Happy Birthday IGP!

As my family was boarding a recent flight back to Copenhagen, my 6 year old daughter started crying. She told my wife "I miss Grandma". 

She remembered that we were supposed to be visiting my mother this past week. It would have been the first time the kids enjoyed the warm east coast of America during the beginning of summer. In addition, we were going to celebrate Grandma's birthday and mine. 

Because we live in Sweden, my daughter has had less than ten visits with my mother, although the emotion she felt warmed my heart. She loved her Grandma. 

My mother died almost two months ago. It was a hectic time as her illness took a dire turn for the worse, but thankfully I made it home for her final 24 hours. Writing about that experience was something I needed to share.

During the last 60 days, I've been reflecting on my mother's Memorial Celebration, which took place on May 11, 2015. Those two hours have comforted me immensely and helped to ease the pain of losing her.

Once my wife, cousin, uncle, aunt and I were seated, I noticed that only 30-40 people were inside. What I had forgotten about is the tradition of guests arriving to greet those family members in the front row. 

The loving words I heard weren't unexpected as I knew my mother loved deeply and gave with all her heart. What was unexpected were the private stories whispered in my ear; some from people I had never met before. 

One was particularly memorable as a woman I didn't know, told me how much she appreciated Mom faithfully visiting her dying mother and doing whatever she could to help ease the burden. That was classic IGP (Isabella G. Payne), being there for those in need.

I noticed that the place was filling up and there was still a long line of greeters.

Throughout, there were an inordinate amount of people from one of my mother's favorite charities - The Central PA Food Bank. She volunteered there for 17 years. I greeted at least 15, including one woman who wrote me the most beautiful personal note about her friendship with Mom - words I had someone read at the Memorial. 

The people kept coming. It was starting to get warm (86f outside) so I had them crank up the air conditioner. A cool atmosphere is critical for times like this. All the hand held fans disappeared.

It was a good thing the place was able to expand, as they needed to slide panels away and bring in more chairs. By the time the greeting line ended, it was standing room only. There were approx 225 people there.

The celebration started beautifully as Mom's good friend and Pastor (Thornell Strawn) set the tone. He gracefully paraphrased what my mother had told him during her last hours.

"If they are expecting a funeral, tell them to go Home. I want it to be a celebration". 

And a celebration it was, led by Pastor Strawn. He ran the program flawlessly and was relaxed, warm and in the moment.

There were two singers selected by my mother. One a man (Mario Witt), who sang a favorite song of Mom's. The other was by Alice Penn, who has a lovely voice. Both songs joyfully lifted the room higher as music often does. I wish they had sung two songs each.

3 people spoke. 

Mom's good friend Mary Alice Crosson began and celebration was on top of her mind. She was witty, sincere and captured the essence of Mom as a friend. The crowd was smiling during her 10 minutes; a speech she did without notes.

My dear cousin Andrea Nolley was next. She was like a daughter to my mom and knew her as well as anyone. In my absence, she looked after her better than I ever expected. I'll be forever grateful for that act of love. 

Her speech was eloquent and moving. The audience was listening intently and she couldn't have honored her Aunt any better. Not long after, My wife Matilda mentioned how impressed she was. Andrea was a hard act to follow.

I was third in line and talked about motherhood and the lessons/values Mom instilled in me. 

A passage is below.

"As a mother, she was primarily about 3 things….Love, Discipline and Dedication. She taught me well and provided many lessons along the way. I affectionately called my mother IGP (her initials) sometimes, and IGP was very focused on making sure that she raised a good son. She was no nonsense and uncompromising on the values she wanted to instill in me, yet she always surrounded me with fun, happiness and love. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood."

I ended the talk by reading a favorite poem I had written for her almost 15 years ago to the day. I held my emotions together as I knew I would. It was only the last few lines when I felt my insides begin to quiver and my lips start to tremble.

Mom's eulogy was given by a deacon (Joe Robinson) at my Mom's church. I had heard him speak numerous times and he never disappointed. Mom had asked him to do this five years ago.

His story of Mom's giving nature was superb. He compared her experience to a woman in the bible and provided a powerful lesson. I have no doubt he inspired many to rethink how they give to the world. In addition, he talked about how focused and diligent she was in rising to important jobs during her 35 years in state government; something not easy for a black woman to do back in those days.

And the spirit of the moment caught him more than once, often speaking extemporaneously and with a fiery passion. It was obvious he put an immense amount of thought into the eulogy, which I appreciated. At one point he said to the crowd "I'm almost finished", although I was hoping he was not. My hope was fulfilled as his wonderful words kept dancing, much to my delight.

After the Memorial, we invited the crowd to enjoy a meal at the room above. It was the perfect ending to what was a magnificent celebration...exactly what my mother wanted.

In the week after, Mom's 84 year old Brother (Stewart Robinson) said to me three times how impressed he was with the Memorial. That felt good as Andrea and I wanted it to be special for Mom's siblings. 

My Mom would have been 78 years old today (June 28). The physical is gone but her spirit of love, compassion and giving shines brightly.

Happy Birthday IGP.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Donald, Isabella and George Payne - 1977 (Grandfather's 70th Birthday)