The house is suddenly quiet. I can hear the refrigerator, the washer, the dryer, the ashes settling in the fire, the hum of the computer. All weekend we were surrounded with dear, wonderful family members coming in, going out, eating together, singing together, crying together and laughing a lot. Now they’re all gone back to their homes, their jobs, and their schools.
My mother-in-law died Friday morning and her funeral was yesterday afternoon. Her daughter’s house, where she had been living, was the gathering place for a host of Mama’s family–children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, close friends, everyone. Cousins became much better acquainted with each other as they played ball, hide and seek, etc. Hidden talents were on display at the jam sessions on Friday and Saturday nights when people who are usually quiet and don’t say much were suddenly center stage with guitars in hand. We learned more and more about the dear lady we were celebrating as more and more yarns spun out.
We laughed and shed tears almost at the same time as we prepared for that funeral, a funeral which Elizabeth Morris Graham herself had planned so well that we had nothing to do but celebrate her wonderful life. My husband, her oldest son, did ask to be on the program as he wanted to eulogize his mother. “My speaking was not part of her plan,” he said in his opening, “but I want you to know a little bit about my mother that she wouldn’t tell you.”
He told us about how she grew up in depression years moving frequently from one share cropping farm to another, seldom able to finish one school year at the same place she started. She got involved in a church called New Shiloh as a young person and at the age of sixteen became a Christian. She married JB when she was nineteen and they had three children. She worked hard in the field, in the home, and in the community. But come
Saturday she’d be getting her family ready for church, even JB who early on was not a believer. My husband said she’d iron and cook and cream bushels of corn but she’d also read her Bible and make sure each child got ready for his/her Sunday school lesson. She taught them to tithe and help pay for their own clothes with money they earned from picking cotton.
She was a member of a little country church called Merrillville Baptist for 63 years before, as a widow, she moved in with Charles’ sister Revonda and joined First Baptist Thomasville. There she became a familiar figure rolling her walker in to Sunday school, no matter how much her humped-over back hurt, going to church, greeting every person she met with that eager smile of hers.
Her birthday was December 29 and on December 28 we gave her a big birthday party out at her old church in Merrillville. She had a lovely big cake and was greeted by 145 family members and friends from her two churches. Just recovering from a bad back fracture, she reigned like a queen that day in her favorite chair as we all buzzed around her.
Two weeks later she had a massive stroke and now she’s gone to heaven.
Mama was a detailed planner, had never been able to go to bed until her house was in perfect order. So it should have been no surprise to us that as she approached ninety she planned and replanned her funeral. She’d think of one more song she wanted at her service or one more detail for her obituary and Revonda would run it up to the funeral home. I told her she was going to plan it all so well, we’d have nothing to do. She’d just smile and shake her head–and keep on planning.
But we did have something to do. We celebrated her and had such a wonderful time looking at the pictures she’d given to the funeral home for her dvd showing (in her order, of course, with instructions not to change that order at all!) and enjoying her tons of friends of all ages. The music she’d selected was comforting and sweet and so very appropriate and performed with such passion and poise by her granddaughter-in-law Leigh Barwick and two friends.
And now today, as I adjust to a quiet house with no grandchildren running, tossing balls, hiding behind curtains, dashing out to feed the goats, I’m thinking of Mama Graham. I’m missing her already, missing that call she’d usually make to find out when our children got on the road. And I’m wondering what she’d do on a day like this when all the hoopla is over and there’s nothing left but the cleanup. We need to start this new chapter, a chapter without her, but just how do we do that? Well, of course, she’d tell me quickly what to do. Just do the next thing. Get busy and keep on going.