Death, Mirth and Remembrance
My column about an uncommon man, my Uncle Dave, has stimulated a reader to share her fond memories of a truly unusual woman and a real humanitarian...her favorite aunt. Mary, for the touching memory and, also, for your ability to laugh at yourself while helping others heal (your aunt would be pleased, I'm sure) you've earned your passage into the Stress Doc's StressBusters Club. Let's follow your words...
I've enjoyed reading your columns in the Humor From the Edge newsletter. Your recent column dealing with your the theme of death & dying, for some reason brought to mind an incident that happened to me a few years ago.
My favorite aunt, Sister Nora, a Catholic nun, had done much good work in Sacramento. She had been principal of a girls' high school for more than twenty years and at about age 65 or 70 she decided to "retire". However, her "retirement" was not one of inactivity or much leisure time.
She was an anti-nuclear activist and had received some noteriety when she was arrested and put in jail for trespassing or government property for protesting a nuclear weapons site in California.
She also spent much time at a local soup-kitchen for the poor and at a shelter for women and children who were "on the road". Her time was spent counseling the women, many times having to help them with drug problems. Also, she helped with problems centering around abusive partners and with setting up education programs for the children.
During her "free time" she did jail visitations....counseling men who were in prison for a variety of reasons. She helped them with some practical things like composing and mailing letters that they needed to send out, and praying with them if they wanted her to.
She was a real "angel of mercy" to many people in Sacramento and was very well-known. When she died as a result of complications following a car accident, hundreds of people came to her wake and to the funeral Mass. Some even found the courage to stand up and tell their own stories of how Sr. Nora had influenced their lives. The Archbishop who celebrated her funeral Mass even referred to her as the "Mother Teresa of Sacramento". There was a real diversity of people at the wake and funeral because her work had cut across almost all socio-economic lines.
After the funeral Mass many many people went to the cemetary for the final interment. My mother (Sr. Nora's sister), my dad and my sister were also there. After the final prayers, Mom, Dad and my sister hiked down from the hillside where she was buried to go to the car and get ready to head back to the church for the funeral luncheon. I stayed at the gravesite for a few minutes to say my own good-byes and decided to take one rose from the casket spray as a remembrance of her.
I went down the hill to where my family was waiting in the car for me. I asked my mother if she would like me to get a flower for her and her other two sisters. She said "yes," so I walked back up the hill again to the plot. By this time the casket had been lowered into the grave and a floral arrangement was sitting by the side of the grave. There were still lots of people milling around the area and I felt a little reticent at taking three more of the flowers, but I decided that it would mean so much to my Mom and her other sisters that I swallowed my pride and removed three more flowers. I could feel the eyes of some of the mourners on me, but I just kept my head and eyes down and then walked down the hill again with the flowers.
As I got to the car, my Dad rolled down the window and said, "You went to the WRONG GRAVE !!!!"
I got into the car as fast as I could and told my sister to "GO!" It then dawned on me why I had so strongly felt those eyes of disapproval on me when I took the flowers. I am sure that the people at that other person's burial were thinking "GRAVE-ROBBER!" as I removed flowers from their dear one's flower bouquet.
Although it was one of the saddest days of our lives, we began laughing at my faux pas until tears came. You know how it happens when you just sort of release all the pent-up tension during a very solemn time...Everything just seems so much more bizarre and funny.
Mom made me tell the story to her own sisters and some of the other nuns at the funeral luncheon and everyone had a good laugh and I think it was very healing for all of us.
My guess is that Aunt Nora was having a pretty good chuckle too!
Mark, continue your good work with your StressDoc columns.
Mary, thanks for the heartwarming story. You capture both your aunt's inspirational spirit and the healing role of playful acceptance for our all too human nature. And we need both inspiration and imperfection in our lives to...Practice Safe Stress!
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Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc," Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a nationally recognized speaker, workshop leader and author on stress, reorganizational change, anger, team building, creativity and humor. The Stress Doc is a columnist for the popular cyber-newsletter, Humor From The Edge. Mark is also the "Online Psychohumorist" for the major AOL mental health resource network, Online Psych . His motto: Have Stress? Will Travel! Reach "The Doc" at (202) 232-8662, email: Stress Doc@aol.com