Saying good-bye to my sister and singing hymns and drinking wine


It rained. A steady yet gentle rain came straight down on the cemetery, wrapping it in privacy. Discreet sign reminded us to social distance. We made our way slowly toward the place where we would say good-bye to her. There was the usual covering over the grave site but no chairs. There was no escape from the reminders of COVID-19. At first we paused at the edges of the shelter with our umbrellas, as if afraid to get to close to each other. Gradually we moved in just enough to get out of the drizzling wetness. Some stayed along the edges with umbrellas still up to keep them dry. It was a private service with less than two dozen people attending. Masks hid our smiles but not our tears. Ours is a hugging family; we hug when we first meet; we hug when we leave. Not many hugs on that day.

No minister. Service led by her granddaughter. A prayer, a bible reading. Poetry readings. One written by the granddaughter. One written by my sister to be read at her service. A hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven” sung by Alan Jackson, played on a small speaker. Each of us placed a white rose beside her urn and a spray of flowers.   A prayer. We left in the rain. I will miss her bright spirit.

BARBARA ANN MITCHELL
1935 – 2020

Pre-pandemic we would have gathered after the service at a church or a home for food and fellowship. Not today. Daughter and Son came home with Husband and me. We sat in the living room, silently at first, as we drank wine. Bottles of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay had been opened. Talk of hymns. I was too far out of practice to play any on my out-of-tune piano, so Son called up hymns from his phone and played them on the small speaker used for the service. Daughter, Son and I sang along across the room from each other. So many memories. Don’t attend church these days but I knew the words to every song called out. Husband must have thought the three of us were a little crazy. Wine and hymns? In the pandemic of 2020 it seemed an acceptable thing to do when you lose someone. 

 

MY SISTER AND ME
circa 1948

82 thoughts on “Saying good-bye to my sister and singing hymns and drinking wine

  1. What a sweet tribute to your sister, Jo Nell. I like the vintage photo and the hint of a smile. It looks like from Barbara Ann’s recent photo that you both smile similarly. I think a little wine and hymns sounds like a lovely way to say goodbye. I have been known to consecrate my grief with wine and it seems very fitting. May you and your family experience peace and joy as you continue the journey.

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  2. I’m so sorry for your loss, Jo. I am also sorry your family could not have the kind of service that you all would have if it were not for COVID. I guess when it comes to the end the memories are important. That is a lovely picture of the two of you. Peace be with you.

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    • We did manage to make it a celebration of her and she was always ready to plan a party of any kind. Funny, Loren, when I am in a cemetery, I always think, “What would Loren think of this cemetery?” This one was very ordinary with same flat markers with plenty of big oak trees. She was buried next to her son who was killed in a rig accident over 40 years ago.

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  3. Dear Jo, loved the photo of you and Barbara. You’re both so sweet in it. What a strange time. I was thinking of you the other day and watching the map, hoping Hurricane Laura wasn’t going to come your way.

    How wonderful that you were able to gather, masks and umbrellas and canopy, to say good-bye to your sister. As you say, it’s what she wanted. Any good-bye without a little of bit of alcohol, both to celebrate a life and to numb the pain is always a good idea. And hymns, too. Memories will sustain us, keep those who aren’t with us any longer. Much love, Diana

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    • We were spared a hurricane this time but we will be watching the gulf as it is the height of hurricane season. Thanks for thinking about us.

      The service turned out to be very special and intimate even with the rain. It was held at 12 noon so we were spared the August heat. The temp went from high 90s to low 70s. Yes, I have beautiful memories to help me with the loss of my last sister. I am glad you approve of a little alcohol in time of need! Thanks for taking time to read and comment. I know you are busy with your book. Sending love and hugs back to you!

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  4. Sorry to hear of your loss. A difficult passing, I am sure, even on a normal day but during today’s expectations of social distancing…even more so. I am glad you have each other to sing hymns and share some wine. As you say, certainly alright to do during these times. Take care.

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    • The hymns and wine were not planned but it did seem to help in these crazy times. With COVID19 the process of making arrangements seem to take even longer. We tried to make the best of things and be grateful for the support of family and friends. Always a pleasure to have you visit.

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  5. Oh I am so very sorry for the death of your beautiful sister. COVID funerals are so hard to bear, no touching , no friends, no shoulders to cry on. . Yet you did well with the wine and the hymns to drown your sorrow. The photo of the two of you is beautiful.. May beautiful memories of her give you comfort as you go on without her. Take care of yourself.

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    • Thank you for the kind words. And we had two other recent deaths but I was not able to attend those. The US has not handled the virus well. Yes, I have wonderful memories with my sister as she lived on an hour and a half away and saw her often. I love the old photo too. Funny, at the service I realized I was the oldest one there and am now the keeper of the family history. Thank you for stopping by. I hope all is well with you. Cheers!

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  6. It’s hard enough to lose a loved one, without having to have so many restrictions on the way you can mourn. I’m so very sorry! Honestly, I think you and your family did a great job of creating a meaningful memorial service for your sister, and sometimes drinking wine and singing hymns is exactly the right thing to do. It comforted your grieving hearts, and that’s all that matters.

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    • Thanks, Judith. She did not want a big service anyway and somehow it was easier with a small intimate group. We will get together later when this is over. I used to always be the youngest but now I find myself the oldest and keeper of the family history.

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  7. Such a beautiful description of a painful experience of loss, made tougher by an infectious disease that keeps us apart from those we love. I pray for all your family. I’m sure your sister touched many hearts and they ache because they couldn’t give her the goodbye they would have liked to.

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    • Thanks, It came out as sort of a stream of consciousness and was hard to write. I felt so badly that I had not been to see her since December because of the virus. She was 84 and had some other health problems but was doing so well when she died. Thank you for your words and prayers.

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  8. Despite the complexities of the time, it sounds as though your gathering was a good one: funerals aren’t productions for the public, but opportunities for families to comfort one another, and a sense of comfort suffuses your post. I smiled at the mention of Alan Jackson. It’s that sort of detail that says, “This was for her, and for us.” And I must say — hymns and wine sound like a perfect combination to me. It’s a different kind of communion, but communion nonetheless.

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    • You are right, funerals should not be productions for the public and that was not what she wanted. It was very intimate and gave us comfort by the very presence of one another. We had Catholics who made the sign of the cross with prayers and a Baptist hymn by Alan Jackson, but we all sang along with him behind our masks. I know, only in Texas! Perhaps we did have a form of communion with our wine and hymns. Thank you for your comforting words. I could not make it without blogger friends like you. We will get through this pandemic with a little wine. Wishing you safe travels and fair winds.

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    • We didn’t get many chances to make snowballs back then and snow is still rare. Our family bonded that day in a way we had not before. If one can bond through sadness. But she had a good long life -84 years – and had fun along the way until the end.

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  9. What a beautiful post about your sister, saying goodbye, singing sings and sipping wine, and bonding over a life well lived. At my mom’s service this summer, we weren’t allowed to sing (no singing in churches to keep everyone safe from saliva, etc.) So, we all drove to the beach and danced to a steel drummer while drinking beer in the ocean air. We celebrate a life the best way we can in a pandemic. You and your family did a beautiful job. And what a sweet photo of two sisters, snow, and family affection. ❤

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    • Oh, I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. You understand all too well that the virus makes even funerals a bit sadder. I am sure you missed that communal singing in church that binds us. So you too felt the need to celebrate a life – beach, beer and dancing sound appropriate. Life goes on. The old photo gives me comfort. I have one of me and my mother taken at the same time. Take care and thanks for the visit and encouragement for celebrations after funerals. I know my sister would have approved.

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  10. Dearest Jo… Tears spill over as I read your words…. The bond between sisters is so special… And to say goodbye is heartbreaking enough… But the rules of this cruel Pandemic are beyond words as to what it is doing emotionally and physiologically to families….
    My sincere condolences dear Jo.. Love and Blessings to you and all of your family who are grieving… ❤
    Love Sue ❤

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    • Yes, we were close as my mother died when I was fairly young so she was more than just an older sister. Thank you for your kind words. And because of the pandemic we had not gotten together as often. The blessing was that she was doing so well at home with a little help. When she died in her sleep it was a shock. Sending love and peace back to you.

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  11. I’m very sorry for your loss, Jo. My heartfelt condolences to you and your family. Covid has changed the way we live, die and grieve. Your tribute to your sister was beautiful. Bonding over wine and hymns sounds like it filled a need. Peace, love, comfort and blessings to you, MW 🦋🙏🦋

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    • Yes, Covid changed everything. We had seen others face this when a loved one died but were not ready when it happened in our family. But I think she would have been happy with what we did to make the best of it. The wine helped! Thanks for the good thoughts. Sending them back to you.

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      • I attended two Zoom room funerals and Zoom room gatherings with the bereaved since the pandemic started. It was strange, but the new normal now when a loved one passes. Wine helps and singing hymns releases the emotions pent up in our souls. My prayers go out to you. ❤️

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  12. Jo, I thought I had made a comment but apparently I didn’t. I am so sorry for the loss of your sister. I can just imagine how difficult it is for you and your family. Give yourself some time to mourn and take good care of yourself. Virtual hugs. Gerlinde

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  13. Wine and hymns sound like the perfect thing to do – both in ancient times and now.
    What a beautifully-written tribute to your sister, Jo Nell.
    And there was something so tender and loving about it – the small, size, the simplicity of the graveside ritual, the gentle rain — that it seemed a perfect way to say goodbye.
    Plus the wine and hymns at home.

    Big (virtual) hugs, dear Jo Nell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words, Cynthia. It was hard for me to write so I just quickly typed my feelings out without much editing. There wasn’t a lot of formal planning for the service but it came together in such a special way. And some of us had not seen each other since the virus hit. My sister would have been pleased at our efforts. The wine and hymns at home with only Husband, Son and Daughter helped. Virtual hugs back to you! Take care!

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