On November 5th, forty-two members of our family gathered for an early Christmas celebration. From her hospital bed in the living room, Dianna instructed the young children (as she was so well-known for doing) in the rules of dirty Santa.
Everyone cried when it came time for the carols, but she was enjoying the singing so much that we managed through the tears.
It was a tiring day for her, but it actually left her energized. For our part—the immediate family—the day left us feeling loved and supported, both by the family who drove hours to be there and by the dozens of people who brought dishes for the meal.
Less than two weeks later, Dianna slipped from us, or as I keep reminding myself, was released from her suffering.
The funeral service was beautiful—she received the honor she deserved; and in the church packed to standing-room only, we shared in laughter and catharsis.
As our procession left the church, a man walking down the road paused and took off his hat.
The drivers sharing the road, however, were not so solemn or respectful. Though we had a funeral escort, and though our procession stayed in the right lane of the freeway, a large truck tailgated our car for several miles and then floored it around us. I would say the driver was oblivious, but our vehicle was directly behind the hearse, which was directly behind the escort with flags.
We did not have a police escort for one of the traffic lights. The escort leading the procession drove through the intersection, and a few cars later the light turned red. Rather than allow the rest of the procession through, cars began honking and trying to cut off the procession.
I guess they had somewhere to be, and fast. But, if anything, pausing for the mourners of the dead is a reminder of where we’re all headed, and how little the cares of today really matter.
After the graveside service, the family gathered for a meal in a church across town. The church door was propped open as a gesture of welcome. Incidentally, the homeless man who had taken off his hat two hours earlier was passing by and asked if he could use the restroom. When he walked in to find our family eating, he was clearly embarrassed and tried to leave without being seen.
Of course, someone stopped him and told him to fix a plate. He declined, again embarrassed, and tried to back toward the door. We assured him, however, that it was what Dianna would have wanted.
He made a plate and sat at a table away from everyone. We couldn’t allow that. Instead, one of the people who had prepared the meal asked him to sit at their table, and it seemed he had a good time. One of the church elders and his wife quietly went around to each table and took up a collection to help him on his way to Colorado, letting him know the gift was in honor of the great lady whose life we were celebrating that day.
Two hours earlier, this man took off his hat to our funeral procession having no idea that across town he would be sharing a meal with us. He showed more respect for our family than the other strangers sharing the road, and I could not help but think of him as a man who, in spite of whatever difficulties had led him into homelessness, had not forgotten something important about our human condition.
Life is strange for us right now. We have a void that simply cannot be filled. But we do have stories, and in every act of kindness given or received I think of Dianna.