The Funeral

“…I know mine own, mine own know me.
Ye, not the world, my face shall see;
My peace I leave with you, amen.”

For sixty years they cared for each other, these two children of the second World War. He, Latvian. She, Yugoslavian. He told stories of a boyhood of Russian occupation, of searching for crayfish in the frozen sniper-patrolled darkness to feed a starving family. He couldn’t bring himself to eat spinach anymore after living on it for years. He was called to minister to others, and he did it well, with intellect and emotion and humor and clear eyes.

She was elegant and lovely. Sparkling blue eyes, a perfect blonde, then gray french twist chignon, and small pearl earrings. She always smelled so good, had luminous skin, and was always happy to see us, interested in our lives and what made us laugh. She had a beautiful voice and sang like a professional, but without a trace of the ego. She loved music and dance and good cooking and the beauty in life. Always a laugh on her lips and a hug in her arms.

They raised two children; quiet, intellectual, their daughter a dancer who transcended the small town she grew up in to dance and then to teach others to dance.  I thought her calm and graceful, with slavic cheekbones and straight blonde hair I coveted.  I was too in awe to talk to her, she was so perfect.  Her name, Marina, so beautiful, we named our sweetest most beloved dog with the liquid brown eyes after her.

He retired, after a lifetime of serving others, and God, but his work wasn’t finished.  Soon, slowly, day by day, she faded into the streams of the past muddied with the present. Alzheimer’s stole her away, fluidly, gradually, inexorably. He cared for her and bore the burden as if it were no burden at all. Just part of a marriage whose vows of in sickness and in health were indeed sacred. After ten long years of moving farther and farther away from them and down into herself, she died.

The day of the funeral was bitterly cold. Snow and ice making treacherous walking for the gathering of elderly friends who made their way down into the cemetery. We arrived first, surer of our footing, and I looked back. The sky was sharply clear and deep blue. The wind roared like a thing alive through the towering pine trees topping the frozen hillside. He carried her ashes himself in the polished wooden box on this last journey, their daughter holding his arm, strengthening and strengthened, the final loving act of a deep devotion. This woman from the Old World, who married a Latvian man, was given her rest on this crystalline afternoon, while the wind howled and tore at our coats. Prayers as talismans, offered for glorious deliverance from her failing mind, were blown out of our mouths and down the hill as the wind overcame all. Their daughter gently wiped the tears running down her father’s face, then wiped her own, and together they walked back up the hill.

In loving memory of Milena Gobins.

Funeral 1“Built On A Rock” by Ludvig M. Lindeman and Nikolai F. S. Grundvig, Service Book and Hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America, ©1958

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