Michael spent Christmas day with Mary and the delight of the children opening presents took a slight edge off the reality that Arlene had died. Michael stayed through lunch, but returned to his townhouse late in the afternoon. The day was bitter cold, and Michael was overwhelmed by the sadness that gripped him as he entered the foyer. Every item in this beautiful residence reflected the loving touch of Arlene. The townhouse was the home that Arlene had created through the years.The paintings,furniture,drapes and even the Venetian chandelier were selected by her.He had been involved in design, but the reality was that Arlene was the architect and decorator. He sat for awhile in the library which had become Arlene’s bedroom ,and stared at the slight indentation in the leather chaise lounge where Arlene had spent much of the last few months..
The overcast sky and encroaching darkness seemed to reflect the state of his emotions. He finally hung up his overcoat, and made his way to the kitchen. The phone rang and it was Mary making sure that he had arrived safely at home. She told him that she would come by early in the morning to pick up Arlene’s dress even though there would be a closed coffin. He was so grateful to Mary who had stepped immediately into the breech, and took care of all the funeral details. Before closing the conversation she informed him that Michael Junior would be arriving that night from San Francisco, and Tom would pick him up. He was glad that his son was staying with his sister because he did not have the energy to engage him that evening.
Michael rose early the day after Christmas and began to organize himself for the first day of the viewing at the funeral parlor. He turned on his cell phone, and saw that his messages were full to overflowing. It did not seem imperative that he answer any of these so he decided to shower, dress and attempt to prepare himself mentally for the afternoon. Mary Tom and Michael Junior arrived a little after noon ,and reminded of Mary’s bucket request Michael warmly greeted and hugged each of them. There was small chatter about Junior’s flight and his adjustment to the time zone, but little else. Mary had brought sandwiches and suggested that it would be worthwhile to eat before leaving for the funeral home.
As Michael and the family entered the funeral parlor conversation had completely ceased. They had arrived one hour before the visitations began, and you could almost hear the shattering of their hearts. Arlene had requested a closed casket so Mary had selected photos of her life ,and a video that had been shot at their home on Arlene’s 70th birthday. Michael immediately went to the kneeler in front of the casket, and silently asked his Lord to give him strength to get through the next few days. He rose, gently touched the casket ,and made his way to one of the front chairs. The children followed suit, and before long the endless line of visitors began to enter the funeral parlor. The noise level at one point was so loud that Mary considered saying something ,but Michael reached out and touched her hand .He cautioned her saying” it is not a sign of disrespect to you mother Mary, All of these people loved her, but they have not seen each other, and this is just their way of their reconnecting.”
The visiting line went on for over three hours, and there were colleagues’ friends and many of the people whose lives had been changed by Arlene’s many volunteering activities. Each of them had a story which consistently reminded Michael of what a tremendous gift Arlene had been in his life. When the afternoon period had ended Mary had arranged for the family to have dinner near the funeral parlor The evening was a repetition of the afternoon and Michael was finally home by 10 o’clock. He listened to the bevy of messages that had been left on the phone ,and with each one there was the reinforcement that Arlene was truly dead. The mind in the grief process is so overwhelmed with memories ,and each call conjured up moments of their life together. The last few months had taken a heavy toll on Michael, and it was imperative that he get to bed and try to be rested. He knew that the next few days would be emotionally and physically draining.
The most difficult moment came on the second day of Arlene’s viewing when all of the visitors were asked to leave ,and the family would spend a few minutes alone in the room saying their goodbyes. As they were escorted to the limousines they waited for the flower car to be filled.Michael glanced out the window as Arlene’s casket was being placed in the hearse .Mary leaned her head on his shoulder, and suddenly there was complete silence in the limousine.
Arlene had requested that she be buried from the Jesuit church on 86 Street St. Ignatius Loyola, It reminded her of Il Gesu the mother church of the Jesuits in Rome.As the family entered the church they were struck by the beautiful combination of American, European and African marbles employed throughout the entrance and sanctuary. As they walked up the aisle to the front pews the organ filled the church with the beautiful notes of the Prayer of St Francis
Michael was holding Mary’s hand as the procession from the back of the church began. They all stood as Arlene’s casket was followed by the priests and altar boys. There were five priests on the altar, and all had a personal connection to the family. Father McNulty a lifelong friend, though ill, was to be the main celebrant of the mass. He began the liturgy by facing the congregation and said”: We are here today to celebrate the life of our beloved Arlene. It is a day filled with tears, but also joy because there has never been anyone more worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. “
The readings were read by Mary and Tommy. After the gospel reading Father McNulty ascended the pulpit to deliver the eulogy. Father McNulty’s words were touching because he truly knew and loved Arlene. One of the heart wrenching moments of the liturgy was the presentation of the gifts by the grandchildren. Michael was touched by the beauty of every aspect of the liturgy. The only moment of fleeting anger for Michael came at communion time when his son Michael Junior remained in the pew, and made no attempt to receive communion .Michael mused to himself even now he will not give an inch.
Michael had requested that he speak at the end of the mass. He l had written the eulogy because he was fearful that he would break down, and not be able to keep his focus He ascended the pulpit ,took a deep breath and began to read a poem from W H Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let airplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘she is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
She was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
“If I were to end the eulogy with the words of that meaningful poem it would only be half of the story ,because in this shattered heart there is the strongest conviction that all who were privileged to know her have been blessed beyond measure. In the last year despite her weakened condition she continued to put everyone else first. Even the nurses at the hospital were part of her ongoing group to be loved and cherished. Arlene had a heart that continuously expanded, and included everyone she met. I have of all who knew her been the most blessed because I met her in the fifth grade She had first been my friend, then my love , a marvelous wife ,mother and grandmother .The one thing that she took to every role was her love, and she had that rare gift of making everyone feel special. The one thing that consoles me at this moment is the reality that one day we will be reunited with her in heaven. For now I pray that the memories will sustain us as the reality of her loss settles in .She was and is one-of-a-kind and I would like to close with a line from her favorite play, Les Miserables. “When one loves they see the face of God .Everyone in this church has seen the face of God because of her love”