BUTTERFLIES AND COOL BREEZES
12 June 2005
What do you wear to a memorial service in a feed barn, I wondered. All I knew about plans for my cousin Shirley's memorial service was that we would be sitting on bales of hay and eating lots of chocolate, because Shirley loves chocolate.
Already this was starting to sound like a pretty swell party!
I did not dress in my finery (if I even have any finery), but put on some stuff more suited to hay bales than memorial services. I packed up the 3 dozen eggs I had stuffed this morning--my mother is the queen of stuffed eggs, but wouldn't have all the right equipment at hand at my cousin's house last night, so I offered to make them for her. I assured her I did know how to add mayonnaise and garlic powder to egg yolks to make her "famous" stuffed eggs. She was going to bring me mayonnaise (only Best Foods -- Helman's, to you guys east of the Rockies -- will do), but I assured her that I had plenty of Best Food on hand. Nervously, she passed the stuffed egg torch to me.
I had planned to make the eggs the previous night, but the fridge was filled with leftover Chinese food from the night before and I didn't want to leave stuffed eggs out at room temperature all night, so I got up early to do them. The dogs helped me by standing at my feet and walking with me every. step. I. took. I was ready to kill the two of them by the time I was starting on my third dozen eggs!
The memorial service was held in Point Reyes Station, near Inverness, on the coast, or about a 2 hour drive from here. Shirley had lived in this area for many years, and grew up in nearby Inverness.
The location was "Toby's Feed Barn," owned by the Giacomini family, for whom Shirley had worked for many years, in her role as caretaker for Hospice. She became so close to the family that her daughter was to relate that one whole page in her address book was devoted to telephone numbers for people in the Giacomini family.
We didn't actually sit on bales of hay; we sat on chairs, but surrounded by bales of hay. An altar was set up with Shirley's ashes, candles, and items that were important to her life.
The service was simple, but everyone wanted to speak and as they spoke, sides of Shirley came spilling out. I'm sure, for example, that it was common family knowledge that Shirley's father had been part Cherokee, but I never knew that. I had always wondered why she had become so taken with Indian culture in her later years. I learned today that she was trying to connect with her roots.
A woman named Sky Hawk explained how Shirley had received her Indian name of Rainbow Woman (from the early days of her connecting to the Indian community, when Sky Hawk saw her sitting on a beach, with a rainbow arching over her head).
And then there came a parade of people, young and old, family and friends and acquaintances, all talking about how Shirley had touched their lives. How she had overcome the negative parts of her early life, reconnected with her children, and become a valued member of her community, a woman who lived life to its fullest and loved every moment of it.
There were tears and laughter and lots of love.
At the conclusion of the formal part of the service, a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" and "Scotland the Brave" and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
When my cousin Peach got up to speak, the light glinted off of a butterfly necklace she was wearing, while a cool breeze blew through the barn.
"When I'm gone, you'll find me in butterflies and cool breezes," Shirley had promised.
There was no doubt in anybody's mind today that she was there at the service, nodding her head in approval. She had left a lengthy set of instructions for what she wanted, where she wanted it, who she wanted to attend, and that she wanted it to be a marvelous party.
And, as promised, there was lots of chocolate.
PHOTO OF THE DAY