I was at the funeral of my best friend — my mother. She finally succumbed to the cancer that had ravaged her body. The hurt was so intense, I found it hard to breathe at times.
Mom was always supportive. She clapped loudest at my school plays, held a box of tissues while listening to my first heartbreak, comforted me at my father’s death, encouraged me in college, and prayed for me my entire life.
When mom’s cancer was diagnosed, my sister had a new baby and my brother had recently married his long term girlfriend. So it fell on me, the 27-year-old middle child without commitments, to take care of her. I considered it an honor.
“What now?” I asked, whilst sitting in the church. My life stretched out before me as an empty abyss. My brother sat clutching his wife’s hand. My sister sat slumped against her husband, his arm around her shoulder as she cradled their child. They were grieving so deeply that they didn’t notice I was alone. My place had been with our mother, preparing her meals, helping her get around, taking her to the doctor, organized her medication. Now she had passed on. My work was finished, and I was alone.
Suddenly, I heard a door open and slam shut at the back of the church. Quick footsteps hurried along the aisle. An exasperated young man looked around briefly and then sat next to me. He folded his hands and placed them on his lap. His eyes were full of tears. He began to talk. “I’m late,” he explained.
After a while, he leaned over to me and asked, “Why do they keep calling Mary by the name of ‘Margaret?’ ”
“Because that was her name. No one called her ‘Mary,’ ” I whispered.
I wondered why this person wouldn’t let me grieve in silence. Who was this stranger anyway?
“No, that isn’t correct,” he insisted, as several people noticed our whispering, “Her name is Mary. Mary Peters.”
“That isn’t who this is.”
“Isn’t this the Lutheran church?”
“No, the Lutheran church is across the street.”
“I believe you’re at the wrong funeral, sir,” I explained.
The solemnness of the occasion mixed with the realization of the man’s mistake bubbled up inside me and came out as laughter. I cupped my hands over my face, hoping it would be mistaken as sobs. But, the creaking pew gave me away.
Sharp glances from the other mourners only made the situation seem more hilarious. I peeked at the bewildered man seated beside me. He was laughing, too, as he glanced around, deciding it was too late for a swift exit. I knew mom would be laughing too.
At the end of the funeral, we darted out a door and into the parking lot. The man said his name was Rick and since he had missed his aunt’s funeral, he asked me out for a cup of coffee. I agreed.
That afternoon began a long journey for me with this man who had attended the wrong funeral, but was, for me, in the right place. A year after our meeting, we were married at a country church. This time we both arrived at the right church.
In my time of sorrow, I was given laughter. In my time of loneliness, I was given love. This past May, we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary. Whenever anyone asks us how we met, Rick tells them, “Her mother and my Aunt Mary introduced us. It’s truly a match made in heaven.”