THE SUMMER OF BIRTH AND DEATH, #2

At least I made it to the funeral.
Sara said I really should go.
Sister Peg seated Mollie and me right in the front row,
five feet from the casket.

Sister Maurice had scripted the whole funeral herself.
With the finesse of a playwright,
she cued up laughs and tears.

Some twenty of her former novices,
one hand on the casket, one hand raised in blessing,
wept our way through
“May the Lord bless you, may the Lord keep you….”
Afterward in the sunny cemetery,
we strolled among the graves
of all those other nuns we knew.
Mollie said, “What happens to this place when all are gone?”

THE SUMMER OF BIRTH AND DEATH, #1

I always thought I would be there.
I’d get the call and hop in the car immediately.
When Sisters die, they die surrounded by their friends.
I was Sister Maurice’s friend.
But Sara was having a Cesarean.
A third child.
She needed me at least until she had recovered enough
to drive again.

Mollie and Ann and I had gone to see Sister Maurice in May.
She pulled out all her photos.
“They’re going to give these all away anyway.
I want to give you one myself.”
That was the real goodbye.

The last time I talked to Sister Maurice,
Baby Bob was sleeping on my lap.
I spent July watching him grow stronger every day,
his cheeks filling out.
All she said was “I can’t hear you.”
Someone told me she spent July growing weaker
and not eating.

July is our family birthday month.
When I couldn’t get Tommy on the phone
for his 32nd birthday,
I opened the laptop to send an email.
My inbox told me Tommy’s birthday was the day
when Sister Maurice chose to leave.