As it turns out, my step-father was not able to attend visitation at the funeral home last night. The roads were treacherous due to snow and he was having difficulty breathing. In fact, the symptoms of his COPD were so bad that he didn’t attend his mother’s graveside service today either. In fact, my sister and her husband (with their baby), and my mother decided to head home as soon as they could round up their van load.
They left before the funeral in an effort to get my step-father closer to home and the hospital where the doctors and staff know him and his history. Because he would not be attending the graveside service, he sent word through my mother that he wanted me to put a flower on his mother’s casket and to say it was from her son.
I wasn’t quite sure when I should do this: before I sat down, at some orchestrated moment, or when the funeral was over. (Incidentally, the officiating preacher spoke about the awkwardness of the whole losing a loved-one thing.) I quietly waited, hoping for some cue. Finally, when the last prayer was spoken, the pall bearers removed their boutineers and placed them on the casket. I took this as my cue to place the rose.
I hobbled forward with my cane and set one foot onto the edge of the platform on which the coffin rested because I could not reach the top of the casket. As I tried to speak, my vocal chords tightened. I had the thought that this message was between a mother and her son, so it really doesn’t matter if anyone else can hear it. I inaudibly spoke the words, “This is from Jimmy.” As I mouthed the words, I heard them clearly in my own head. I placed the rose amid those in the spray. I touched the smooth, cold wood of the lid, choked back a few silent tears and returned to my seat on the front row. At that moment it occurred to me that I had been appointed a sacred task. I was the messenger… the conduit between the here and the beyond. I was the surrogate son.