Life Notes: Goodbye to Georgianna
A beautiful day for a beautiful woman

At first, it seemed too beautiful a day for a funeral. But then I re-thought that: our dear friend Rosemary’s mother deserved nothing less for our goodbye.

That morning, the sun lit up the world as we gathered outside the church I’d passed countless times, but had never entered. We stood on the sidewalk in clusters – friends, relatives, neighbors, all of us connected by Rosemary and Fred, with whom we’d spent happy times not just for years, but for decades.

On this day, greetings were subdued, conversations quieter. This morning’s mission was far different from the marvelous Super Bowl parties that are an annual rite at Rosemary and Fred’s charming old house.

We were mostly of a certain age. So many of us had already said goodbye to our own parents, and of course those memories floated in the very air around us. Monumental past goodbyes live on in the present.

I reached out to hug Rosemary’s and Fred’s sons in their proper suits. When had the little boys I had known – the budding engineer, the scholar and the editor/musician – morphed into these handsome men?

Inside the church, the draped casket was guided down the long aisle – the same aisle a bride would probably be walking in another few days.

The thought had particular resonance because Rosemary’s mother, the wonderful Georgianna Lillian DiGioia, had been a gifted creator of wedding veils for generations of brides. She had loved pampering them and looking after their nervous mothers.

Because my connection to Rosemary is deep and wide, I knew wonderful stories about Georgianna. I knew that she was funny and mischievous, playful and wise. She had fallen in love with a good man and had devoted her life to him – and to their daughter. And when she became a widow, she bore that profound loss with dignity and grace.

When she was in her 90s, Rosemary and Fred welcomed Georgianna into their home. And for the last seven years, Rosemary and her mother had lived out that classic role reversal: the daughter became the loving, generously giving mother.

Every single night, Rosemary would go into a second-floor bedroom, hug her mother and say the same thing: “See ya’ in the morning, Mom.” And then, one recent morning, there was no response.

In the church, we were not saying goodbye to a young woman. Ninety-eight years is a pretty fabulous run. When my own mother died at 97, well-meaning people told me that this was easier because “You had her for so long.”

How wrong they were. The habit of her – our constant bond – actually made her death more painful. Rosemary may find that, too.

As the sun glinted off the church’s stained glass windows, my dear friend stood before us and spoke of Georgianna. In so many ways, she spoke for all of us who had loved and lost our own parents. The deepest regret, Rosemary reminded us, can be the words unspoken. Saying “I love you” too late? A pain that never goes away.

In that church, we laughed and cried, we recited “The Lord’s Prayer.” We turned and embraced one another. And when the service was over, we all felt that we’d paid our respects to a wonderful lady named Georgianna. That we’d learned something about her life and how to live our own with more meaning.

As I hugged Rosemary goodbye that day, I was reminded of the words the rabbi said to me on the day we buried my mother. It was about remembering. Rosemary will learn this in her own way and her own time: As long as she lives, her mother will live, too. Because love – and memory – are forever entwined.

October 2014
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