I feel like I've started about a million posts with the words, "Home from the Palouse," or some like phrase. And again this afternoon, I'm overwhelmed with images and conversations and moments from the week-end in my 'homeland,' because yesterday morning our family gathered with Mom's church family, with men and women she taught with, with old friends and neighbors, to celebrate her life. And I have to say, I'm proud to say (having almost no hand in it), that it was a service that did honor to her, that reminded us of her best self from the points of view of a grandson, a son, and a pastor. From, I think, the point of view of God.
It was a great surprise and joy to walk into that familiar old church (where Beve and I married) and re-connect with so many. The first people I saw were some close friends of Beve and mine who'd driven across the state to be with us as we honored Mom. That brought such a lump to my throat I could hardly believe it. One of LD's high school friends came over from Seattle as well, and BB even had a friend fly in from Arizona. The Texan and his wife who were so instrumental in Beve's and my Young Life years were there (the Texan stood at the front of the same church and spoke the words that pronounced us husband and wife 26 + years ago).
And the teachers. Oh, the company of teachers. Quite a crowd of them, really. Every elementary school in town was represented, along with every grade level. One showed up last weekend, had to turn around drive home (wherever he now lives) and came back yesterday. My middle sister's first grade teacher was there, a woman who remembers the Dump from 1965 (but then, Dump was a fairly unforgettable student!). When our friend, J, read the obituary (a practice fairly common at memorial services now), there was a ripple of laughter at the words, "She was feared by younger students and beloved by her own...and called her students, "Crain's brains." If I had thought about it too much ahead of time, it might have given me pause to be so surrounded by teachers. But J clearly had thought about it, thought long and carefully about what it meant that Mom was a teacher, that she believed so firmly in that calling, and was so passionate about it. His resulting meditation was compelling. I forgot to ask him for a copy of it (and will), but the question that swirls in my brain is, "What have you learned from her passing?"
What people spoke of in that fellowship hall was of her strong personality, yes. And of her talented teaching. But also of her courage in the face of the disease that robbed her of herself. "I remember being in the beauty parlor right after she'd been diagnosed." One woman told me. "She didn't try to hide it, or even seem afraid. She just told us straight out. I always admired that." I wish Mom had known that. She wanted to be brave in facing Alzheimers, and it wasn't easy. So even in the first hour after J's words, I had the feeling I was learning new things from her passing.
And so it goes. If I've learned anything from my teacher parents (and both were teachers), it's that learning must be life-long. Even the learning that I do about the meaning of my mother's life, her impact on my life, and the eternal point of it all.
At the end of the service, after E and my brother, R, had sung "Amazing Grace", we all stood to sing a final song together. It wasn't a hymn, or even a very spiritual song, but the melody is one that tends to stick in my brain and float up out of my sleep. It was my mother's favorite song, "Ash Grove." J, who easily had the best voice in the building (no offense, E and R, who sounded beautiful, despite the missing soprano in the middle), encouraged us to really sing out together the second time through, and something about the robustness of our voices singing that old camp song was the sweetest sound of the morning for me. Mom was suddenly, completely right there, lifting her strong voice to the rest, Dad right beside her, slightly off key, and there we all were, singing together, a family. Loud, and strong and happy. And I wanted to clap.
Down yonder green valley, where songbirds assemble
Where twilight is fading, I pensively roam
Or at the bright noontide in solitude wander
Amidst the dark shades of the lonely ash grove
'Tis there where the blackbird is cheerily singing
Each warbler enchants with his notes from a tree
Ah then little think I of sorrow or sadness
The ash grove entrancing spells beauty for me