Friday, September 2, 2011


Mrs. K.
Our neighbor Mrs. K, a woman I helped care for, died Tuesday morning.  Today was her funeral.   Catholic mass and funerals are second nature to me, a body memory from my youth.  Since that time I have become what we affectionately refer to as a pagan/heathen.  During Lent as a child, the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters would pass out tiny milk cartons with UNICEF photos on them to be placed upon the right hand corner of each desk.  My classmates and I would collect pennies we were told would be used for the conversion of  "pagan babies."  Truly.     I kid you not, I'm waiting for someone to send me a little milk carton full of pennies.

Usually when I attend a funeral mass I forgo communion.  Today for some reason I decided I wanted to participate.  I usually don't because non celibate gay folks are not supposed to receive.  Participating in the sacrament is tantamount to declaring that the receiver is in full communion with the universal Church and faithful to Catholic doctrine.  Which of course I am not.  But damn it,  the idea of  "joining with" Mrs. K.'s  family and friends in a communal albeit symbolic meal made me smile.  And I do happen to believe  that where 2 or 3 are gathered God is present.  I didn't want to feel separate from those who were grieving.  I wanted to be a part of it, so no disrespect intended, I went.

I was really nervous though. Rebel I am not.   Sunshine and Happiness and I were discreet at the service but didn't shy away from holding hands or from comforting one another.   That's kind of a moot point anyway because S&H had come out to the entire funeral home the night before.  Catholics however are not the most touchy-feely, free with their emotions, accepting kind of people and S&H is HUGE on emotions and hugging.  Anyone and everyone.  Anywhere.  So much so that sometimes I wince as she approaches an unsuspecting hug-ee. It makes me jumpy.   Also I'm just a teensy bit paranoid about being in a church that at one time would have stoned me. 

So S&H asks me at the beginning of the service if I am going to go to communion and informs me decisively that she is not.   I'm unsure.   When that part of the mass rolls around I decide that I would like to participate.  I am however extremely self-conscious because to  those Catholics who know S&H and I are gay (which is everyone who was at the funeral home the night before) it is a given that I should not go up and receive.  Thems the rules baby!  At this point I took a deep breath and stepped out of the pew and started up the aisle.  As I inched forward I kept looking for the guardian of the rules to jump out of a pew, tackle me and yell "Nooooooo!"  Needless to say, I was a bit distracted when it came my turn in front of the priest.  Here's how it went down:

Priest:  "The body of Christ"

My turn.  Total silence.  I am frozen in place, my mind gone blank, blankity, blank, blank as to what I'm supposed to say.  (Amen by the way is the correct response.)

Long pause. Oh wait something's coming  to me.

Me:   In full Pentecostal mode,  "THANKS BE TO GOD!" 

Not only is this NOT the correct response but by the look on his face this priest probably wouldn't have been surprised if Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston had  popped out of the sacristy and started singing  Oh Happy Day, so emphatic was I.   To his credit he still gave me the bread, although he did hesitate.

Anyway, we got through the funeral and afterwards S&H hugged Mrs K.'s family, the priest, the pallbearers, the driver of the hearse, the chapel attendant and the groundskeeper before we headed home.  S&H went off to work and I am here by myself thinking about the empty house next door.  The older I get the more true the expression, here one minute, gone the next becomes.  I'm sad and grateful both, glad to be here but aware I won't always be.

So here's to you Mrs. K.  I promise I will miss you.

This leaf from that legacy maple is the color
of the fine expensive wine
nine years ago
I gave up drinking

and hanging from the limbs of another tree
are the amber hues of so many
many drafts and gills
so many nights ago
I said goodbye to.

Water over ice in a delicate glass
I rescued from my dead mother's kitchen.
Take it, she would have said, and
put it to good use.

I did. I lift it now to know its clarity
Nine years or ninety-one:
At the end of any stretch there
lies another.  Here's to the stretch. Here's
to the end.  Here's to whatever time
it takes to have the heart it takes
once more to get there.  
                                     - William Kloefkorn