|Allison, LeOra, me circa 1987.|
For most of my adult life as a family we've been talking with LeOra about her pending funeral and jokingly about the things we want of hers when she dies. My grandfather died when I was only 7 and maybe because of that we talk fairly openly about death in my family. One of the first times that Matt D met LeOra in 2004 he told her that he'd sing at her funeral. Her specific request for this was "My Way" by Frank Sinatra. According to her, she moved away from home in Utah and married someone who wasn't the picture-perfect Mormon that her family expected her to be with. She just made her way in California and if anyone could say that they lived and full and happy life, it was LeOra.
LeOra died on a Tuesday morning in late November of 2013. I got the call around 10am while I was sitting at my desk. When I saw my dad's text asking that I call him, I knew it was something bad. He told me that she hadn't been responsive the day before and that at 6am, surrounded by her daughters and her oldest grandaughter, she slipped peacefully away. I immediately stood up and asked HR how much time I could take off and told them that I needed to leave immediately. I am lucky in that I have such a supportive office - our HR director who is also our CFO told me to walk back to my desk, pack up whatever I needed and leave without a word to anyone. He said he would take care of it and that I should take off as much time as I needed. At this point I was crying, but keeping myself together fairly well.
I rode the elevator with a coworker in disbelief that LeOra was really gone. I walked slowly over to the subway and just let myself cry. On the platform I walked over to the bench and began to sob. I was just beside myself. One of my closest friends and greatest heros had just died and I was just figuring out how to processes it all. For those of you in New York, you'll know this, but there are very frequently musicians of all kinds performing on subway platforms. Between sobs I noticed that there was a man beside me playing the violin. After a few seconds I realized that I recognized the song he was playing: My Way.
Of course. LeOra!
I sobbed harder and began to look through my purse for some money to give the old violinist. I found a $10 bill and as I turned to give it to him, he looked at me. He had tears streaming down his face. I stood up to hand him the money and he put down the violin and walked over and put his arms around me and let me cry until the train came a few seconds later.
Three days later we'd made most of the funeral arrangements (none of which included Matt or anyone singing "My Way") and were sitting at her viewing. For a while that evening I was able to sit with my mom in the room alone and talk about what a great grandma she was to me and how much she will be missed. We'd asked the funeral home to not have any music playing in the background since it seemed a little cheesy for our/her taste. Of course while my mom and I sat there, I noticed that there was some music playing from a little stereo in the back of the room. A piano rendition of "My Way" played loud and clear. I called my dad on his cell phone immediately and said "Dad, I have an idea. Call the organist and ask him to play 'My Way' as the prelude music tomorrow at the funeral."
After our family prayer before the funeral services, we walked in all holding hands as a family to the song LeOra always wanted sung at her funeral. She did it just the way she wanted.