Thursday, March 31, 2011

Saying good bye to people and places

Mrs. Hall awoke to the sound of Mr. Hall's pager going off. She was far too sleepy to listen to him rustle around for a slip of paper and a pen to take notes. A half an hour later, (though it seemed like only seconds to her) Mr. Hall was rousing her to attention. “It’s a good thing we’re leaving today. The Monsignor has passed and we’ve got the call.” He placed a cup of fresh coffee on the bedstand. “Com’n- I’ve got a ton of things to do, and you have to pack us up.” She looked longingly out the window at the magnificent skyline and realized that would be the last they’d see of it for this trip.
The beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (in Syracuse) is right across the street from the funeral home. For years, its champion and chief spokesperson of note was Monsignor Peter Gleba. He had worked tirelessly to place it in the forefront of the city’s consciousness, and even in the face of changing times and a neighborhood in flux, he strove to make it the centerpiece of the West Side. A couple of weeks ago, while saying prayers at the home, Monsignor had gone pale and crumpled. Mr. Hall saw to it an ambulance was called. The good father had a pacemaker installed, but it was really too little, too late. A week or so after returning to work, he collapsed at another funeral and never recovered.
By this time Mr. Hall was a blur. Fielding calls from all over the state was a challenge at home; on the road it was a nightmare. And the Halls had to spend yet another night and another meeting, in Westchester, before they could return. Mrs. Hall resigned herself to living the next 48 hours with a preoccupied dynamo. Of course, as so often happens, when you are in a hurry; nothing goes fast. Piling everything into the tour bus that morning seemed to take forever. A ride that should have only taken two hours stretched on to nearly four. Peering out of the bus window at one point in their frustration, Mrs. Hall noticed a marker bearing the legend “Now entering Elmsford township”. She extracted Mr. Hall’s iPad and googled the same. The first entry returned was a news item, warning all and sundry to avoid the area completely because of flood warnings and rising waters. As the bus was at a complete standstill in traffic, it was easy for Mr. and Mrs. Hall to confirm the news story; they sat for quite a while watching the Saw Mill River come right out of its banks and swallow up most of the main business district just to the left of them. Eventually, the traffic shrugged forward and the bus arrived with its weary load in Westchester. Retrieving the big black car from the parking lot behind the hotel, they foraged about the little town until they spotted A Taste of Jamaica. Mr. Hall opted for the braised chicken, but Mrs. Hall, ever the adventurer, took on the curried goat. For the better part of an hour they ate between phone calls.
By the time they finally pulled into Syracuse, most of the arrangements had been made. The talented Mr. Iltsch, who worked with Mr. Hall, met him there to explain what had been accomplished already. Proper notice having been published, according to diocesan protocol and familial wishes, the crowds began amassing at the funeral home doors and the church.

Thus began the last journey back to the Basilica for the Monsignor. There had been calling hours at the funeral home and also at the church, but the real crowds came the day of the service. Bishop Cunningham presided over 30 priests concelebrating the mass. Monsignor was finally laid to rest at Sacred Heart Cemetery, in the company of his peers, in the Priests’ Circle on the hill overlooking the cemetery itself. "It's hard to believe he's gone," remarked Mr. Hall sadly, as they turned off the lights in the funeral home. "He was the heart and soul of the basilica for so long. Sacred Heart Church and the West Side will never be the same." Amen to that, thought Mrs. Hall, and may he rest in peace.

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