Welcome to the Family

Some of the funniest things happen when you’re supposed to be silent.  Here is my favorite memory of those moments when the hilarity Just Spills Out.

I had only been married to my husband Michael for two months when his father died unexpectedly.  Dad had been a wonderful friend and cheerleader for me, boosting my ego, drawing this little Protestant into his large and raucous Irish Catholic family, putting me at ease among all the stepchildren, and in-laws and making me feel welcome.  But even so, they were a tough crowd and I was constantly intimidated.

Being unfamiliar with Catholic rituals and their style of funeral service, I was so afraid of doing something incorrect or gauche.  I could just see the priest frowning and commanding me like the minister did when I was 7, caught passing notes to a friend nearby, “Mary Evelyn, go sit with your mother!”

St Patrick’s was simply decorated and wonderful, the sanctuary round with pews telescoping like a wagon wheel, the length of each narrowing toward the front of the room until the very front row of each section had room for only 2 or 3 people.

The family was lining up out in the foyer, everyone shushing everyone else, handing out tissues and breath mints, the kids giggling and doing little tap dances in their Sunday shoes.

We had expected Mom (my husband Michael’s mother) to ask her sister and brother-in-law to sit beside her on the tiny front pew with the sons and daughters filing in according to age with the oldest first, but at the last moment in the crush of relatives she turned, looked at us and said, “You two come sit with me” and started down the aisle.

Nervous, distracted, and much louder than he realized in this echo-chamber of a vestibule, Michael half-turning, took my hand, drawing me forward and said, “Diane, come on, let’s go” at which huge unrestrained bursts of laughter rang out from all the family members crowded in closely behind us.

My name is Mary.  Not Diane.  Diane was his ex-wife and the mother of his children.  The simplest thing I could think to say with a smirk was, “Okay, Malcolm”—my ex-husband’s name.  This brought a second peal of laughter, and the tone for the morning was set.

We followed Mom down the aisle into a service that was rich with love, laughter, and cherished memories of this wonderful patriarch and saint.

And I knew he was laughing, too.

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