Saturday, November 7, 2009

Viking Funeral

This evening I attended the most dramatic, wonderful, fitting memorial service. It was held in the yard of my old apartment building which is on the beach in Chicago.

My good friend Nancy Strand died on October 17th while on vacation in Key West Florida and in accordance with her wishes her family and friends gave her a traditional Viking Funeral. Her son and daughter-in-law created a beautiful viking ship that held a box of her ashes, straw horses - traditional Swedish Christmas décor, a native American dream catcher that hung in her home and cards and letters from her loved ones. I wish I had brought my camera.

There was a song played on the sound system which spoke of loving nature and each other. A native American sounding song but "so Nancy". People came forward and told of her love and kindness, how she had impacted their lives and how much she would be missed.

After the last poem was read an accordionist played "My Way" as her four children carried the boat to Lake Michigan followed by her 4 nieces carrying torches. The boat was placed in the water and set aflame. It was set adrift and her children then shot flaming arrows at it - missing every shot. A fireman friend in hip waders took a torch to boat and set it ablaze. It was sent further out into the lake and we all said goodbye to Nancy. After the fire died out the remains of the boat were brought in and added to a bonfire.

While the bonfire burned we all gathered at the Swedish Smorgasbord in the yard and ate, and drank and told stories about our friend. It was a wonderful send off and there were a lot of people there which was a testimony to how much this woman was loved.

I can't recreate all the testimonies but the following is what I wrote. I couldn't read it, I was crying too much so Joanna, an acquaintance, read it for me - she did a great job and I thank God she was there for both me and Nancy.

We all have stories, plural, about Nancy. Many of us cried on her shoulder, or groused about our lives and the annoying assholes we had to deal with on a day to day basis. She understood. She had been there. And often, as is the case with me and a few other people here, we were all dealing with the same assholes.

My favorite stories about Nancy involve laughter. Not church service sniggering or tea party tittering but laughter that brings tear to your eyes and takes your breath away. Krys Hansen and I met Nancy through our work at the local Historical Society. There are words and phrases from those days that would reduce us all to fits of tearful laughter.

There’s a pigeon in the building.

It’s a foggy day in London town.

Jazz hands.

It’s historical!

I took the garbage out in my car.

I think everyone here learned at least a thing or two from Nancy. Whether it was the things a mother teaches her children, or the wisdom an aunt imparts to her nieces and nephews, or the expertise someone passes on to a protégé. When it came to knowledge Nancy was full of it.

I envied her knowledge. She seemed to know a little bit about anything you were interested in, and a heck of a lot about things you didn’t know you were interested in until you talked to her. But the most important things she taught me you don’t find in books.

She first invited me into her home when she was in the throes of kitchen construction. She and Gustella were cooking meals on a hot plate in the dining room. I learned that real comfort doesn’t come from having a perfectly clean home or a even a fully completed home but from being who you are and surrounding yourself with people you love.

I envied her spirit and her confidence. She would set big hairy audacious goals for herself like remodeling a house and she would work to get it done. She was confident she could do it, whatever it was. It may take years to complete and she may even have to call for help to get it done but she would plow ahead. So often we have big hairy audacious dreams but we never put in the effort to make them reality. We start with the big ifs and end with the big buts. I rarely heard her say the word “but.”

Several years ago I followed my job to the suburbs, much to her chagrin. I had a toddler who needed to toddle and a 3 hour a day commute wasn’t cutting it. She often encouraged me to find a different job, something with earlier hours in the city so I could spend evenings with everyone I loved in this neighborhood. At times I wish I had taken that advice because I miss all my friends in the city, but I am the kind of person who needs insurance and the predictability of a regular, steady pay check - a security net.

Nancy was one of those lucky people who was confident enough she didn’t need a net. A couple of years after I moved I was told Nancy was considering getting an RV and becoming an air conditioned gypsy. She would have been great at it, visiting family and friends all over the country, making new friends along the way.

Well the Winnebago is packed and she is on her way. She will visit you when you hear Edith Piaf playing in a coffee house. She will visit you when you smell Swedish pancakes cooking. She will visit you at the mere thought of Glogg. And she will visit you in your dreams, and wish you well, and invite you to come travel a bit as she did in my dreams this week.

One of the testimonies really struck me. The woman who spoke was a friend of Nancy's who was supposed to to see her the day after she died. She urged us all to go see friends you hear are sick without delay. On the way home I called a friend in California who hasn't been feeling well to say "I hope you are feeling better and I love you." If you have gotten this far I urge you to call a friend or family member you haven't seen in a while and let them know you care.

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