Celebration of Life for my Mom
It is said that time eases all pain. Losing my mom was indeed painful but I could not feel pain. I was so numb and confused because I did not understand what just happened. She went in for a simple checkup and never returned.
My mom passed about 12:30 pm and they finally came to get her to the morgue about 4pm. She was cleaned, taped and wrapped. It is so strange that she became the body as soon as her death was called. I kept on saying she is my mom and she has a name but this was routine for the hospital staff.
After she was ready to be taken down I was about to leave and then realized I did not know what to do next. I asked the nurse what’s my next step. She told me the body and I corrected her, my mom would be released to the funeral home in approximately two days. What funeral home? You have to arrange it. I have to thank my dear friend Odile Devaux who came to the hospital to be with me and stayed till I was ready to leave. Thankfully she was the sane one and told me that she would assist with finding a funeral home to work with.
Mom wanted to be buried in Saint Lucia so arrangements had to be made to take her back, plus she lived most of her life in New York and had an amazing network of friends and family there. I could not just take her to Saint Lucia without giving her friends in New York an opportunity to say good bye.
After Odile and her husband left, Ferrah came by and demanded I came over to her house. She did not feel that I should stay alone, however I needed some quiet time, wanted to stay in the apartment and hug my mom’s clothes and her photos and just be in her space. The house phone would not stop ringing from visitors. They all came to visit her at the hospital in the evening and was asked to contact family members. Most of her friends thought she had been moved and were shocked to hear she had passed. What could I say, I was still numb. We realized that the apartment was extremely cold and found out the heat was not working. The landlord said there was a problem and it would be fixed later, so that was the deal breaker for me. I went to Ferrah’s house after everyone left.
The following morning my girlfriend Evelyn Paul called me from Greece. Her exact words were she had a dream and my mom had asked her to pray with me and let me know all was well. The prayer was so fitting and I told her so. I then informed her that my mom had passed the day before. This was so profound because she did not know my mom had passed. I believed my mom sent me a message through Evelyn. She wanted me to know that she was ok.
My sister Christine arrived in New York the next day while Donovan, Gale and Janin decided to meet us in Saint Lucia. We had a funeral service to arrange. Odile was able to recommend a funeral home so we decided to make an appointment for the next day. We spent the night by Ferrah and my mom’s faithful friend, Trevor Maxwell came to pick us up in the morning.
Picking a Casket.
Our first stop was the funeral home, Frank J Barone. We sat and got ready to discuss why we were there. The words could not come out. Oh my, I was burying my mom!! Both my sister and I were inconsolable. The Funeral home director was extremely accommodating. He asked me to take my time as he understands. I cried my heart out for a few minutes and then I prayed. I asked God for strength to do what’s best for my mom. I felt this calmness come over me and in my head the words Kel it will be ok. My mom was at my side, she was there to help me and strengthen me. She really was!
I was able to finalize all arrangements by God’s grace. We were going to have a service in the funeral home on Sunday January 11th and she would be transported to Saint Lucia on the following Tuesday. We then had to choose a casket. The toughest decision, once again the tears poured. I had to compose myself again because someone had to make the decision. I felt she was right there by my side. We had decided that since her favorite color was lilac, a lilac casket would be most appropriate. As soon as I walked into that room, the very first casket was a beautiful lilac casket just perfect for my mom. I believe that my mom knew I was not strong enough to go through all the caskets and she made it easy for me. The very first casket was hers. I took a picture of mom’s casket and pictures of some others and sent to my siblings. They all said I should make the final decision but they liked the first one. The most difficult task became the easiest.
Picking her clothes.
I felt so relieved now the next step was getting her clothes. I had to get her a beautiful dress as her final outfit on this beautiful earth. What better place than her favorite shopping spot. My mom loved, loved a street called Pitkin. She always spoke about going to Pitkin to shop. This lady was in Pitkin every Saturday. At first I thought Pitkin was a store and then found out it was a street with lots of shopping. I had to get my mom clothes in Pitkin. Not Macy’s or Bloomingdales or Target but somewhere in Pitkin. I was lucky because my mom was guiding me. The second store we visited I found this beautiful two piece suit for her. The shop attendant coincidentally was from Saint Lucia. She was a great help. I got her stockings, shoes- yes I got her shoes. Flat ballet shoes worked perfectly. Picked up the under garments, hat and gloves. I felt happy because I know my mom would be pleased. I went to the house and picked up her pearl earring, necklace and her rosary. I felt that she was ready to meet her father. I asked the funeral home to trim her hair as it had grown too long while in the hospital and also her eyebrows needed shaping. Call me vain but she would want that.
Preparing the program
Having all clothes delivered to the funeral home, the next step was the program. We had two days to get everything done. I called my cousin Jean and she was absolutely amazing. We decided on the songs she loved and the readings etc. My mom was in her church choir and also a charismatic member so she was what we call a staunch Catholic. Jean took control of the program and we were blessed to have Father Theo Joseph for that service (a St. Lucian priest). When the program was ready I realized it had to be typed up to send to the printers. Odile to the rescue! She was able to type up the program, find the words of all the songs and send to the printers in record time. My mom had to be guiding me for everything to be going so smoothly.
I gave my sister the task of calling up all my mom’s friends to let them know of the funeral service details. I also placed it on my Facebook page for my friends. I continued to work with the printers because there were items missing in the program. I had to provide an obituary, I had to provide more songs and a poem and write the eulogy.
I was beginning to feel overwhelmed and called my husband for guidance and chatted for a while. He was coming in that evening to finalize all details and I was looking forward to it. I was able to finally complete the program. Once again, I was fortunate that the person I was working with was from where else? Saint Lucia. She was an absolutely wonderful person to work with. I told her what flowers my mom liked, her favorite color and we designed the program. Whew! So happy this one was in the bag.
While this is happening we had to empty my mom’s apartment. Now that was a task. We could not get rid of too much stuff because we would be serving refreshments at the apartment after the service. Did somebody say refreshments! Thank heavens for Odile, she told me don’t worry about anything. I gave her numbers and she had it covered. Apparently Hortensia Joseph and she had already decided to take care of this. I am truly blessed with such great friends.
My husband arrived and the next day we went to get items for the repast. We also had to return to the funeral home for final payment. Everything was in order, my mom’s body had been picked up the Friday and would be ready for the Sunday service. Her death certificate was ready and she was all set. We had to provide a burial date before the death certificate was issued. Agnes to the rescue, and a date was confirmed for the burial. Her flight arrangements was made and she was due to depart the following Tuesday. When I heard the flight arrangements the tears came flowing. My mom’s body would leave New York on January 13th, spend one night in GA and continue on to Saint Lucia the following day. This is exactly what we had planned while she was in the hospital. She would travel to GA and stay with me for a while and then fly or cruise to Saint Lucia. Isn’t this amazing? God listens. My prayers were answered, not the way I intended but God’s way. My mom did not suffer. She did not die alone, and I stayed by her side. She was ok.
On the morning of January 11th I went to see my mom before the service. I wanted to be absolutely certain that she looked great. I arrived in the viewing room with a lump in my throat, I was not sure what to expect. Once I got closer to her, I felt a sense of calmness. She was in her casket looking beautiful. She looked and was at peace. I talked to her like she was there with me. I know she was listening because in my mind, I saw the smile on her face and I felt at ease.
The service was just what my mom would want. A true celebration of life. There were over one hundred friends and relatives who attended. Father Theo did a fantastic job and everyone said she was smiling. The most emotional part of the evening was after the service when so many of her friends, one after the other came to introduce themselves and told me what my mom did for them. “She took me in when I had no place to stay”. She took care of me and my new born baby for six months and never ask for a penny” I lived with your mom when I moved to NY and stayed with her for a year, she never took a penny from me. “She allowed me to work two days a week on her job so I can have some money”. My mom was my hero but hearing it from her friends, just brought the tears out. We went to the apartment for the repast and thanks to Odile and Hortensia, everything was set up and running. My sister Christine was not doing very well and she went to lay down. She woke up the next afternoon. I had to keep on touching her to make sure she was alive. I was just about to go take a nap when it dawned on me that we had to do this all over again when we lay my mom in her final resting place in Saint Lucia.
I know my mom did a great job with me because I have the most loving family and the greatest friends who have literally become my family. While I was in New York trying to work on the service and empty her apartments, I had a little army made up of Agnes Francis, Marie Ange Williams, Ingrid Millar and Angela Alphonse. Those ladies were and still are blessings. They literally took care of everything. Met with the priest, confirmed the funeral date, drafted the funeral program, helped me with the eulogy, prepared the death announcements and did whatever else that needed to be done. They just handled everything and once I arrived in Saint Lucia, there was very little to do. My sister and I had to purchase the tomb, meet with the priest to confirm details, arrange transportation, cater for the repast etc. It felt like organizing an event. My mom was always about family and friends and she got us all together. I know she was smiling and very pleased, she had her family together again.
Funeral and Burial
The night before the funeral the elders in the community came to our house to make wreaths and the prep the food. It was such a community event, young and old came to help. They cleaned and swept and sang for hours. The following morning the elder ladies were back at 5 am ready to start the cooking for the repast. They were catering for 300 people. I had never seen so much food before. The entire community was involved in this funeral arrangement. They brought food, cases of chicken, fish, pork, ground provisions, drinks and cakes and cakes and more cakes. We had enough food to feed 500 people after we were done. It was amazing to see how everyone came together to give my mom her celebration of life. My mom had a beautiful send off.
Her funeral was exactly what she would want. The music, songs of praises, and all the songs she loved. She had an absolutely beautiful service in a church filled to capacity. Everyone who knew her from a child to the person she was before she passed came to bid their farewell. I know she was pleased and smiling seeing she brought everyone together. We were in pain knowing that we would never see my mom again. My sister Gale had not seen mom before she passed and she had a hard time dealing with it. I think we all broke down at the graveside knowing that this was it. She is never coming home, she will never be at the family reunions that she so loved, and she will never be calling me again. A little part of me was ok that she never suffered. God don’t let his children suffer and he took my mom so she won’t suffer from cancer. My mom was laid to rest in her final place at exactly 4:15 pm. The casket was lowered and closed. A chapter in my life was closed. A piece of my heart went with her.
The next morning the elders were back at 6:00 am as they came to clean up after the repast. The community was amazing and supported us 150%. It just reminded us of how wonderful a person my mom was. It reminded us that she did a great job with her kids because I have the most amazing friends who was there to support us every step of the way. It showed that no matter what, your family is your family and will always be there for you. While the elders were cleaning and chatting I just happened to join in a conversation. I acted upon the details heard and at exactly 4:15 pm, exactly 24 hours after my mom was laid to rest, my beautiful son, Elijah David Clarke was born. My mom knew how much we wanted to have a baby and I know in my heart she did this. I came home to bury my mom and I left with a blessing, a six pound bundle of joy. A new chapter in my life had started. Our God is an awesome God, my mom’s favorite song was playing my head. The journey continues!!!