Seven years ago today, my mom, Joyce Heaton, passed away.
Once it became clear that she didn't have much time left, my dad assigned the task of organizing the memorial service to my brother, my sister, and me. My job, unsurprisingly, was to choose the hymns and to sing a solo. So when the time came, one of the first things I did was to call my choir director to discuss what music might be appropriate for the service. Choosing the hymns was pretty easy; she threw out a few suggestions, and from those selected two old standards, "There Is a Balm in Gilead" and "For All the Saints."
Choosing the anthem was somewhat trickier. She suggested a couple other hymns that would work well as solo selections, but none of them struck my fancy. Then I remembered a piece I'd sung in church a few weeks earlier. I asked, "What about Come Ye Blessed? Is that appropriate for a funeral?" She said it was, and that she would fax me the music right away. A couple of days later, I met with the music director at the church where the memorial service would be held. She approved of the choice, we rehearsed it a couple of times together, and on the day of the service I sang it before a huge crowd of people, and upon returning to my seat burst into tears and cried uncontrollably for the next few minutes.
Come Ye Blessed takes its text directly from the King James Translation, specifically Matthew 25:34-36:
Then shall the King say unto them upon his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was athirst, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
These verses are appropriate for any funeral because they describe those people who will enter the kingdom of heaven. They were particularly appropriate for my mom's funeral because they described her values. She grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, so she was acutely aware from a very young age how important it was to lend a helping hand to those who needed it. We didn't always have a lot of money to give, but she donated enormous amounts of old clothes to the Salvation Army or AmVets, and always had food and supplies available for the local food pantries. And as a child of the New Deal, she firmly believed the government had a responsibility to provide assistance to anyone who needed it, and was a strong critic of anyone who suggested otherwise. (Having heard her talk about Ronald Reagan, I shudder to think what she'd have to say about our current President.)
It's no accident that all three of her children share those values. She and my dad set a wonderful example for us, and we learned what was important by watching them. That's not to say she was perfect, of course—she was awfully stubborn, and could hold a grudge like nobody's business—but who is? The important things is that she provided a loving, nurturing environment for her kids, and helped mold us into the good people (and in the case of my siblings, good parents) we grew up to be.
I miss you, mom.