This past Saturday was out of the ordinary in no small way. To start, I went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Me. Mike Knezovich, lifelong White Sox fan. I went because our good friend Denny Wills has season tickets this year, and he’s not a casual fan—he’s a supremely knowledgeable baseball fan who happens to also be a Cub fan. So it was an opportunity to watch a game, drink beer, and completely geek out on baseball talk without apology.
Early in the game, I sensed the flutter of insect wings to my right. But for some reason, I didn’t shoo whatever it was away. It landed on me above my right knee. It was a beautiful monarch butterfly. In the second deck of Wrigley field between home and first base. On my leg.
It flapped its wings, and turned and stared straight at me. I motioned to Denny to check it out. His eyes got big. The butterfly sat and stared at me for several batters. Denny, who is about the least sentimental person I know, turned to me and said, “Do you think it’s Beth’s mom?”
Which brings me to the other extraordinary thing about this past Saturday: It was the day after Beth’s mom’s funeral. Flo, after a series of maladies and hospitalizations and things that just go along with being 98 years old, died on Friday, June 20. So last week was consumed by grieving and ceremony.
What to say? Nothing covers this. Which is probably why we rely on ritual and ceremony to get through the first difficult days. They give us things to do. Places to be. And people to be with.
Beth and her sisters Cheryl (who has been on the front line of caregiving along with her children Janet and Ben), Beverle and Marilee got together weeks ago to begin planning the funeral. And they made a lot of really, really good and thoughtful decisions. One of them was to ask their brother Doug, an accomplished trombonist, to put together a traditional jazz combo for the event.
Flo was a fan of that music, and so are her children. So last Friday, when Beth and I arrived, we found the musicians warming up and otherwise preparing in the church kitchen. It was a wonderful start on a difficult day.
They played as people arrived for the hour visitation before the ceremony. To be honest, I can’t remember the songs they played as friends and family gathered. I just know that they struck the perfect balance of reverence and celebration.
During the program, when Doug rose with a solo on “Just A Closer Walk with Thee,” well, I know there was not a dry eye in the house, and I don’t recall ever hearing a more pure or appropriate sound. It was perfect.
The ceremony was a mix of biblical reading, prayer, music—and recollections from family members. It was telling that the four folks called upon to speak were in-laws or step-children. Flo was truly beloved.
As the ceremony ended, the band broke into a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching in,” which was one of Flo’s all-time favorites.
After a short service at the cemetery, we reconvened for lunch, and it was crystal clear from the conversations and memory-swapping that the ceremony had served us and Flo well. It brought home that somehow, a modest soft-spoken person had touched, for the better, countless disparate lives. All without a college degree or a big title or big bank account or even a Facebook page. Her default mode was to think the best of people until proven wrong. And even then, she didn’t hold to grievance. She was beautifully and boringly consistent in her routines, in her kindnesses, and in her dignity and grace.
There are days when reading the news or just getting through the workday makes me fear for how awfully we can treat one another. And I wonder what we can do about that. From now on, I’ll try to remember what Flo taught me: that the one thing we can control, maybe the only thing, is how we behave and how we treat other people. Thank you Flo, for reminding those who knew you, every day of your life, of that simple truth.
And so, on Saturday, as I got ready for the game, I resisted the temptation to wear my White Sox World Series cap. I will confess to putting on my White Sox t-shirt (to protect against Cub cooties), but I covered it with a buttondown shirt. I didn’t need to aggravate the Cub faithful any more than their team is doing these days.
And I had a wonderful time. As for the butterfly, all I can say is: Flo loved flowers, and she loved bright colors. Who’s to say it wasn’t her?