Walk into the service with your head hung low; a sign of misplaced respect for the deceased. Hug old friends and shake the hands of people you only slightly remember.
The deacons tell you to pick up a stone from a basket at the entrance. Curious, you think, but you gladly hold the small gray stone in your palm and massage the smooth surface with your fingers.
Smile and wince simultaneously at folks who nod as you pass them by in the tight pews. Too tight, you think, why do they make them so close together?
Throw the back of your brown, tweed sportcoat behind you. Notice, for the first time, that every man is wearing a black or navy blue suit with a white shirt and a dark tie and every woman is wearing a black dress with white fringe somewhere.
Organ music swells. You wonder how they build instruments like that. So encompassing, the sound.
The service begins. The minister speaks like poetry. A rhythm that’s unmistakable. There’s no words out of place. Each word is as beautiful as the last. Each word carries a cosmic weight.
Friends and siblings speak effortlessly about her kindness, her wit, her writing, her love. Your friends cry when her sons get up to speak. When was the last time you saw any of them cry? You can’t recall really, but it’s been a long time, you’re sure of that.
They get through their short speeches with indelible strength. They pause when they must, to choke back all the things that come rushing forth. You are proud of them and wonder how you will do when you find yourself in their shoes one day.
You feel something hanging all around the room. God? You ask the inside of your head. He doesn’t answer audibly, though, maybe he doesn’t need to.
Her husband speaks. He is a good man and his goodness is profound in that moment. How deep his love is for her. Is not was. Is.
Piano playing, poems recited, favorite blues songs echo from the speakers. All of it quiet reflection for a woman who was like a second mother to you. You cry too, but mostly because it’s beautiful.
The minister tells the congregation to remember the stone they are holding in their hand. This stone is from Rhode Island. She has been going to the beach where the stones were collected since she was a small child. Feel the weight of the stone. Feel its texture. Cup it in your hands. Now, imagine that in one of her many years at that beach, she may have picked up the stone you are holding in yours hands. Then, think of a word that describes your relationship with her.
That’s the only word in your head. Mother to her sons. Mother to her son’s friends; adopted and brought in to the family.
The minister asks everyone to get up, row by row, and place the stone in a basin at the front; an act of letting go.
You let the stone go and listen to the sound it makes as it hits the rocks below it with a slight thud. It sounds like a final page turning and a book closing. It sounds like closure.
You throw your arms around her sons and her husband. You sing a hymn you’ve never heard and you leave; with your eyes forward and your head up, a true sign of respect for your second mom.