Wilhelmine Elixhauser died one week ago today. She was the grandmother — or beloved ‘Mutti’ — of my dear friend D.
D asked, and I of course said yes, to some music for the ceremony. So it was that on Friday, l sang a few songs, and led in song a few men with whom I had made music in the Gateway Men’s Chorus, at her memorial service at Kutis in South City.
The arm-chair sociologist/anthropologist in me takes in and makes list about traditions. Some places in the Midwest close the casket before the service begins. Others leave it open until the last person has filed by after the service. Many traditions have some sort of music at the memorial event; others don’t. (In this case, in keeping with the active religious practices of one of the surviving relatives, all the music was unaccompanied.)
The minister today was deferentially referred to by Kutis staff as “The Reverend.” No name. Just an all-purpose title. And he conducted a strictly scripted service — lots of scripture, plenty of reminders about our Savior, carefully written spoken prayers. (For the record, he was a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.) The service followed a familiar, even comforting, order and type.
Two of the vocal pieces, “How great thou art” and “I come to the garden alone” are guaranteed, time-honored funeral pieces. And they had their typical effect today. D bravely and beautifully sang solo the first verse of “How great thou art,” in German at that, as befitted this German-speaking refugee from post-WWII Austria.
At the graveside, a few more prayers. I sang the gut-wrenching Anglican tune “Abide with me.” The Reverend went down the line of seated mourners. And then we departed under gray skies and a few spitlets of rain.
One day later, I am awaiting time for the marriage of Dom and Michelle. This is, I think, the first time since I’ve been at Webster that two of the students in my department are marrying each other.
I’m betting their wedding, while including traditional elements, will include some of the outrageous quirkiness that is especially part of Domenic’s personality. This wedding will be an altogether different ceremony, in both its feel and the way it interprets tradition, than the funeral yesterday.
Thanks be to God for traditions, and for society-driven permission to reinvent them as well!
By the way, here’s Dom in my office a few years ago, filing papers in student record files: