Desinare Della Vedova (Dinner for the Widow) by Gaetano ChiericiItalian, 1838-1920
Please click here for a detailed view of the painting and then click on the painting again at allposters.
Today I have an interesting true-life happening to relate. As you all know, a few days ago, my father, a WW2 Veteran (USS Enterprise) died at the age of 87. Anyone who loses a loving father will understand how hard it is to conceal the grief and loneliness that is felt.
Joe Brooking McGaughey in navy uniform, c. 1943 or 44
The name is pronounced, "McGoy."
Most people called him "Joe-B", and I often wondered why. I suppose, at the time, there were so many Joe's in the United States, that it was nice to be distinguished by having a "B" connected to your name. In some circles, if someone shouted "Hey, Joe!" half the men in the room would turn around and stand at attention. He was a painter of boat and sea-scenes and was related to the English marine painter, Charles Brooking. Middle names were often chosen to preserve previous family names or maternal family names, and one of his grandparents was a Brooking. My father was from a Texas family and learned to be resourceful through hard work and hard times in Texas. His father had been a cotton and cattle farmer.
My 6-year-old granddaughter told me how sad she felt, too, because it meant that when her grandfather was old, he, too, would die, and later on, her own father would die.
She asked me, "When is your father's funeral?" I told her it was on Thursday.
She then said, "I will wear my pink dress and I will bake a cake for the family."
"Oh, no, dear," I corrected her: The funeral is in Australia on Thursday, and we cannot attend, because it is too far away to get there on time.
At this point she wept.
Then, she asked, "Why can't we have the funeral here?"
I had been resigned to a grieve-as-you-go, existence, crying intermittently while doing housekeeping, laundry, dishes, cooking, and sewing. This was the way I always had to do it, because my side of the family was never nearby. That is the way it was for a lot of women of my generation, especially if their husbands had pioneer spirits and wanted to travel far away from home base.
"We can't do it that way," I said, to which she responded: "We can." She then began to collect the flowers in a vase, pick out her dress and hang it out to wear, and name the kinds of things she wanted us to prepare.
"That is a wonderful idea," I said. "We could all choose a time to call all the relatives that live in this country and have a memorial for him in our living room!"
"No!" she said, "I want a real funeral like the one we gave to our friend, Judy. I want flowers and singing and praying and a funeral sermon, and a meal provided for the family, just like they did for Judy's family."
I thought on that for awhile.
Because I was married to a minister who located us in far-away places, the congregations we served never knew who my family was. When my grandmother died, it was noted in one typewritten line in the church bulletin. It was too far away for me to attend the funeral or the memorial. When my brother died, it was announced during the announcement time when worship services ended.
Other families in the local church had large funeral gatherings, listened to a funeral sermon (a funeral sermon is a speech designed to comfort the family), had the congregation sing the favorite hymns of the loved-one, listened to prayers that were offered, and then to a multitude of speeches about the character of the person, including special memories.
Vases of cut flowers, and plants, filled the auditorium on these occasions, and sometimes our family was invited to take some of them home with us.
I began to think about why a "real funeral" is offered by the local church to the families of the deceased church member. It has a way of reassuring the ones who are left behind, and giving peace to the ones who are severely shocked and grieved.
My husband agreed with our 6 year old granddaughter, and he prepared his funeral sermon. She busied herself trying to help the plan along. A time was chosen for us to meet in the church auditorium. I gathered up the things that a normal grieving family would have taken to a funeral: photographs, things he made, letters he wrote.
A meal was prepared for a crowd of people, including punch, hot rolls, casseroles and salads. The table was arranged with the same care we always took for other members of the church. My 6 year old granddaughter did bake a cake for the family and placed it on a fancy pedestal cake plate with a dome. While she was helping to prepare food and gathering flowers, she said, "This will be the first funeral I have helped with." She has grown up going to the funerals of the families of the church members and it has impressed her. She knows it is a loving thing to provide a meal for the family.
I rose early to unlock the two great doors of the large meeting house where we assemble for worship on the Lord's day, turned on the heat, turned on the lights, and set out the banquet supplies: plates, utinsels, napkins and punch cups.
At the funeral, although there were only about a dozen descendants in attendance, my husband preached the funeral sermon, saying we were here to honor the passing of his father-in-law, who died 2 days ago. He related his own special memories of him and the conversations he had. We chose the hymns he taught us when we were growing up: Jesus, Saviour, Pilot Me (my father was a seaman much of his life), and "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning." Prayers were offered. Family members related Skype camera conversations with him and letters he had written, and personal experiences when visiting him.
Afterwards, we adjourned to the fellowship room, where a dinner was prepared for the family, and more conversation about him ensued. Then, there was the clean-up time, with washing the dishes, wiping the tables, covering the left-over food, and taking out the trash, the same way as any other family in the church at a funeral.
Since I had never experienced a funeral of any family member, I can say that now I know why we do this for the family. It does make some difference in the unsettled feeling that comes upon a grieving person. It is an acknowledgement of their passing, which is much different than just one line in the church bulletin, or telling someone you are sad today because you just heard your grandmother or brother died.
The service was video-taped to share with other relatives. I showed the whittled pegs he had made for nails to build the log house, called "the big house", in Alaska. The house was so well put-together, with no nails and no fastenings other than those carved wood pins, that when it was bulldozed down over 50 years later, it took several attempts before the remainder of it would even budge or come apart.
Some of my father's whittled pegs were very long. Here are a few shorter ones that I got out of the logs from the house he built. I plan to put these in special boxes to give as gifts for family members.
Joe Brooking McGaughey (1926-2013) in Alaska on his "cat" looking thrilled to have started his own landscape business in the late 1950's.
I wanted to relate this because of the inspiration of this little girl. I hope in some way it plants a seed in the minds of people who are far away from their loved ones, to have normal ceremonies. In fact, I once planned a baby shower for a young woman. She, at the last minute, could not come, so I did not cancel it. The guests all shared the sandwiches and tea and enjoyed placing their gifts in a new laundry basket for the mother. (When you have a baby, an extra laundry basket is much needed.) We went ahead and used the balloons and decorations, and enjoyed the event. Then we packaged up the favors and some of the foods, the gift bags, the flowers, and chose someone to take it all to her house.
I chose the painting, above, for several reasons. It looks like the mother is in grief and hardly able to focus on anything else, which is the way a grieved person feels. Sometimes tears flow so constantly that it can bring on illness. Sometimes you lose your appetite, or everything tastes like brown paper bags. Not that I've ever eaten brown paper bags, but that nothing has a flavor when you are in grief. When death has come and taken our loved one, the earthly matters hold no value, and keeping house when your husband or child has died, does not seem to have a point. The painting above shows the mind removes itself from the physical things of this world. The loved one is in another world, and the grieving widow is left in the physical world, yet is thinking about where her husband is. The oldest girl looks like a 6-year-old looking for the brightness and goodness in life, yet somewhat connecting with her mother's grief without being quite as devastated. This is probably one little girl who would suggest that they put flowers on her father's grave.
If you save the picture and then use a magnifyer, you can see more details. In the background you see someone who might be the widowed mother and grandmother. Both women are thinking about their loss. They are there with the children, having dinner, but not really strongly focused on life at home. This really does happen in grief today.