Last Thursday at 2:00 PM, I arrived at Jumpin’ Janet’s Bar where Janet choreographed a beautiful send off for her beloved mother. The parking lot was packed and every side street was lined with cars. I walked into the crowded bar only knowing Janet. I glanced around and wondered who was who? I had heard so many stories about Jeanie’s friends and family. Who was Roy-her first true love? Who was Brenda-her other daughter? Where was Cassie-her neighbor? As expected, they knew as much about me as I knew about them.
Jeanie loved Toby Keith’s Red Solo Cup song, so each seat had a bright red cup. Her favorite drink was Diet Pepsi, so each solo had a full can tucked inside. Even though she was diabetic, each night before sleep Jeanie would take a small bite of a Nutty Buddy. A pair of cellophane wrapped wafers sat on top of each cup. Allergies plagued this woman, so she was always walking around with toilet paper. When I recommended Kleenex, she rebuffed me a million times telling me that is was just too expensive. A roll of toilet paper served as the centerpiece on each table. At Christmas, she made at least 60 loaves of banana bread and gifted them to her friends. Janet used the special recipe and each table had ample slices of this delicacy sitting on paper plates covered in saran wrap. There was also a small pile of pink post-it-notes with one corner hole-punched and neatly stacked next to a cup of pens.
The pastor said a few words, Janet read the obituary and they opened the microphone to the crowd. After about five heartwarming tales, I took my turn. Tears started rolling down my face as I told the crowd about my final circumstances and conversation with Jeanie. I also said, “I do not know any of your faces, but know so much about most of you. While Jeanie was ornery as hell and probably jumped in your face a few times, when she retold the stories to me, they were filled with love and compassion. She loved you all so much! Since you probably know more than your fair share about me, lets unite and honor Jeanie by keeping those secrets secret.”
After many more stories, we were instructed to write a final goodbye to Jeanie on our pink sheets and to attach them to one of the many pink, white, and purple helium filled balloons. We stood in the strip mall parking lot and released our balloons in unison as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird blared from a lone speaker. Another stream of tears showed up in that beautiful moment of letting go.
It was the nicest service and a true celebration of a great life. Death is part of a well lived life.