I went to Ann's funeral this week. She was my 93-year old friend I visited most Sundays. I wish I could say every Sunday, since of course, now that she is gone, I regret those ones I missed.
I am looking at her picture as I write. I wish I could scan it in so you could see, but I can't find the cord for the scanner. So let me tell you what I see - a cautious smile; thin shoulders overwhelmed by a blue jacket made for a woman the size she once was; her soft, grey hair which was letting grow this last year, fans out around her face. The face is soft, wrinkled and pale. The eyes are weak and surrounded by old fashioned, over-sized glasses. She seems uncertain, a little shy, but like she has her own little joke she will keep to herself.
The day after we got back from Europe, there was a message on my phone from Ann's friend telling me Ann passed away on Thursday. Peacefully at 7 p.m.
I had been looking forward to seeing Ann that Sunday. I hadn't told her I was going away and felt bad about that. In fact, I had missed the week before as well. The last time I saw her was shortly after I got engaged - I am glad at least that I was able to share that with her.
Why is it that guilt is usually my first reaction upon hearing of someone's death? When I heard that Uncle Henry had passed, for weeks I was overwhelmed with guilt that I had not done more for him in his last months, been there with him at the hospital, written him, called more often. It is hard to forgive myself for these things, even though I know I must.
But when I put aside my own guilt or regret, I can actually be happy for Ann. She truly was ready to go - she would tell me so almost every time I saw her. Parkinson's had robbed her of so much and her body was a burden, a prison. I am glad she is free.
Even the funeral was not so mournful. Everyone knew she was ready to go. As the minister said, she longed to be free of this world. We sang her favourite hymn, 'What a friend we have in Jesus' - a wavering, weak rendition that somehow seems so appropriate to this old, familiar song. Ann's friend read a touching eulogy. The minister said a few words and led some prayers in a passionless voice. We sang 'Amazing Grace', a hymn that apparently Ann had agreed 'would do', and the service was over.
When I came out of the funeral home into the bright light of a cold winter afternoon, everything seemed vaguely surreal. Ann was gone. This simple, brief funeral was the last tangible connection I would have with her. It actually felt like a chapter in my life was ending. I have known and visited Ann for almost five years. I always knew she wanted to go, but now that she is there is an emptiness in the space in my life where she was.