Last time, I had just gotten us through breakfast at the Slow Burn cafe on Mountain Road, which was within easy walking distance of the Casita. We walked back, had the proverbial wash and brush up, and headed out.
The Memorial Service was going to be at the Church of Good Shepherd, (https://www.ucccogs.org/), which, at least as of the time I’m writing this in 2022, is way over across town just off Tramway Road. Actually, truth be told, it has one of the best views of the mountains in the city. I have heard it said that it’s worth converting to Congregationalism just to get the scenery.
Anyway, the service was scheduled to mid-morning and run to noon, when there’d be a light meal provided by Shirley’s relations in the church kitchen. Originally, we’d thought we’d have to be there early. We’d volunteered to help work the function -- maybe ushering, or doing prep and cleanup.
But, we’d underestimated the number of Shirley’s friends. They’d come from across the city, and, indeed, from across the country to be at the memorial. The Church had more volunteers than it knew what to do with. So, we ended up just driving to the church and parking.
It felt strange to be back. It had been, of course, our church for most of the time we’d lived in the city. We’d even been active on the church council and in church government. But, that had been three years before. Even in that relatively brief period, things had changed a bit. The Congregation is growing, which is good. New people, particularly young families with children, are coming in.
But, at the memorial service, we saw only a relatively few people that we knew well. Many of our individuals we’d known well just weren’t there any more. They’d moved away (as we did)...or their young children had become, well, older, gone to college, and Mom and Dad no longer had quite the motivation to go to church (“for the children”)...
Some, like Shirley, had left the scene entirely...
The service began. It began with a slideshow projected on the wall behind the pulpit -- pictures of Shirley and her friends at various times, including, as it turned out, one of her and Martha together. That was followed by hymns, music, mostly chosen from Shirley’s favorite pieces. Then various family members made presentations. They were obviously suffering. They missed their mother, sister, aunt...terribly. It was hard for them not to cry.
The Program For The Service
Many of them related stories of her life. It turns out she had some rather amazing adventures. Her husband had been an engineer, and they’d traveled the world while he worked on a thousand different projects. But, then, he passed on and she became a single parent who had to craft a career for herself, and in a great hurry.
Then, when they were grown, she refashioned herself again...this time as an explorer...seeking adventures, traveling the world...sometimes with friends, often alone...and seeing much. For example, there were photos of her in Antarctica, a tiny woman, hardly more than five feet tall, striding confidently among the snows and penguins.
And, by the way, you can see her obituary here: https://newmexicosun.com/stories/629382636-shirley-ann-kuhn-puariea
The service came to an end. We and most of the congregation adjourned to the kitchen and dining room which are in the basement. There was a luncheon...German hotdogs, to be precise, provided by Shirley's relations so that we could get a taste of real Wisconsin cooking. We ate...lightly.
Martha and I mingled. We spoke to old friends. I chatted with the minister -- actually, the interim minister. The regular minister was on sabbatical. But I knew her stand-in from my Albuquerque days. He’s quite a nice chap. We’d both been politically active in the same group during the early Trump years, and later I’d offered him some suggestions on self-publishing.
Then, the luncheon was over. People were filing out. We said our goodbyes to those who were remaining. And we were on our way.
We didn’t quite know how to react. I never do at funerals. On one level, they are very important to the survivors. Certainly, when I spread my parents’ ashes across the waves at South Padre Island, I felt a sense of closure that I otherwise would never have had. It was an easing, and without it I think I’d be carrying a burden still.
Let me put it this way. Once I knew a minister. He had a fabulous talent for words. In a sermon, he was talking about death. And he said, “take it from one who has been to the tomb many times. It is always empty.”
And that day, I felt that the tomb was indeed empty. And Shirley, however much she might be missed, however much her children and relations might grieve...
Was not quite present.
And there is something in that...something full of hope...
And even wonder.
More to come.
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