I’m one of four siblings. Each of us is married. But we eight are now seven.
Brother Ross’ wife Jeanne died on May 14 after a valiant four-year battle with lung cancer. Last weekend we gathered in Las Cruces, New Mexico to support Ross and honor Jeanne. The two-day Celebration of Life was reverent — and irreverent. But that’s how our family does things. We give “good funeral.”
Ross could have taught Dwight Eisenhower how to muster the troops for D-Day. He could have educated Steve Jobs about “attention to detail.” So it was no surprise when, shortly after we unpacked at the Las Cruces Ramada, Ross handed out a two-page Schedule of Events, including such important items as “3:30 — Guests arrive & mingle” and “Godiva chocolate time.”
We’d come from Maine, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, California and Colorado. There are probably more flights to Tierra del Fuego than to Las Cruces but that didn’t thwart any of us. The hugs never stopped at the El Paso airport luggage carousel as we awaited bags, and a guitar, plus transport to Las Cruces.
On Friday evening, we toasted Jeanne with salt-rimmed glasses brimming with tangy margaritas during a festive party at La Posta, her favorite eatery in the historic old town of Mesilla. On Saturday morning we sat in the Hillcrest Memorial Gardens for the funeral service, listening to “Oklahoma!” and “Memory.” Sun beams streamed through overhead windows while brother Robert, on tenor horn, and cousin David, on guitar, played “Danny Boy.”
Amidst poetry and loving remembrances from friends, we heard Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” followed by UB40’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Midway through the service, Ross reminded the congregation that my husband Bob had sung “Love Me Tender” at their marriage 20 years prior. Suddenly, the unmistakable voice of Elvis crooning “Love me tender, love me sweet…” filled the air. Bob leaned over and whispered, “That’s not my voice. I don’t sound like that.” Uh, right….
That evening, with temperatures in the low 90s, the festivities ramped up at a pool and dinner party hosted by neighbors of Ross and Jeanne. One of the highlights was a watermelon carving contest (brother Robert knifed the victory).
Perhaps the emotional highpoint of the entire weekend came when a lovely young woman stood to give her special salute to Jeanne. Noting that Jeanne had been a life-long enthusiastic birder, Sonia brought out her boom box, pushed the “on” button, and we were treated to Julie Andrews singing that poignant song from Mary Poppins — “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…”
While Julie sang, Sonia walked through the poolside tables, handing white envelopes to everyone there. The envelopes were stuffed with bird-seed and featured a black and white drawing of a house sparrow. The inscription read, “In loving memory of Jeanne, please feed the birds.” Kleenex, please, ASAP.
We sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, daughters, sons — all descendants of Edward Hogan from County Clare — take pride in the potent Irish blood that invigorates our senses. Like most Irish, we cry as quickly as we laugh. And we treasure the words of that Scottish/Irish ballad, “The Parting Glass”:
Of all the money that e'er I had,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that e'er I've done,
Alas! it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
To mem'ry now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all.
Hail and farewell, Jeanne. You would have loved every minute of your party.