It wasn't a complete surprise, at least to us: far as I can tell, she was the one person well enough tuned to her mother to realize that the end was near. That's not astonishing -- Mother was the sort of person who didn't like to make a fuss in public, and had managed to convince everyone at church that things were, if not normal, at least not dire. But Jane had many years of reading her mother, and had gotten the hints. We'd hoped that there would be a little more time for a better goodbye, but it was apparently simply time.
So we rendezvous'ed at home, packed far too much (not really knowing how long we were going to be away), and jumped into the car. I drove as she began to make scads of phone calls -- being the only close living relative, she is executor of the estate. That was probably a blessing in its own way: it kept us busy enough for most of the weekend to keep from getting too mopey and morbid. Fortunately, Mother had been characteristically organized about the whole thing: she had informed both Jane and the church pastor of how to deal with -- well, pretty much everything. How the church service should go (including what hymns to sing and who she'd prefer to have as a soloist); where to hold the visiting hours; where she should be buried; etc. There was still a vast amount of work (indeed, still is), but it saved Jane from having to make too many hard decisions in the event.
The first stop on getting to Bridgeport was the hospital. They'd kept Mother in her room until Jane could get there and say goodbye. I have to say, it was profoundly unsettling to me -- I believe it's the first time I've ever had to see the dead body of someone I was reasonably close to. I've been to scads of funerals, but they've all been closed-casket affairs. The immediacy of seeing her there, especially as wan as she was (her final weeks not having been healthy ones) -- well, it's going to take a while to get past that image.
Then we went over to her apartment, and started the hard task of packing. That would be a recurring theme over the next few days. She's been living in a very good assisted-living facility in recent years, and it's fairly expensive, so we have serious motivation to get her things packed up relatively quickly -- we're shooting to be out of there in a few weeks. So pretty much all spare time over the next few days was spent starting to organize and pack things up. Fortunately, timing seems to have been on our side -- for instance, the Church's clothing-rummage sale is next week, so we did a fast sort of the clothing, and sent the stuff Jane doesn't want down to that. She would have wanted that.
Which brings us to the Church. That was a recurring theme over the weekend. The Church was her family, to at least the degree that the SCA is ours. It's a main reason why we never tried to move her near to us when she sold her house: her support network was always Golden Hill United Methodist, and moving her away from that would have been simply wrong. It was particularly driven home by the various ceremonies. The visiting hours consisted of us, my parents, and a couple dozen people from Church. The funeral (at the Church, of course) was us, her sister-in-law (nearly the only other surviving near relative), a few people from the (Church-affiliated) living facility, and several dozen people from Church. That compensated for the small "real" family, I think: her friends from Church were in many cases just as close as family, and it's clear that she was very deeply loved.
The funeral home, Redgate and Hennessy, was quite pleasant and easy to deal with, although I think they were slightly disconcerted at how well-organized Jane was about the whole thing. I was occasionally a bit amused as the delicate line they walk as a sort of assembly-line of death (they have three ceremony rooms in the building, and it seemed like they have all three running pretty much full blast), but they were both respectful and organized, giving us not a moment's trouble. Indeed, they helped things move along at a remarkable clip: by the end of business Friday, we had met with Gary (our funeral director), and gotten pretty much everything prepped.
On Saturday morning, we met with Pastor Brian, who turns out to be quite a charming chap. Some priests are in it mainly for the pastoral care; others for the comfort of doctrine; others because it simply was expected of them. Brian strikes me as a theologian, characterized by a combination of intellect and faith. I can see why he's so loved in the parish; he was a fine person to deal with. (One of the frequent refrains of the weekend was people talking about the fact that Brian is moving on, after a dozen years at Golden Hill -- he's becoming the director of Bridgeport's ecumenical Council of Churches, which I suspect he'll excel at, but the folks at the Church are all a bit unhappy to see him go.)
Saturday evening was dealing with the clothes, as mentioned before, as well as the books. Jane comes by her bibliophilia honestly, so there were a lot of books to deal with, and we can't absorb all of them. Fortunately, the family has a traditional place to send books: the Pequoset Library Book Sale, an enormous sale that happens in a nearby town. They're well-organized, with outdoor dropoff sheds that let you leave books any time, so we dropped off 11 boxes of books that we decided we didn't care about enough to keep. (We're keeping about eight boxes of books, at least for now, and donating another box or so to the facility's library.)
The main focus of Sunday was the visiting hours. Simple and tasteful, although the open-casket aspect still got to me a bit. Fortunately, Jane had had enough presence of mind to grab some old pictures of her mother while we'd been dashing out the door on Friday; we set those up, along with the wedding photo and some others. We were taken slightly aback by the many observations that the pictures of Jane's mother as a young woman looked much like Jane herself -- we'd never thought of them as looking much alike, but decided that it was a fair point.
The initial while was somewhat awkward, with just the two of us rattling around in the room. Fortunately, after a while we got a steady flow of folks from Church, and Jane got to attend to them. Fortunately for me, Dad and Sandy showed up after a while, and I largely chatted with them. Dad just had eye surgery a few days ago, so he'd been a bit unsure about coming along, but decided that he was no longer in any danger of scaring small children and animals. After the ceremony, we went out with them to the Southport Brewing Company, the same brewpub that we had discovered for dinner Saturday night. (Verdict: good food, although not anything I would travel for. Very good beer, including an exceptional blonde lager, and a stout with a remarkably strong coffee edge.)
Monday morning was the funeral itself. Much of the choir showed up: Mother had been a 50-year member of the choir and was much beloved by it, so the music was excellent. After swearing for days that she was going to write a speech, Jane wound up extemporizing her obit from notes instead. I think it was stronger for it, with a lot of honest feeling, and still organized enough that Dotty Moore asked for a copy of the speech. Pastor Brian then wandered around with a microphone, and let members of the congregation contribute their own memories. The common refrains seemed to be that she was a demanding woman with high standards for both herself and others, but also a warm one and a good friend, with a strong sense of humor. (And a deep fondness for dreadful puns. And a fanatacism for the Phillies that knew few bounds.)
After playing receiving-line for a while, we headed down south. The family plot is down in Clark's Summit, PA, in the Scranton area. The drive went reasonably smoothly, aside from getting slightly lost in town itself. We didn't try to convoy with the hearse, figuring that trying to do that for three hours would make all of us nuts; instead, we rendezvoused at the cemetary. The interment was quiet and brief: just us, the fellow from the funeral home (who we wound up thinking of as "Young Mr. Redgate", since we was apparently the son of the owner) and the guys from the cemetary. Jane said goodbye, and took a few pictures of the headstones (being always the good genealogist), and then we skedaddled so the guys could deal with closing things up.
We decided to crash last night down in NJ at Dad's house. (While he, of course, was in Boston.) We spent the evening with Sandy, who made her wonderful leek-and-sausage pasta dish for dinner, and generally tried to unwind. Today was the drive home, with a couple of hours in the middle to continue packing the apartment, especially getting together Mother's papers so that Jane can figure out the estate. Fortunately, she was very consistent: being a sometime accountant and secretarial teacher, she left extensive records and notes. So while there's a great deal of work yet to do, it isn't (knock on wood) likely to have many problems.
And then home, for an evening of comfort food and real unwinding. It's all been a tad unreal, and it's far from over: much of the next month is going to be spent dealing with all of this. But hopefully the worst of it is past...