It's a little over an hour's drive to Ukiah, under the best conditions. With the storm pounding away on us, we gave ourselves two hours to get to the mortuary. That's why we were there more than half an hour before the hearse was scheduled to leave for the cemetery. There was no service at the mortuary, because we're having a memorial for Uncle Tommy next month, here in Santa Rosa. That's the way he wanted it.
It's hard not to lapse into gallows humor when you're sitting around a funeral parlor lobby, waiting. The coffin was a simple one, as Tom had requested, and the flowers we ordered were tastefully displayed on it. We really couldn't have asked for much more, except for everybody else to please get there so we could head out to the cemetery. The funeral director apologized for wearing old clothes, but he said he's ruined a lot of shoes and slacks in muddy rural cemeteries on days like this.
When the other mourners did arrive, we had to race to catch up with the hearse for the processional. It's about fourteen miles south from Ukiah to Hopland, and we covered it in about ten minutes. I mean, that coffinmobile was moving, and the three or four vehicles trailing it had to work to keep up. We had the heaviest downpour of the day during that drive, and things looked bad for the graveside service.
But it was wonderful! The rain stopped, and the sky grew lighter and more promising, at just about the time we got to the cemetery. The priest and a few family and friends who were smart enough to go directly to the grave were there waiting for us, but we were less than five minutes later than the appointed time.
The service was simple and down to earth (so to speak). Tom wanted a priest, and there were enough Catholics in the crowd that the amens and such came out loud and clear. After a few prayers and readings, Tom's companion and caregiver Nan read a message from his ex-wife, an inspiring elegy celebrating the spirit that allowed him to overcome the effects of polio for so many years.
Mom also spoke about her baby brother whom she'd raised almost as her own child, and some old friends of Tom's from school spoke warmly of how highly he was regarded by the people who knew him. They were first-year student nurses when he was in the hospital at 19, and they got special dispensation to help care for him while he was in an iron lung. Even at that dark time, he kept his good humor, and that's what they wanted to share with us.
After the service, we caught up with family members we hadn't seen for a long time (since the last family funeral, in most cases). We were pleasantly surprised that so many of them showed up, because they had to come from much further away than we did, on a dreary day just before Christmas. We appreciated the care and concern that gesture showed. The family has scattered in many different directions, but it's good to know it can still come together when we need it to.