I looked forward to St. Patrick’s Day and expected a day of good old Irish fun. Saturday would be a time to kickback and make the most of being Irish for a day. After all, I only get to wear my green nail polish twice a year—Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day. I figure at that rate, the bottle will last until I’m at least 150.
My plans changed when Uncle Jimmy passed away. His funeral was Saturday in Versailles where my mother lives. While I was there, I planned to visit Mom and then drop by the nursing home to see my brother Donnie.
The day started out beautifully. I left home dressed in green, of course, and wearing sandals. Yes, sandals. Here winter isn’t even officially over, and I take off for the day in open toed shoes.
The luck of the Irish wasn’t riding in the car with me. The closer I got to Versailles, the darker the sky. Rumbles of thunder, and streaks of lightning were followed by a downpour. The wind picked up, driving the rain with the force of a robo wash. I pulled off to a side road while first rain, then hail, pelted my car.
The storm passed, as storms always do, and I drove on. The bittersweet nature of funerals is that although it is a sad occasion, it is also family time. Many hugs later, the services began, and I remembered happier days.
Uncle Jimmy was a family recording historian, just like his namesake, my husband Jim. Several years ago, they took over my living room for weeks while Uncle Jimmy used a projector to roll his old 8 mm film and Jim videotaped the old home movies. They laughed and narrated, telling stories about the people pictured on the grainy black and white film.
After the funeral, Mom and I visited Donnie who was not having a good day. The nurse injected his medication into the feeding tube, and he drifted off to sleep. My mom sat on the edge of his bed, tears streaming down her face.
As we walked down the hallway, I said, “Mom, I think you need to do something to take your mind off this for a while. Why don’t I take you to the boat?” My mom loves to go to the casino and it always cheers her up.
This time, she just shrugged and said without enthusiasm, “Oh, if you want to go.”
I told Mom to call Aunt Lebetta and ask her to go. “She needs cheering up too.” My cousin Bonnie had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and further tests showed tumors in her brain. After spending the morning at the hospital, Aunt Lebetta was inconsolable about the bad news that only seemed to get worse.
Mom called. “She just doesn’t think she can go.”
“Tell her that you ‘old hairpins’ need to do something to get your minds off your problems,” I said. “Reta would expect me to do that.” My cousin Reta coined the nickname “old hairpins” for her two beloved aunts.
“Bonnie is hallucinating,” Aunt Lebetta said when she got in the car. Bonnie told them that her dad, Uncle Melvin, had come to see her and told her not to be afraid. Bonnie talked about seeing butterflies.
“You know what the butterflies are, don’t you?” my mom asked. “Melvin saw a butterfly come out of its cocoon once, and he said that is what death would be like—you come up out of your shell and fly away a beautiful butterfly.”
After a few hours at the casino, my mom and aunt showed me their winning tickets. Since they seem to play until all the money is gone, I confiscated their tickets. “I’ll give these to you when we get ready to walk out the door,” I said handing them each $20. “When this is gone, we’re leaving.” They walked out with smiles on their faces, worries pushed aside for a few moments.
Today, the message at church was about the tribulations of Job. Our minister told a story about a man who asked a good friend with terminal cancer, “How does it feel to know you’re dying?”
The friend answered with a question, “How does it feel to think you are not?”
Driving home from church, I thought about how unfair life can be. Nobody plans to have a terminal illness like Alzheimer’s or cancer. Life itself is terminal and just doesn’t go according to plan. No matter how Job-like life is, we can take comfort knowing that when the time comes we will rise up out of our ugly cocoons and emerge as beautiful butterflies.