There is a certain freedom in the finality of the last scene in Thelma and Louise. The motor guns and the ’66 Thunderbird soars almost triumphantly above the cliff to Thelma and Louise’s inevitable deaths. It is surprisingly fitting and peaceful.
When my friend Tina and I heard the news of Ann’s mother’s death, we agreed to make the 8-hour drive from Chicago to Toronto to attend the wake and funeral. Instead of that ’66 Thunderbird, Tina pulled up in a large black Infinity SUV with Ann’s personal assistant Tracy riding shotgun and her trusty beagle Riley next to me in the back seat. We had never done a road trip together, weren’t sure of the route but were ready for whatever lie ahead.
Ann had been at her mother’s bedside for weeks as she lay dying and we knew how important it was to her to see and feel our support in person. Women have a special way of supporting each other and we couldn’t let Ann down. Although Ann’s mother was in her 80s, the death came as a surprise after a very brief illness. For anyone who has had a mother pass one, you know. No matter when or how your mother passes on to the great beyond, it is one of the most challenging events a daughter ever faces. We weren’t quite sure how best to support Ann and so we hoped for a sign as we picked up coffee at Starbucks and headed east through Illinois on to Interstate-94.
It wasn’t long before the hearse appeared alongside us on a flat-bed truck. “U R Next,” read the license plate. We locked eyes and let out giggles. Were we? Aren’t we all? Yes, we’d asked for a sign but what exactly did this one mean?
We drove on, making pit stops for gas and food, all the while trying to drive fast enough to make the wake. We’d left late and desperately needed to make up time. The wake ended at 9 p.m. and we were nowhere near the Canadian border. Just then, traffic slowed down to a grinding halt. In Chicago, this would be expected, but we were on Highway 69 in Michigan and there seemed no logical explanation for the big-city traffic jam on a relatively untraveled highway. And then we saw the police cars, the overturned truck and the small boy covered in a blanket on the side of the road, nestled in grass. A policeman stood near him, holding him, rubbing his shoulders. It was obvious he was the sole survivor of a terrible crash, the entire top of the truck having been cut off as clean as if a knife had sliced it.
The mood turned somber. Death had made its not-so-subtle entrance.
We drove quietly and then in unison turned our heads to see a large, white truck lumber up next to our overly large SUV. Written on the back of the truck in blue lettering was the word, “Eternity,” with pictures of three crosses and a biblical verse.
Now, there are signs and then there are signs. The rule of thumb is that when they come in three’s, it’s time to sit up and listen. We sat up. We were traveling to a funeral after all.
With 15 minutes to spare and by some quick changing and partial nudity in the car, witnessed by only one passing motorist in the parking lot, we made it to the wake. Ann greeted us gratefully, half surprised we had made it under the deadline. “So, you showed up?” she chided us with a smile. Her mother lay peacefully in the casket across the room. “It’s sinking in,” she shared and we felt her sorrow. Deeply.
We were slap-happy after our long road trip. But Ann’s pain filled the room. We watched as she and her family said goodbye to their mother. We walked out of the funeral home together with them, meeting up later at a pub.
When the funeral began the next morning at St. Anthony Catholic Church, Tracy, Tina and I appeared right behind the procession, having mixed up the Torontonians’ directions, arriving in the nick of time. Ann looked at us as she walked in to the church behind the coffin, her eyebrow raised in the “seriously?” gaze at us. It was all happening so fast. How could it seem like a week had passed when we’d been in Canada less than 24-hours?
“Funerals are the window to eternity,” Father John Mullins said as he opened his eulogy. Remembering the message on the white truck, Tina, Tracy and I turned to each other. Eternity had just called out to us. “With God, the fulfillment is greater than the expectation. The struggles in life as we heard in the beatitudes* are the coin of the realm.”
Just then, Tina gasped. As we looked over to her in our pew, she help up a shiny Canadian penny. Tracy and I gasped. “What does it mean,” I asked, even though I was well aware of the phenomenon of finding pennies.
“Someone is watching over us, someone is here for us,” Tina said and we knew it felt true. Ann watched over her mom and now we were watching over her.
“It’s really the end now, isn’t it?” Tracy asked. “I mean, the funeral really signals the end.”
“I think it might be the beginning,” I said.
The signs had prepared us, had brought us this far. The longer I live, the more signs I see. When you open the door to a little guidance, it comes in droves. It never fails.
I took the Canadian penny and replaced it with two American pennies. Someone else could find a little bit of hope.
It was time to begin the journey home.
- the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:3)
- those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
- the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (5:5)
- they who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be satisfied. (5:6)
- the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
- the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (5:8)
- the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. (5:9)
- those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)
- Canadian penny to stick around until after Christmas (mining.com)
- Penny lives on… just a little bit longer (o.canada.com)
- A Practical Use For Those Canadian Pennies! (nancybond.wordpress.com)