Jim Bishop | Post-funeral ponderings: Thankful for solid support

Funerals are sad, solemn and, when circumstances surrounding the death are tragic, extremely heartrending. At the same time, these occasions can be celebratory as the life and legacy of the person are memorialized and include a focus on life eternal.

What helps make all the difference is having a support system in place to help alleviate persons’ grief and sense of loss.

In this regard, I stand amazed at responses received to the home going of my wife Anna’s mother, S. Edna Mast. Mom Mast, a resident of Landis Homes, Lititz, Pa., died Sunday, Jan. 11, at age 96. She lived nine years longer than her spouse, Alvin Mast, and survived many of her siblings and friends.

Anna’s mom was ready to go in more ways than one. She had written her own obituary in advance, which included some information about her that even her own children didn’t know, had outlined wishes for her funeral service, and had pre-paid funeral arrangements, a godsend to the family.

There’s a certain irony in funerals in that they bring people together – including many living in close proximity – who otherwise may seldom see each other.

Also, funerals never happen at convenient times. Sounds rather harsh to say, but true. Schedules are interrupted, we drop everything, with little time to make plans to “cover” prior commitments, and race off by train, plane or automobile, to join many others in a sorrowful, simultaneously joyous occasion.

This time was no exception. Anna spent much of Sunday making lesson plans for a substitute and left early Monday morning for Pennsylvania to help with funeral preparations, leaving work and other engagements behind.

I check with our next-door neighbors, Steve and Paula See, who agree to take care of feeding our livestock (hairy feline Avery and shrieking parakeet Ozzie), bring in the mail and paper and generally watch over our domicile.

Anna left immediately for Pennsylvania to help with funeral plans, and I drove up the evening prior to the funeral with daughters Jenny and Sara and grandson Dylan. It also sounds irreverent to say that we had a wonderful, upbeat time together in our four-hour trip, including stopping for dinner (that Dad springs for).

We talked about Mom Mast with fondness and appreciation for the life she lived long and well. The return trip to Virginia was a repeat experience as we recounted the moving funeral service with much involvement by family members. Anna and Sara drove back separately, and we checked our status periodically with the aid of cell phones.

We return on a bitterly cold night to a warm house to find everything in order and a sympathy card from the Sees, a homemade coffee cake on the kitchen table and a chicken/noodle casserole in the refrigerator. One won’t find better neighbors anywhere.

Anna and I have been touched by myriad other expressions of sympathy, many from unexpected sources – cards from persons we scarcely know, including some readers of this column, a dish garden from my workplace, a planter with daisies from our Leather and Lace country-western dance club, condolences from Anna’s hairdresser, a handwritten note from EMU President Loren Swartzendruber, emails from overseas friends and other gifts of food that made several meals.

Whether the sentiments come via greeting card, phone or electronic mail, it’s not “the right word” at this difficult time that’s as important as what these gestures symbolize – we care; our thoughts and prayers are with you at this time of grief and loss.

Then, the fun after being gone begins – checking voicemail that requires immediate attention, wading through mail (mostly bills and catalogs), attending to a whiny cat who is scolding us for abandoning her/it, checking pages of accumulated emails from our work and home computers.

Anna worries unduly about returning to her class of 19 active kindergarten children after being gone nearly a week and receives handmade sympathy cards from her cherubs, is swamped with condolences from fellow teachers and staff and given more gifts of food. She will survive and thrive, even as she mourns and adjusts to the reality of the close of the Alvin and Edna Mast era.

The world doesn’t slow down when one’s personal world spins wildly, when the phone rings and the word comes, “__________ (fill in your own blank) has died or is in intensive care or he/she just learned that test results show . . .”

But, oh, what a difference it makes when you’ve got someone to lean on, to help you pull through difficult, life-altering situations by offering the caring word and gentle touch, who stand firm and provide sacred support to help us go gently into that good night.

 

– Column by Jim Bishop


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