Faye Ellyn Latta in an undated photo, probably about 1942.
We gave Faye Ellyn Latta Chapman, my mother, a wonderful funeral on Wednesday, December 16, 2009. The rain held off for the graveside service, and many more people came to pay their respects than we had expected. "All my friends are dead," she had taken to saying in recent years. Her service and the reception that followed were testament to the fact that this was not true.
I had ordered a blanket of white roses for her casket, having it in my head that it would somehow look like one of those blankets of flowers they put over the saddle of the winner of the Kentucky Derby. I thought that would be subtle and pretty. But the florist had a better idea and turned it into a spray of white roses that reached from one end of the casket to the other. "Tell me there were eighty-eight roses in that tribute," a neighbor said to me, thinking it mirrored my mother's eighty-eight years. No, I told her. That was four hundred roses. And it was stunning. Faye, the thrifty girl who sewed her own wedding dress, would have died again if she knew how much we spent. But you can only go once.
We surrounded the casket with red poinsettias and the white and red and green spoke of Christmas and snow and holly and ivy. All the things she, as a gardener, would have loved.
And when the ceremony was over, we gave the poinsettias away, one to each family. And people loved that, as they said, because they would have the red and green plant with them and would think of her during the holidays.
So many people came to the reception that we would have been overwhelmed, except that three friends from out of the past came to our rescue. My college roommate Phyllis flew up from Los Angeles and took over in the kitchen. My high school friend Leslie brought a wreath for the front door and dessert for all. And our neighbor from childhood, Gene, stayed at the home with my sister and her family and kept things organized. Her mother was a good friend of our mother, and since her mother died some years ago and Gene could not bring herself to have a service for her, we mourned the two women together.
(We did not have my father come to the service. We didn't think he could handle it. He was told that my mother was gone, but he doesn't remember this and we've decided not to hammer it into his head.)
I was struck by how many people told me my mother had been a mentor to them and such a lovely friend. She always found it so much easier to be kind to people whom she was able to keep at a distance. Intimacy so frightened her, she always found ways--sometimes cruel ones--to keep it at bay.
At the heart of all this was such low self esteem that near the end of her life I despaired for her. She was given so many gifts: beauty, brains, a great figure and good legs, pretty blond hair, a stunningly handsome and kind husband, two accomplished and loyal daughters, a strong religious faith, prosperity, longevity, fidelity. The list could go on. But it was never enough to give her the one thing that might have brought her some peace--self confidence.
But if she had been watching on Wednesday, she surely would have seen how much she was loved, and how many people thought she was wonderful.
"Mom's not there, I know that," my sister said when I asked her if she stayed to watch the casket lowered into the grave. "And now she's young and beautiful forever, just the way she wanted to be." And I guess that's right. It was a long, long road. But she finally reached the place where she will not have to do one more thing to make herself feel good enough. Where someone else, other than her flawed fellow men, will handle the judging part, and where He, if all we believe is true, is bound to be more merciful to her than she was to herself.
Faye and Ash at Peace Lutheran Church in 2007.