December 10, 2004

Yes, they know...

I believe in a lot of things that some folks look at as crazy, crackpot, flakey. I believe in some of them because of faith, others because of trust, and others because of experience.

One of the things I hold as a deep belief is that what we need will come to us if the need is great. We need only open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our souls, and shut our mouths and turn off our egos and insecurities. I believe this because I have experienced it more than once.

The first time, the time which shook me the greatest came several years ago after the death of my grandmother, Eva Albert. All of the grandkids who lived close to her in Maine called her "Mammette" as had their parents before them. Because I lived so far away, she was always just Gramma to me. But even though our times together had been short and years apart, I still adored her, and she loved me just a little extra because I was so much like her and had the red curly hair she always loved to touch.

She fell very ill in the fall, just as it started to get cold in Maine. My father, his brother Chester who was living in Indianapolis at the time, my mother, and I packed quickly when we found she was ill and probably dying, and left in the afternoon and drove the many miles to Caribou, the family home town. After a solid 23 hour drive and a stop over night in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for a much needed sleep, we hit the road again and arrived in Presque Isle, where she had lived her final years, only to find that we had missed her, and that she was gone.

We pulled into the driveway and into pandemonium. They had fallen onto her meager posessions like the winged monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, but my one of my aunts had hidden away a piece for me, so I would have something to remember her by. After talking all night in the kitchen, smoking and drinking coffee, we finally went to bed to await the coming series of viewings, rosaries, and eventually the wake and funeral.

The first night of viewing was like so many others, with family and friends gathering and spending time besider her to talk and pray and fuss over how she looked. After the rosary, we all left and repeated the night before.

The next day proved a re-run of the previous night, but at the end of the evening my Uncle Ernest said he wished he could have had Gramma's favorite song sung at the funeral mass. She always loved Ave Maria, and, he said, he deeply regretted that no one had a tape. I walked over to where he stood, in a small group of his brothers and sisters, and told him I could do it.

"Can you sing?" And before I could answer, my dad, who had only been to one of my choral performances in the entire time I was in high school and college spoke up and said, "Yes, she can do it."

A call was made, and the church organist at the little Catholic church in Caribou was contacted. She would meet me in the church the next morning before the funeral to play through it a few times, and I would do it during Gramma's funeral mass.

I was anxious to do well, and full of dread that I would not make it through the song. It was difficult to sleep that night, with the sadness of the funeral, the loss, and the terrible responsibility I had taken on myself to give to Gramma one last song, her song, the Ave Maria.

The next morning, after dressing and putting on the lapel of my jacket the lovely old rose and burgandy rhinestone pin she had given to me the last time I had seen her alive, I went to the church while the rest of the family went one last time to see her in the funeral home. One last rosary, one last good-bye, one last touch of her hand as it held her own rosary in death.

After the organist and I rehearsed, she left me alone in the church to wait for the family and the coffin to arrive. As I sat there, I could see the parrish ladies across the parking lot in the parish hall, fixing up the tables and putting out the food for the mourners, preparing the wake.

"What have I done," I asked myself. "I want this so much for Gramma, and for my dad and his brother Ernest."

I sat there for the longest time, alone, praying. I prayed like I had never prayed before. "Please, let me sing this song for you and for Gramma." The sadness sat in my throat like a stone. Then it happened.

I felt her before I saw her. It was warm even in the coolness of the church. And when I looked up toward the altar and the statuary, I noticed the lovely Virgin statue to the right of the altar. And at that moment, with my prayer still echoing in my heart, the face of the virgin turned to me so slowly and her smile fell on me so intense, so pure, so real, that I felt all doubt and grief lift off me and fade. I knew at that moment that I would sing the Ave, for Gramma, and more importatly, for the Virgin who had taken the doubt, the fear, the insecurity, and had given me such a serenity as I had never felt before.

I sat there with her, thankful and happy, until the procession arrived and the church began to fill. I took my place in the choir box, next to the organ, and waited for the mass to begin.

The music began, the mourners sang, the priest began to say the mass. Gramma's coffin sat at the front of the church. And at the moment, when it was time, the organist motioned to me and I stood. She began the music as I opened my sheet music, and I began to sing...

Ave Maria Gratia plena Maria, gratia plena Maria, gratia plena Ave, ave dominus Dominus tecum Benedicta tu in mulieribus Et benedictus Et benedictus fructus ventris Ventris tui, Jesus Ave Maria, gratia plena

I sang every word. My voice never faltered. Where I had been in fear of breaking down and weeping openly during this hymn, her favorite hymn and prayer, there was nothing but my voice, stronger than I had ever remembered singing. Over the top of my music, I could see the faces turn, and every eye was dry, the weeping had stopped for Gramma's Ave. And when the last note was sung, and the final note faded from the pipes of the old organ, it remained silent for a brief moment. And I looked from my place in the choir box and silent said thank you for the beautiful gift I had been given, the beautiful gift of being able to give Gramma a final good-bye.

Had she really touched me and given me strength? Some will say not, that it was only a trick of my mind or my imagination. But deep down, I know she did. And for the affirmation she lovingly passed to me, I am eternally grateful.

Gramma heard me. The Virgin made sure of it. And I thank her.

Posted by Mamamontezz at December 10, 2004 01:55 AM

I thank you for writing this very personal and touching post.

Posted by: K-Squared at December 10, 2004 08:38 AM

I believe that you believe that it happened and thats enough proof for me, honey.

I heard you sing the Ave on another occasion...

It was at a Christmas "talent" show sponsered by the hospital. You had searched high and low to find JUST the right taped music to accompany you. When your turn came, you stood at the podium, nodded to the stage manager to start the tape...the first beautiful opening strains of the music started..and just a measure or two before you were to sing, the tape made a horrible screeching noise and fell dead silent.
Everyone in the auditorium gasped...I was so embarrassed for you. But without missing a beat,came your voice in the strongest,clearest,and sweetest, rendition of the Ave I had ever heard, totally accapela.

When you finished, there was not a dry eye in the house. You received a standing ovation as I recall, and never was one more deserved.

I believe the Virgin was with you that night as well.

Posted by: delftsman3 at December 10, 2004 08:53 AM

Thanks for sharing.
I admire, in a way, your belief that all the things that we need will come to us, if the need is great, and we "shut our mouths, and open our hearts, minds, souls," etc.

But can't you see that your belief might be insulting to people who have unmet needs?

Think of all the millions who died in the Holocaust -- in your estimation, they were in some way responsible for their own demise. Surely their need was great, and surely some of the millions who were killed were able, as you advise, to open thier hearts, minds, and souls. What about them? What about those who died on 9/11? Or their relatives -- they may need their dead relatives back, no?

Can't good people die poor, say, or with their needs unanswered?

Posted by: Bill Groupe at December 11, 2004 04:30 PM

Mama, I'd probably come to your site more often if I didn't leave crying every time I do. Thank you for another wonderful, beautiful, post.

Gotta mention while I'm here that "willowfae" who left the comment right under mine on "Sweet Warrior" is my little girl Heather, making Daddy proud again.

Posted by: Bill Faith at December 12, 2004 04:55 AM

Beautiful and touching post Mama. The closest experience I've had to that was doing a reading at my Grandfather's funeral when I was 16. That was tough enough, although I like to think that his spirit helped me through it.

Posted by: Brit_Student at December 15, 2004 04:10 PM
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