Saturday, May 21, 2016
They Called Her Glo
Yesterday, I went to a funeral in my hometown for the mother of one of my childhood friends. Her name was Gloria, or 'Glo' to those who knew and loved her. She was legendary for her generosity, her off-color humor, her too-loud laughter and above all, her kindness. My mother, introvert that she was, didn't fully understand Glo's charm, and it irritated her to no end that Glo could be seen by all mowing her lawn on Sunday morning when everyone else was driving to church. Glo did whatever the hell she wanted. And she was happy.
Glo operated a beauty salon in her home in a community so small it doesn't show up on a map. Women from surrounding non-map-showing areas came to get their hair done, listen to Glo's free flowing advice and sample treats of brownies or chocolate popcorn. Bonfire parties in her back yard were famous, including people the family didn't even know simply because Glo had met them somewhere earlier the same day. She knew how to draw people in and treat them like family.
The last two times I attended funerals in my hometown, I was there to accompany Dad; once when Mom was too sick and again after she died. Now, as I made my way to the church entrance alone, an elderly woman I didn't know walked slowly toward me from the opposite direction. We greeted each other and made small talk about our lateness, as time for the viewing was coming to an end. Together by circumstance, we stood in the receiving line and chatted about where we had grown up and any relatives we might have in common. Her name was Sharon, and as it turned out, she went to school with one of my dad's cousins. 'What's he doing now?' she asked. It pained me a little to tell her he had died several years ago. 'Oh, yes,' she said, as if just realizing her own age.
To move the reception process along, Glo's daughters left their post by the casket and began working backward through the line, greeting and hugging each person. They talked about their mother in a warm, but real way...the difficulty of her Alzheimer's and the awfulness of her final weeks. No pretending, no 'she's in a better place now,' or 'it was her time,' or 'it was God's will.' Just the raw truth of loving and then losing their mother.
Sharon and I found a good spot in the chapel for the 15-minute wait until the family entered and the funeral could begin. She told me about her son who was killed in a snowmobile accident 25 years ago during a family reunion. She told me about visiting another son on Thursday in the hospital and her frightening drive home late at night in the rain. Sharon told me about her husband who died five years ago. She said there were many times when another breath from him seemed impossible, but he kept living for months after his terminal cancer diagnosis. Then one day - a good day for him - Sharon was holding him in her arms while her daughter re-arranged the pillows on the bed when he simply died. 'I could tell he was gone because he was suddenly lighter,' Sharon said. 'I didn't know until then that a person's spirit has weight.' We looked at each other and leaned in, touching foreheads as she wiped a small tear with her slightly crooked finger.
After a brief and poignant service, Sharon and I hugged, thanked each other for the companionship and said our goodbyes. I found my friend - Glo's daughter - one last time to express my love for her and my appreciation for her mother's life. She said, 'I have to tell you, for whatever reason my dad has been talking about memories of your dad all week...I can't really figure out why, but his name has come up several times.'
It would be just like my dad to comfort a friend with memories as he faced the hardest time of his life. Or to send Sharon to keep me company, knowing I would be lonely there without him. I miss you, Dad. Say hello to Glo.
photo from wikipedia.com