I hadn't expected to be back in Elyria again so soon, but when I read in the online Chronicle that my friend Linda's husband had passed away, I knew I would attend the memorial service. I wanted to see Linda and tell her how sorry I was, but I also wanted to see the library ladies, whom I knew would all be there. Linda works at the library where I worked for eleven years, and one thing I know about working there is that the staff takes care of its own.
I left the house mid-morning on Saturday, and an hour later I was turning into the parking lot of the church across the street from the library. I was barely inside the church door when I ran into Jenni and Maggie and Joanne. There were hugs all around, and as we walked down the hallway together our first questions were about each other's kids and where they were and what they were doing.
As we waited in line to sign the guest book (is that the correct term?) I saw more familiar faces up ahead. There were Mary and Terri and Barb and Lisa standing to one side. I received hugs straight down the line from all of them, and although I knew it was a solemn occasion, I felt a huge grin on my face from the pleasure of seeing them again. There was another quick round of "how are the kids?" before we turned to enter the sanctuary. I saw Brenda and Marianne and Janet there, as well, before we sat down.
I found myself seated between Jenni and Mary, who is so tender-hearted that she had her pack of tissues open on her lap before I even took my coat off. Mary is Irish, as was my friend's late husband, and as the organist played "Oh, Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes are Smilin", Mary's eyes welled over. I knew she had lost her mother within the last six months, and I could only imagine how difficult the day was for her. She was there anyway, though. For Linda.
Sitting at the memorial service surrounded by my friends, I was reminded of another service we attended together - could it be ten years ago now? - when Ava died. Terri's bright, beautiful daughter, who attended law school in Akron, had been sick most of her life. You wouldn't know it to look at her; she looked vibrant and healthy and full of life. She was my kids' babysitter for the years that they needed one. Their most vivid memory of her, I think, is that they always watched Court TV together, and that Ava always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. She was working towards that goal when her final illness caught up with her.
Seeing Linda enter the sanctuary with her daughters and their families brought home to me how devastating the loss of her husband was. My heart ached for her. I could only hope that the crowded memorial service would begin a healing process that I knew would take a long time. As the organist played "Amazing Grace" at the end of the service, even tough little Jenni broke down, and I handed Mary's tissue pack to her so she could wipe her eyes.
As we filed out, I saw Gina sitting in the back pew. I knew then that I had unconsciously been looking for her all morning, as I had known she would be there for Linda, as well. In fact, I could have written out a list beforehand of the women I anticipated seeing on that cold February morning, and I know I would have listed everyone I saw. We shared our joys and sorrows when we worked together, and we were sharing them still. That's what family does.