My uncle Tony was my mother’s baby brother. They grew up together as the youngest of seven siblings, and spent much of their adulthood living in apartments in the same building and raising their families. When my uncle Tony died, it hit my mother pretty hard.
At the funeral home, Mary, his wife of over 30 years, must not have been thinking clearly when she came over to talk to my mother. In the middle of her conversation she remarks that her sister Angie told her that she could have done a lot better than marrying Tony. She said she agreed with her, but she loved Tony. This did not sit very well with my mother and I think it set the tone for what happened at the funeral.
My uncle lived only 45 minutes away, but his burial site was at a veteran’s cemetery, which was a good hour and a half to two hours away. This meant that it would be an all day event. First, all the cars met at the funeral home for the last viewing. My father was driving my mother and her sister in his car, and my husband and I had a couple of relatives in our car. From the funeral home we all drive to the church: the hearse, followed by the limo with my uncle’s wife and children, Angie’s car (the sister in law), my father’s car with the TWO sisters, then our car and a lot of other cars.
My mother is immediately ticked off. The sisters are supposed to be behind the limo of the immediate family, that is proper funeral etiquette, everyone knows that! The cars are arranged to follow by the relationship to the deceased. How does the sister in law come before the sisters? So, my mother begins saying, in her best outdoor voice, “The first become last!” We tried to calm her down before going into church, but to no avail. “The first become last” was her momentary mantra. Everyone within 100 feet heard her as we went into the church to take our seats for mass.
The priest comes out. He is Asian. He has an accent. He begins the proceedings with the traditional prayers. I see my mother getting anxious. Then he begins to talk about my uncle. My mother “whispers” to me, “I can’t understand a damn thing he is saying with that chinky accent!” I am trying to quiet her down. “It’s fine I tell her, I can understand what he is saying, it’s just the mass.” A few minutes later she says, “I still can’t understand a word he is saying with that chinky accent! Why can’t they get a priest who speaks English? First the cars and now this!” There was no calming her down. I just kept shushing her and hoping she would realize where she was, and praying the mass would end.
When the mass is over, we leave to return to the cars for a very long ride out to the veteran’s cemetery. The car issue rears it’s ugly head again. However, Angie apparently “heard” my mother’s “first to last” comments prior to mass and came over to us. She told my father and my husband to pull out and follow the limo and she would get behind us. That worked out fine. We all drove out there without incident, had the ceremony, the flagged over the coffin was folded and presented to my aunt Mary and we left to go back. However, we weren’t going home yet. There was going to be food at Angie’s house for all the mourners. That set my mother off again. She was not keen on going to Angie’s house to eat, but we did.
We arrive at Angie’s (the sister in law) house. She has a big spread and there are a lot of people there from our side of the family and their side of the family (mostly their side). Everything is going along fine until my mother eavesdrops or accidentally overhears a conversation that Angie is having with another guest. My mother only hears a part of the conversation. Angie was telling someone that her brother Jack, who lives in the apartment upstairs, allowed his girlfriend to move in, and she “wants her out of the house” because she didn’t like her. My mother understood that to mean that Angie wanted HER out of the house so she goes up to Angie and says, “Look if you didn’t want us here, you didn’t have to invite us, we will leave now.” Angie has no idea what she is talking about and tries to talk my mother out of storming off. My mother tells her “I know what I heard. You said let’s hurry up and make coffee so we can get these people out of the house.” If my memory serves me right, I think the misunderstanding was cleared up, but I can’t swear to it. I just know that the events of this day were discussed for many weeks after the fact.
I know my mother’s behavior was out of line even if she was grief stricken over my uncle’s death. But, that’s my mom. If my uncle was looking down on her, he would have understood and maybe even agreed. One thing is for sure, she made the day very memorable for everyone.