I Guess It’s Time

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015It’s been three weeks since the early-morning phone call from the Lutheran Home telling me that I had become an orphan. In those three weeks, we wrapped up a wedding in Tulsa, held a funeral service, scattered the family in all directions, and started to deal with all the minutia of unraveling someone’s life. Brother Mark and Robin have done a great job of starting to box and discard. He was elected to be the one to handle all the executor stuff. While he was doing that, I skipped town for a week to go to Ohio to set up some projects there.

So, I’m back in a house that is slowly looking less and less like the place I grew up. I find myself talking to myself – usually griping, like when the alarm goes off – to fill the silence.

As I described in the last post, Mother wanted a simple funeral – no church, no sad songs, a balloon release and happy memories. What we ended up with was a unique send-off that contained elements even the funeral director said he hadn’t seen before.

About three dozen attended

Mary Steinhoff obit card Funeral Docs 03 06-24-2015The funeral home register contained about three dozen signatures, and nearly 500 readers “liked” my obituary post. She got quite a send-off. I was even pleased to see several of Mother’s favorites from the nursing home staff show up.

Brother David and I spoke briefly; at the last minute, we consented to having a Bible verse read, and David asked to have Over the Rainbow played while the attendees left the service.

The publisher of The Gastonia Gazette threw a big party every year for advertisers and news sources. It included lots of good food and a band. A stereotypical old Southern Belle stopped the band in mid-song saying in honey-dipped tones, “They played that song at muh daddy’s funeral. I can’t stand to hear it.”

At the time, I thought she was overly full of drama and entitlement, but I know, now, that I will never think Wizard of Oz when I hear Over the Rainbow.

Signs of respect

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015Mother always liked to ride down a road she had never been down before, so I guess her final ride qualified for that. It reminded me a bit of the 2001 Birthday Season when we rented a couple of limos to take her and her friends out to dinner. They were honored that so many people lined Broadway that evening to see them go by (not realizing the crowds were setting up for SEMO’s Homecoming parade.

I love how cars in Cape pull off to the side as a funeral procession goes by. The most touching moment was when we passed a group of three or four construction workers wearing their day-glo shirts. The men straightened up, pulled off their caps and held them over their hearts. It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to get a photo. Like I’ve said before, some days you make pictures; some days you make memories. I’ll never forget their gesture toward someone they never knew.

Stay or leave?

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015Mark and I had a last-minute discussion about what we would do when we got to the cemetery. I told him I’d be happy to leave before the casket was lowered into the ground, but he said he wanted to be there until the very end.

See you later”

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015David asked if there was anything wrong with scratching something onto the top of the casket. There were no objections, so he carved on it, “See you later,” the phrase Mother always used instead of “Goodbye.” Before long, a bunch of us were leaving last messages. David’s daughters tossed bridal bouquets on the casket, and Son Matt left behind Groucho Marx glasses (more about that later).

David turns the crank

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015We Steinhoffs are curious folks, so Brother David asked the young grave digger (I don’t know if that’s his official title) lots of questions. He let David push the button that lowered the casket into the vault, but explained that the vault and casket weighted about 2,300 pounds, so a heavier cable set was used to finish the job. David turned the crank that lowered the vault into its final resting place.

Despite my earlier trepidations, focusing on the mechanics and the process helped distract us from the contents of the box we were lowering into the ground. Instead of being a morbid experience, the great-grandkids were fascinated by what was going on. I think it was healthy for all of us.

“That’s your dad next to her”

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015When the vault was finally in the hole, the young gravedigger said, if you look toward the head end, you can see something that looks like a cave. If you look even more closely, that’s the edge of your dad’s vault showing.

It was comforting to see that after 37 years and a few odd weeks that Mother and Dad were going to be side-by-side again.

The celebration begins

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015Mother always like to watch to car dealer over on Kingshighway cut loose the balloons tied to its cars, so she wanted a balloon release at the cemetery.

Popping the corks

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015 What would a celebration of life be without Champagne and a toast?

When I got back home

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015When I got back home, two envelopes were waiting for me by my computer. I had been up until 4 a.m. the night before putting together a slide show for the viewing, which caused Wife Lila and me to leave separately from the rest of the family.

Mark explained what they were later:

I had made up a little packet for everyone in the family and some others and gave them out right before they let us view mother. Since you arrived at a different time, I did not get yours to you. I left them on the desk by your computer. The glasses commemorate her photo at Ky Lake and the tissues are obvious.

Mark’s thoughts


Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015Also in the packet was a one-page document: “I wrote the thoughts on my phone while sitting on the couch with her one night at home before she went to Lutheran Home.

I’m glad I didn’t see it before the service because that small box of tissues wouldn’t have been near enough. He summed up so well what some of those long nights were like.

“Playing like we are happy?”

Weak as a kitten, boney as an old cat… I rub the back of my 93-year-old mother as she drifts off to sleep on her couch at home.

Her pajama top is brushed combed cotton so rubbing her feels just like kitten fur. She wakes herself up and says to me “What are we doing?” And I say “Sitting on the couch together” and then she says , “Playing like we are happy?”….”Yes, like we are happy.”

Outside the window

Sunset by Mary Steinhoff 11-09-2014_050The sun has sunk down behind the trees and so has she, sunk, bent forward sleeping in her own lap. How is this possible? Her skin is like onion paper and tears so easily yet she is flexible enough to sleep in her own lap. Cars drive by the house outside the window on their way to someplace. While she sleeps going no place yet somewhere in her mind she is far away.

We are both sitting side by side here on the couch and neither one of us not wanting to be here at this place at all.

Damn you, time

Damn you memories. Damn you time.

Damn you Vulcan Spock for not having emotions.

Why only you?

This time is different

This time is different.

In the past, had the top scoop fallen off my ice cream cone, I could have gone in and gotten another one. This time, this time I can only look at the scoop on the ground and watch it melt away.

Seems like a lifetime ago when I was in the basement of this house stringing tinsel on a Christmas tree. Only slightly worrying about what I would get as presents. Who is that kid and how many trees have come and gone since then?  Seems odd that I have all the original tree ornaments and they look the very same as back then and everything else has gotten older and somewhat tarnished.

Did I sleep too much?

Did I sleep too much, did I waste the days, the moments and the minutes? I want to roll some of them, actually a lot of them back, please. I want to savor them now more than I did when it was a fleeting moment.

So what happens?  Like at the moment you turn off an old tube TV set and the picture suddenly disappears and shrinks to a white dot before the screen goes completely dark, is that what happens?

It’s going to be hard to “play like we are happy” very hard indeed.

I feel cheated

I think I want my money back. I want to review the warranty closer and really read the fine print.  ‘Cause I think I missed something, feeling cheated is how I can best explain it. I guess I should have gotten the extended warranty.

I’m not so noble that I want to trade places. I just want to beat, if not cheat, the system a tiny bit. Not stepping on the, “…And on the third day he rose…” story, more of a “Lazarus take up your bed and walk” turnabout fair play thingy. Can you blame a guy?

Graveside photo gallery

Steinhoff plot 06-25-2015 IMG_1369Well, I got to use Mark’s box of tissues. I edited the photos right after the service, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it. I’ve gone on to shoot some other stories, but I didn’t feel like I could post them until I got this one out of the way. Maybe we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming. I won’t promise that I’ll keep up my old daily schedule, but I’ve missed you all.

Thank you for all the cards you sent to Mother at the Lutheran Home, and thank you for the support and love you have sent to the Steinhoff family.

Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to navigate through the gallery.

25 Replies to “I Guess It’s Time”

  1. I never met your lovely mother, but feel like I knew her well. I needed a box of Kleenex to get through your beautiful story of her passing. What a legacy to leave such a wonderful loving family. I hesitate to tell you this, but you will miss her forever while in this life. The hope and peace come from knowing you Will see her again. The grieving comes and goes, but the loss remains. Thank you for sharing your mother with all who knew her and came to know her through you

  2. A great send off for a very special person…Thank you for sharing these moments with us and thank you for sharing a little bit of her life with all of us.

  3. What a lovely tribute to a special person. She will be forever in your hearts, and always ageless and strong and happy in eternity. Thank you for sharing her with us. Mamas are for always.

  4. Sorry about your loss. Awesome post, thanks for doing it, as well as your brother’s contribution. I see good writing is shared in your family. I didn’t even know your Mom, but suddenly I find my eyes needing a tissue.

  5. Thank you Ken, for allowing us to share your tribute to your dear Mother. Since my 92 year old father died a little over a month ago, I understand how ‘things’ are just not the same. Your brother’s reflection was right on the ‘Mark’ and I’m sure is shared by many who have lost someone so close. I look forward to your next blog – we’ve missed you too.

  6. Ken, Mary here – 7 months ago yesterday, I lost my mother and we “kids” did some unusual things, too, things that some wondered about; but we knew Mom understood. Cleaning out her place – not where I grew up, she sold that house several years ago – was so very sad. Dispersing someone’s life seems so cruel. I still have so much to go through to really see what all we brought home.
    As Martha Hamilton wrote; you miss her forever while in this life. The hope and peace come from knowing you Will see her again. The grieving comes and goes, but the loss remains. Thank you for sharing your mother with all who knew her and came to know her through you.
    I miss Mom sooo much!

  7. Ken, What a wonderful sendoff!!! Your mother would have been so delighted and you and your family must know how proud she was of all of you. I will always remember that twinkle in her eyes and that lovely smile. I have many wonderful hours that I can recall and that will put a smile on my face. You went the extra mile for your Mom and I am so glad you were able to do so.

  8. Ken, you have my deepest sympathy. My mother passed away in August, 2012. I still think of something she might be interested in and start to pick up the phone to tell her about it. It hurts. Her mother died at age 90 in 2003. My mother missed her can cried over her loss up to her own passing. She told me in one of the quiet moments in the hospital as I did night duty sitting with her, that you never know how big your mother is in your life until you lose yours. It is true. I enjoyed the pictures and stories you posted about your mother and your adventures. You had a wonderfully close relationship with your mother. I hope the bittersweet memories become more sweet and less bitter in time.

  9. Ken, thanks for sharing the celebration of your mom’s life. It was a poignant trip to which all of us can relate. I send wishes for a quick journey to find peace.

  10. Ken, Your writing is so beautiful, so descriptive and so emotional. As others stated, I felt a need for tissues to read. Many of us have lost our Mothers. There is no less pain with losing a father, but there is that special link to Mothers. I still feel the pain of loss, but she lives in my heart. Your Mom was quite obviously a one of a kind, great gal. It’s time to cherish the memories. We will all be happy to enjoy your writings when you feel ready to go forward.God bless!

  11. Ken, there are no words that can really be said to make the pain of such a lose go away. I just wanted you to know how much I have enjoyed the stories about your mother you shard through the years. I feel I knew her even though I did not. I have lost both my parents and the pain lessens but it never goes away. Parents are a special gift from God. You got to enjoy your mother longer than most. but I am also sure, the lose is worse, because of the time. I just wanted you to know you have my deepest sympathy

  12. Your word and pictures touch my heart. My condolences and my admiration for a life well lived…..and beautifully honored.

  13. Absolutely beautiful. Some of the best and most touching writing you have done. You mother has a smile on her face.

  14. To your brothers Mark and David, and to you Ken. I am with you all in what Mark wrote. Thank God that he saw fit to provide us the one thing that will ensure us being reunited with our loved ones. We do not have to worry about those that precede us in Christ for we know that that they will not miss us; the time that all of us measure on earth does not exist in Heaven, therefore in Heaven, everyone arrives at the same time.

  15. What a beautiful send off! And a fitting way for you to share the memorial to your mother–and help you and your family in bearing the burden of your loss.

  16. Ken, thanks for telling us about your mother. Myra and I are sorry to hear of your loss. My father died two months ago, two months short of his 97th birthday. And now my mother (two years younger than yours) is in a nursing home, as her health has been deteriorating rapidly. It has been a strange time. In going through Mom’s and Dad’s pasts (belongings, photos, contact with relatives and other people) I’ve been reconnected with a lot of my own neglected past life. And I’m one who had thought he was already well connected with the past. I suppose it’s like they used to say: When you die your whole life flashes before your eyes. Except it’s been happening in slow, summer-long motion rather than in a flash. And we’re not dead yet, though it does occur to me that our turn is next. But there has been so much to do, even before the funeral and burial, that there hasn’t been enough time to get overly reflective about it. It’s also why I didn’t say anything right away when I heard the news about your mother. Thanks again for telling us about your mother and how this has been for you.

  17. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

    Khalil Gibran

  18. Ken, please accept my deepest sympathy in the passing of your mother. You were soooo fortunate to have her in your life as long as you did. I was only 35 when my dearest mother passed away from breast cancer. As so many have written before me, I enjoyed reading all about your mother and your family in your many posts. I must say that she was one lucky lady to have had such loving sons. We, who are mothers can only hope and pray that our children will honor and cherish us as much as you did yours. You have many wonderful memories to look back upon when that empty feeling starts tugging at your heart. Just remember all the happiness she brought to you throughout your life and travels with her and that painful emptiness will soon be full of fond memories. A grateful heart for the wonderful blessing of your mother that God bestowed upon you will sustain you during the difficult times. Continued blessings to you and your family.

  19. Really wonderful, Ken. Really touching. I had to reach for the tissues too. I liked the ‘see you later’ scratched on the casket. I had a good friend, a mentor, die recently. I said, “It makes me mad that good people die.” She lifted me up when I was at my lowest. She took me under her wing. She was my savior, an angel. Thanks for sharing about your mother, and the photos were really special.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *