Today I said a final goodbye to my grandmother.
Having never participated in the “death process,” I found many things very interesting. (Being the family musician, I usually miss out on a lot. I’ve only been to one funeral….)
So, here are some observations.
1) Wakes are so weird! My grandmother was just laying there, with lipstick and nail polish on- none of which she ever wore- while her family and friends talked to each other. It was filled with every possible “small talk” conversation topic. I kept looking over to her in a silver box with white satin lining and wondering if she would even like that box. She wore this lacy light pink dress. Is that the dress she was going to wear to my wedding?
2) There are types of people at the wake. There’s the person who takes it upon themselves to know all of the arrangements and know where to direct any person to the nearest bathroom or to any item they should see. Person B makes it their job to figure out who all the unfamiliar faces are from a distance. They listen (eavesdrop) to conversations and attempt to put the pieces together. Person C attempts to make light of the situation. They crack the awkward jokes the given audience finds hilarious- even if it’s not funny. Usually Person B is part of this conversation- not listening- smiling when appropriate so not to blow cover. The immediate family watches, listens and says an awkward hello to those who enter during the four hour shift. It’s like being a retail worker trying to spark up conversation with a customer- the only thing they have in common is the lady in the silver box behind them. She would normally drive the conversation and now they just watch her hoping for something to strike.
3) The funeral. A stranger leads prayer. And a lot of it. His microphone is too soft- no doubt my hard-of-hearing grandfather can’t hear him. No one willing to stop the priest to ask him to turn it up. (You don’t tell a priest anything or stop the order of worship so the now-widowed man can participate in the service.) The Bari-tenor took the Ave Maria so fast it was nearly a pop song. He was musical. Nice voice. Organist played well. And I’m the most judgmental of church musicians. The organist lead- certainly did not follow the singer. Probably only noticeable by me.
4) the burial site. The fake green grass rug. All the flowers. And whatever they put around the casket so people don’t see under it. It’s all weird.
The picture of the hearse above is the hearse that carried my grandmother’s body to her final resting place. The license plate is an incredible reminder of coincidence. That number is the same number seen on the house I grew up in.
Before we left for the funeral, curiosity got the best of me. I reached into the casket and touched her hair. It was hairsprayed to stay perfect. She never wore hairspray. Then I touched her hand. It was cold. Well duh- of course it was- she’s dead- but it still surprised me. I pulled my hand away. I put it back and kept my hand there until it didn’t feel cold anymore. It was comforting.
Sure, I cried a couple of times. A few tears. But. She’s dead. She was suffering. And that body is old, tired and worn out. That’s what we buried. Her soul is somewhere else. In a new place. In a younger, stronger place. I have to believe that. She survived a divorce when divorce was heavily frowned upon. She survived polio. She survived breast cancer. She raised two children in the 60s by herself. And she did a good job at it. She remarried and looked beautiful at 52. She outlived her mother, father, sister, brother and son. Her only living immediate family is my mother. If I could have half the strength and independence- I would be part of wonderful company.
I love you Grammy! I hope you have lots of Friendly’s ice cream, plenty of comfy clothes with elastic waist band pants, and your family.