Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Fitting Good-Bye

There were probably about 100 people in attendance at my mother's funeral from some of her oldest and dearest friends in the Seacoast of New Hampshire to the Governor of the state.  Mom is one of the Republicans who actively and vocally endorsed Governor Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, in her state Senate and Gubernatorial elections.  So, attending her funeral was a very nice gesture.

Mom had put me in charge of planning her service, and thankfully, she had taken the time to write out her wishes back in October, 2008, a year after my father had died.  Dad did not pre-plan, which left us with the task of not only mourning his death, but attempting to discern what would make for a fitting remembrance of his life.  Mom, at my urging, put some thought into what she would want, and as her planner, I am grateful.   

Oddly, she didn't select a psalm or even a Gospel lesson.   And after some thinking, praying, and discerning, I suggested to my brothers that since mom's major wish for the service was lots of music, we should have the psalm sung.  My niece, Charlotte, is thinking of majoring in choral music, so it was only natural that she would be the soloist and that we should have her sing Psalm 23, "The Lord is My Shepherd."  And, what better tribute to my funny mother than to use the version that has come to be known as "The Vicar of Dibley" theme song.  Both my brother Carl, and her best friend, Cathy, who is also a singer, had arrived at that same conclusion about the psalm.  And so that was one thing decided.  Mom had desired Cathy to sing a solo, and so I asked her what she wanted to sing, and she chose a spiritual called, "Deep River."  And it was unbelievably beautiful, and served as the prelude to the service.

With the Gospel, I looked at the various John lessons and thought, "None of these work for the type of woman my mother was!"  And so, I started with looking at the passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the prisoners.  As I read it aloud to my partner, and as I felt myself becoming emotional contemplating the message of the reading, we both were drawn to go to the Matthew version of the Beatitudes:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, 

his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the 

kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter 

all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, 

for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way 

they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, 

how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, 

but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  

No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, 

but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, 

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works 

and give glory to your Father in heaven.

My mom had named four hymns specifically that she wanted to include in her celebration of her life.  I realized we could use some cover time for the Eucharist, and so I picked two more, "The strife is o'er" and "I sing a song of the saints of God" two very different hymns in their tone.  Both very reflective of not only how my mother's last eleven months of earthly life had been, but the joyous nature of her spirit as well.  Put together, they captured the heaviness of grief while delighting in her life among the saints.

My three brothers and I were given an opportunity to speak.  I gathered with them yesterday to lay out an order and get a sense of what they were going to say.  The priest was concerned that we not repeat the same stories over and over.  Of course, each of us has had our own experience of our mother, and the Anonymous Peggins, Hurricane Peg, Margaret Bailey Clark Gage was a large life-force, so there was plenty for us to talk about without too much overlap.  Tom, our family historian, noted that my mom was a latch-key kid in the 1930s, long before that became a "norm" of American families.  Her parents divorced when she was only eight years old, and her mother had to work.  And mom would spend her childhood riding trains back and forth between New York City and Bay City, Michigan, to be with her parents.  My brother Carl noted that she was in a better place than where she'd been at the end of her life.  And my brother Edward talked about her fearlessness when it came to speaking truth to power.

I don't have their spiels, but the following is the text of what I said:

"My brother Tom told me that the last thing my mom heard before she died was the Hospice chaplain saying The Lord's Prayer.  And I reflected on these lines, 'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'   This was my mom's mission: to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven.  And she did that by being a loving, persistent, and passionate voice for justice.

When I came out, I had no idea how my mom would react.  Nothing she'd said or done up to that point indicated that she'd be OK with having a gay kid.  In fact, her letter to me which forced the issue--a  letter in which she hoped my friendships with women were 'healthy, wholesome, and appreciative'--felt judgmental and made me angry.  In our stilted conversation on the phone, I told her I was gay.  I waited for the wrath of mom.  Afterall, that's all I had ever seen from culture and the church and the Republican Party.  Instead, she went quiet (Yes, my mom WAS quiet) and she said, "OK."  She had been worried that I was sick.  Now, she knew I was not.

After many more conversations, and many more questions, I encouraged her to get in touch with Nora Tuthill and the local PFLAG chapter.

That's when the creation of the PFLAG "momster" came into being.  One meeting of hearing about the disparity of treatment and how my rights and dignity were systematically denied was all that it would take.  This was unacceptable, and Peggy Gage, the Hurricane, was going to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven, and you better not try to stop her!

Everyone, including the cashiers and baggers at Shaw's Supermarket, was going to hear why we needed to be concerned about equality for all. (Aside: seriously, I can't tell you the number of times I'd be standing with her at the cash register and she'd be introducing me as her 'lesbian daughter' and I kept thinking, 'Really?  Do we have to do this now, mom?')

Mom was a big reason why this congregation became a more inclusive and welcoming place.  And one of her greatest thrills was to be part of the choir that sang at Bishop Gene Robinson's consecration service.  Incidentally, she also was the Nellie Bly of that event for an international gay and lesbian radio magazine.

When my parents moved to Florida, and my mom wanted to attend an Episcopal Church, I had to tell her a sad truth: the Episcoapl Churches in Tallahassee in 2005 were not anything like Christ Church Exeter.  

Fortunately, about a month after her arrival, the biggest (and frankly the best) Episcopal Church in Tallahassee had a split, and all the clergy, almost everyone on the vestry, and 2/3 of the congregation marched out on a Sunday to start a new "Angican" church down the street.

It was a painful event for St. John's, but it meant my mom could attend an Episcopal Church in Tallahassee... in her rainbow beads and PFLAG buttons. And woe to anyone who grumbled about Gene Robinson in her presence... including the Bishop of Florida!  She made many friends in that congregation, and I know she was very happy when I had my own renewal of faith and would sit with her on Sunday mornings.

Even in Tallahassee, mom could not stop talking about Christ Church and all the people she loved here.  So she left sunshine for snow...because she loved New Hampshire.

Mom did us a great favor by leaving behind clear directives about what she wanted in this service.  I want to read just this one portion to you because it is vintage Peggy Gage (I wasn't going to imitate my mother's voice, but my brothers egged me on, so I read this paragraph in "her voice"):

"As I said in the beginning of this, I want my ashes mixed with my husband's in our resting place at St. Andrew's by the Sea, and if I pass when the weather will allow it, as soon as possible for all concerned.  But, I leave all of this up to the planners.  I have mentioned Susan planning a lot of this, but I hope she includes her brothers in any of her ideas on how things should be run.  All of my children are cradle Episcopalians, so they should know the drill, so they had better do it right.  I have spoken....I love them all so much and am very proud of all of them, and I hope they continue on with their lives with love, passion, and dignity."

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven....

It is now up to us to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven."

1 comment:

Phoebe McFarllin said...

It sounds like a beautiful and appropriate service for a the loving well loved mother. A service I am sorry I could only attend in spirit.