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A country funeral
This morning I went to a funeral service at the Mason Congregational Church, in the tiny town of Mason, New Hampshire. I have worked in the public library there for over 14 years, and Charlotte, who died last week, was the retired town Tax Collector. She was also an avid reader, and belonged to the Noon Book Club, which has met every month at the library for the last 10 years.

Charlotte came to our October meeting looking pale and thin, but as usual she had read the whole book, and gave her opinion without hesitation. By November she had learned that she had an inoperable cancer. She arranged to move from her apartment to a son's house, and her family gathered there last week for Thanksgiving.

The family included one daughter, four sons, their spouses, grandchildren, and the first great-grandson. Charlotte held the new baby. Everyone knew that this was the last time they would all be together. The next day, Friday, she said she was tired and went to bed early - and that was the end. She died in her sleep that night.

I was not close to Charlotte - she was extremely gruff and forthright, and so deaf in the last few years that she couldn't hear me unless I shouted, but the story of her death made me cry. It still makes me shiver.

Charlotte was blunt, plain-spoken and very active in this church. One of the best stories about her was from the young, curly-haired minister. "She told me, long before we were well-acquainted, "you need a haircut". It got so that I would look in the mirror on Sunday mornings, and think "I'm OK!" or "Oh no, it's too long!" and then I'd take preemptive action - "Hi Charlotte, I know, I have an appointment this week".

After the funeral I was talking to Barbara, who had worked with Charlotte for years in the town offices. She told me that there had originally been six children, but one died young. "It was very sad - he was what you'd call the prodigal son. He argued with his father, he disagreed on religion, and he went off to be a missionary somewhere - was it Indonesia? and then he was drowned. So young, and they never reconciled, and she didn't talk about it, she just kept going."

Yet Charlotte came to her death, if not able to show feelings, at least able to put her affairs in order, and say good-bye. She held that baby and greeted the next generation, and then she fell asleep. What more can any of us ask? It still makes me hold my breath.