting in cars with their doors ajar
The littlest 8-year-old granddaughter wearing a mask too big
Was tasked with getting Kleenex from the car—a brief little gig
She respectfully hopped skipped OVER the headstones using one hand to secure the oversized mask on her face
Wearing a mask and it’s not Halloween only for safety just in case
What was she thinking did she really understand?
That her grandma she loved shopping with could no longer hold her hand?
No words exchanged for a family in need of hugs
Emotions contained inside the car
Could not it even roll down windows to talk — this Drive -up funeral was just really bizarre
Eyes bloodshot red
Sweat pouring down foreheads
Heels sinking into the grass
What comes next?
Minister spoke his spiritual words in 19 minutes and his job was done
When he turned his head, we could see his multicolor mask as he walked swiftly away.
He waves to us “car stuck “people as he walks towards his Porsche
And puts his hand over his heart and does the thumbs up motion like a torch
But the family sits hopelessly looking at the lone casket
So, help me God what can be next?
Then the noise of the backhoe tractor starts up which I know was a sign for us to leave
So, they can scoop the dirt upon the casket until it meets the bottom of the adjacent branch trees
My husband looks at me and says: “This is the hardest part for me
Not this again I know he is thinking…
He is hopelessly lost as he gets his last glimpse of his sister’s final house
He snaps a few more pictures as quiet as a little mouse
Cars start driving off from the Drive- up funeral
And the equipment starts moving the dirt
What ?? This Imitation of life movie over? Just like that? How much of a person’s life can be covered in a few brief minutes?
But this was all we could do during these uncertain COVID19 times
It was a life interrupted for Peaches who was just 71 years young :
No more of her famous potato salad
No more of her favorite pastime of shoe /clothes shopping
No more family gatherings with her
An empty chair at the table
An empty receptionist chair at her job
An empty passenger seat in the car
An empty side of the bed
No more cooking meals or driving to run errands
No more nagging to her husband to turn off the late-night TV so she could get her rest
No more sounds of calling Mama, Auntie Peaches, Grandma, or terms of endearment or recollecting of my wife , my sister, my aunt, my mom or for me sister -in -law
A life well-lived and an uncertain life left for us here
As I finish these notes of remembrance of my day, I want to make sure that we all understand that I share the same thoughts that I have learned from the Grief Recovery Method:
“Grief is the natural and normal reaction to a loss—an end in a familiar pattern of behavior. Grief is unique and emotional. You can’t compare or compete. Everyone handles grief in their unique way. There is no timeline or method in how one deals with grief or loss.”
One final stop before exiting the cemetery,
We drove by our baby’s grave who died too soon
Justin Wanted World Peace
We blew a kiss and said a prayer
Too much loss and way too much to bear
We tell Justin’s story now because he was not given the lease on life to continue living his
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?
This is real, this is the truth I can’t make this stuff up so what do you do or say?
I go back to my beloved mother’s words “ Let go and let God” might be the only way.
May you rest Peaches and hug everyone for me.
In Peace and Love,