I never did fall back asleep, and at about 6:50 my dad stuck his head in my door and said, "You ready to go to breakfast?"
"Huh?" I thought. My mom and I had discussed being ready to go at 8:00, at which time we'd go to breakfast and be done by 8:30 when Karen and Joe were to arrive. I rolled with it, though, getting up and running a comb through my hair before walking down to the little kitchen area off the lobby and enjoying our complimentary Comfort Inn breakfast.
We went back to the room, and at 8:30, I thought, "I'd better go see if they're out there," and sure enough they were. I came back and got mom and dad, and we headed out in the lightly falling snow following Joe in his SUV, carrying Karen, Lisa, and Terry.
We arrived at 45 Breezy Lake Drive, my aunt and uncle's home, at just after 9:00 and went inside for about 40 minutes. I got to see the pictures of their house that I took and had enlarged for my aunt to frame and hang around the house. She was so thrilled at how they'd turned out. And they did look great. I particularly liked the one of her front door; I think she picked out the perfect frame for it, too.
There were introductions and re-introductions around as more people arrived and reconnected. My Uncle Frank's two other kids (Karen's siblings) Frank Jr. and Sandy were there as well as friends of the family Cynthia and Toni. Toni had been Annette's best friend for 39 years and she said to me about my aunt after saying hello to me, "She did this to me. She left me all alone." Then she introduced me to her boyfriend.
There were several other people there, all of whom I couldn't hope to name, but most of whom I'd met on and off over the last four years visiting Uncle Frank and Aunt Annette—all pretty much Uncle Frank's side of the family.
We left there at about 9:40 and followed one another to St. John & James Parrish on Washington Street in West Warwick. Cynthia led the way as this is the church she attends regularly and she was the one who'd arranged to have the funeral there.
This was a huge, old catholic church, with a long, long aisle, ceilings at least three-stories high, stained glass galore, the (bully) pulpit—the works. Mom and dad slowly made their way down the long aisle to the front, and I first noticed the Lachapelles all sitting to the right. I saw Uncle Roland in the front, but started in the back row, in which I couldn't identify one from the other, but knew they were some of my cousins, whom I'm guessing I haven't seen in at least 30 years.
The first guy, tall and handsome, said, "I'm Roger," and I gave him a hug, and then Rene was next and I said hello and hugged him, too, while thanking them both for being there. I nodded to Rene's wife, Pam, but that was starting to get too far into the pew to reach them, so I jumped up front to say hi to Uncle Roland, since the mass was getting ready to start and we needed to be seated. I feel bad that I didn't notice Bobby or Jeanie at that time, and later, hoped they didn't feel snubbed.
Mom, Dad, and I took a seat in the second row, behind Karen and Joe and Lisa and Terry. The man from Iannotti Funeral Home, who was directing the funeral leaned over the front pew to Karen and Lisa and asked them if they would bring the gifts forward when it was time. (For you non-Catholics, believe it or not "the gifts" is not a euphemism for money. It means the wine and water, which if you didn't look real closely, or know any better, you might think was vinegar and oil in cruets. At any rate, it's what, shortly after it arrives at the altar, gets transubstantiated, which may sound like something from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but is actually one of the differentiating beliefs of the Catholic Church. But I digress...)
After that, the funeral director asked Terry (not knowing that he wasn't really family, as he's Lisa's fiance) if he would carry the cremains out in the processional. Terry leaned over to Karen and Lisa and said, "I really think a family member ought to do that, don't you?" And they both turned around and asked me to do it. Of course I said yes.
The funeral director sat down next to me and told me that at the end of the mass, after the final blessings over the cremains, I should watch for him up at the altar. "I'll nod to you and you go up there and help me. I'm going to grab the flowers (a wreath that was around the cremains box), and you take the box. I just had open-heart surgery, and those ashes are heavy. I wouldn't want anything to slip or anything, so you take them. So, I'll get the flowers and you get the box. Yeah, it was just recent my open-heart surgery. I had to walk with a walker for a while... and he continued on while I prayed to anyone who could hear my thoughts to please not let this man tell me his entire medical history. Dude, today's about our family. And that "heavy box" is our loved one.
I'm sure he must have gotten all A's in Catholic school, because he was Johnny-on-the-Spot in all things Catholic. He stood up before everyone else, sat down before everyone else, knelt before everyone else, repeated all the correct responses the loudest, and sang the loudest in a key that sounded like it just hovered around the one everyone else was singing in, syncing up in brief intervals way too far apart.
In spite of him, however, the mass was absolutely beautiful. It was a "high mass" in that most of the responses were sung instead of spoken, and some of the lines that the priest usually speaks were sung as well. I absolutely loved the sermon, which was about being connected.
I also appreciated the fact that he didn't act like he knew my aunt, because he didn't, and it's just so awkward in services when the clergy try to do that and something just doesn't sound right, or some little detail comes out that is just plain wrong, and everyone squirms. There was none of that, and I was grateful for that.
At communion time, I'd returned to my seat when I saw Jeanie come up, and I nearly reached out to touch her arm then, but it really wouldn't have been appropriate. I mean our Lord Jesus Christ was up there waiting to be eaten for goodness sake.
As the final blessing of the cremains started, it occurred to me that I was going to be, in essence, the sole "pallbearer" as I held my aunt in my arms for her final ride home. At that moment, I was both honored and filled with gratitude for the quality time I'd spent with her—and my Uncle Frank—in what turned out to be the final three and four years of their lives, respectively.
Outside, as I was getting into our car, a gentleman came up and said hello to me. "It's Bobby," he said. "The cute one."
To which I replied, "Yes you are. And I can say that!"
It took a second to register what I meant, and then he shook his head and smiled, and said, "Oh yeah. That's right."
We had a very long drive to the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery, and the snow just poured down. Big flakes. Lots of them. I thought it was beautiful, and a romantic—in the classic sense of the word—setting.
When we finally got there, there was another funeral turning in coming from the opposite direction, and when it looked like their line had completed, our line of cars started in. However, as I was turning in, I saw more of the other procession coming up the road, as they all had their lights on, flashers on, and a "Funeral" sign hanging from their rear view mirror, as did we.
When we got into the cemetery as far as we could without encroaching on the other funeral, the cars in our line pulled off to the side, and we sat in the blizzardy snow, while the rest of that other party passed us on the left to get up with the rest of their party. That's a lot of parties going on in the cemetery. As my dad always said, "People are dying to get in there."
We had to wait about another ten minutes there for one of the chapels to free up for us. Once it did, our line of about eight cars drove up to it. My dad stayed in the car, as it was pretty treacherous out there by that point.
Inside, right before the quite short service by the deacon (the "other" priest at that mass who didn't say the mass, but assisted with it), I called Uncle Roland up to the front row with us, as he had taken a seat in the rear one. The service ended with a little more holy water sprinkled on my aunt's cremains, and with the funeral director thanking everyone for coming.
We stood around for 15 or 20 minutes, during which Lisa met the rest of her cousins in a heart-warming round of hugs. She gave a huge hug to "Little" Rene's wife, Pam, who had (unbeknownst to Pam) help her (Lisa) find her birth mother (my aunt), back in the mid-90s. All of us listened intently, as she told the story of her Internet search, in which she ended up calling Pam saying that she was doing a genealogy study on the Casmiro (my Uncle Frank's side of the ) family, eventually teasing information out of her about the Lachapelles.
Pam's face was absolutely priceless when the incident finally clicked with her, as she remembered that phone call of so many years ago, and how she'd had, understandably, no idea what it was all about--had no idea that she was helping a long-lost cousin back to her birth mother and the family she was standing before today.
At the end, I said to Lisa, "Welcome to our family. No, I mean, welcome to your family."
After a round of hugs with everyone, we headed out. It was still snowing and dad was in the car about 30 or so feet back from the door we exited from. My cousin Roger was parked behind us, and when he saw me coming out with my mom, he jumped up into our car with my dad in the passenger's seat, and drove the car up so mom wouldn't have to walk that extra way. His thoughtfulness was absolutely incredible, and I so appreciate him as a cousin and a gentleman.
We followed Joe, Karen, Lisa, and Terry back to Seekonk, with a stop at a Subway on the way, so that the four of them could grab a quick sandwich to go. Terry had to be back to the hotel for a 2:00 webinar he was hosting.
When we arrived at the hotel, Aunt Vivian (my dad's sister) and Uncle Nib were waiting for us, and we drove over to The Country Inn in Warren for a delicious lunch and good family time. My Aunt Vivian is such fun, and a lot like my sister Vivian (her namesake) in terms of a joie de vie, or whatever the Portuguese equivalent is to that, as she's actually Portuguese, not French. Not that you have to be French to have a joie de vie.
I had their "Lobstah" Roll, which came with a side of mashed potatoes that must have been made from at least two potatoes, and some coleslaw. Funny thing about the coleslaw, Aunt Vivian remembered that I've always loved it, and my Uncle Nib said, "I do, too. My favorite coleslaw is from the fried chicken place."
"Kentucky Fried Chicken!" I exclaimed (hence the exclamation point), "Mine, too! I love their coleslaw. Sometimes I stop there and get some just to have as a side with my dinner." I added.
"Me, too!" he said.
When we got back to the hotel, Lisa was in the lobby on the phone with her parents telling how the day had gone at her birth mother's funeral. After getting mom and dad to the room, I went back out there, and when she got off the phone we had a wonderful chat for about an hour.
She shared with me a little of what she'd experienced over the last couple of days, and we shared some teary eyes, laughs, and sweet memories of my aunt, her mother.
At about 5:40, we went back to our respective rooms with a date to meet later for dinner, after she and Terry met with Karen and her siblings for a while in Fall River. I went back to my room and worked on yesterday's long, long blog entry.
We thought briefly about eating back at The Country Inn, but it was snowing so hard that we decided on a place right near the hotel. However, they stopped by to check it out on the way back from Fall River, before swinging by to let us follow them, and found it closed.
We ended up eating at one of the few places still open, a T.G.I. Friday's two businesses down from our hotel. Dad stayed in, so it was just mom and me joining Lisa and Terry and Karen and Joe.
We had a delightful dinner, which we started off with a toast that Lisa and I both raised our glass to make at about the same time. "You go ahead," she said. And we raised our glasses: "To my Aunt Annette! And to you two, Karen and Lisa, for handling everything so beautifully over the last several days." Hear, hear!
I loved Joe's stories during dinner of Karen's sense of direction, and those of his adventures hunting. I just can't articulate enough what I feel for this angel of a man whom I've known for such a short period of time and who's fighting the cancer battle of his life, and whom I now love.
He's such an animated, positive, caring and thoughtful person. In fact, as I was walking my mother slowly toward the car he was out scraping the windows of our car with his scraper and snow brush, because I had commented during dinner that I couldn't believe a rental car company would rent you a car without a scraper, particularly with a nor'easter in the forecast. That right there is the essence of Joe.
Back at the hotel, I caught up with Robert, and made a few moves in the three online Scrabble games I'm in the middle of, and worked on this long blog entry getting about three-fourths of the way through it.
I made notes in it about the rest of the day while everything was still fresh on my mind to make it easy to finish up in the morning. Time to rest.
In Loving Memory