So some of you know that I lost my Grandmother this past Friday. Not like the time I parked her wheelchair in the doctor's office and went to the bathroom and then came back to find the waiting room empty (the nurse had taken her in to see the doctor!), but for real this time. She was 87.
The Funeral was much more pleasant than other funerals I have attended in recent years. Pastor Hulme gave us a nice Baptist service that was completely free of fire and brimstone and did not attempt to shame/badger/demand that anyone there convert to Xtianity on penalty of never seeing our beloved again. My sister and I both got up to say a few words, she had made some notes beforehand and so stayed on topic and used complete sentences (and made me cry), while I rambled on extemporaneously and failed to articulate the things I had been thinking. Nobody got out the shepherd's crook to pull me from behind the podium though, so that was good.
Many loving and thoughtful people sent beautiful flower arrangements. Zoey (my niece) has learned to say "flower" and she toddled around admiring the boquets, trying to eat them. The spray of roses on the top of the casket was magnificent. Everyone got to take a rose away from the cemetery and Delia rounded up as many as she could after the wake to take home and dry for magic powder. Only one potted Peace Lilly came to this shindig, and it stayed in Sun Valley, thank the gods. I don't know why I hate Peace Lillies so much, but I do. The one that came home with me from my Grandfather's funeral gave me no end of trouble, and I am usually pretty good with houseplants. It flagged and revived so many times, didn't seem to matter how I watered it or fed it. The thing just turned yellow and wilty of it's own accord and then sprang back when I least expected it, till finally I set it outside on the porch so I wouldn't have to look at it anymore. When winter came it finally went to the Florist in the Sky, or wherever plants go when they die. But I digress...
Keith was a pallbearer, and he is getting to be quite the veteran now, having served in that capacity several times before. He looked very dignified in his long black coat, he and John and Joey and Uncle Eddie and Uncle Johnny. And Jeff, who isn't even related to us but must have been sent by the Universe to help keep things at the house working when Grandpa could no longer do it for us. No one asked me to be a pallbearer... I'm strong too. Maybe the men of the family get to bear the physical weight, and the women carry what's left. I know the menfolk got put right to work at the house afterward moving tables and chairs, while my sister and I took coats to the back bedroom. I peeked in on my father while I was back there, and he asked me with his eyes to close his door. Then I mixed myself a screwdriver.
Linda and her sister laid out a beautiful meal, with ham salad sandwiches made from the ham Joyce sent, and rigatoni to go with the meatballs Grandma Virginia sent, along with chicken and dumplings and fruit and vegetable trays and cheese and cracker trays and half a dozen different desserts. Linda and her sister cared for my Grandmother in her final days, and I could tell they really did care. They don't seem to care much for me, but that might just be me misinterpreting their grief. I suppose that could be a topic for another post, or maybe not at all. At any rate they fed a passel of folks, and nobody went away hungry.
But they did eventually go away, as twilight deepened and we said our goodbyes on the patio. The Immediate Family was left alone together, in Her House, without her. As bad as it sucked then, I guess it could have sucked worse. I laid my head in my sister's lap and cried. Her whole life, left there, made out of things. We're fighting about THINGS?!? But after the crying was over we all tried to get into the spirit of looting, and we rifled through her cupboards with wild abandon, hollering "where's the silver?" and "bring out the Good jewelry, this stuff is junk" and "I'll arm wrestle you for it." Did we really? Would she be offended? I think she would laugh about it, but I could be wrong.
Amanda found a recipe for Ammonia Crackers (the first ingredient being LARD), and I told her I would make them and send her some. Watches, rings, photographs, linens, toys from our childhood, toys from our mothers' childhood, and a doll that pre-dated Grandma herself - it was really creepy, I thought. The little pill bottle full of teeth that I found struck everyone as incredibly creepy too and no one contested when I asked for it. Delia found a set of oil and vinegar cruets and some tiny porcelain cats, and she was delighted when Mom said she could in fact have them for her own. We left the Fiestaware for another time, it being the most tangible distillation of Grandma in our hearts, and perhaps the most coveted of all her worldly possessions. Some things, it seems, are in fact Sacred, even to us.
My cousins have both flown to their respective homes on opposite sides of the continent, my sister is safely back in Ohio, and I am back in Morgantown. It is quiet, mostly, but now and then my husband and I have a laugh about something absurd that happened that day - like how our car got bumped on the patio after the wake because of a fork, and how it was worth it, or how upset Linda was that Keith wanted to make a pot of strong coffee, or how Uncle Jay talked more that afternoon than I have known him to talk in my whole life. What we took home from the funeral was more than our grief, more than the trinkets from the jewelry boxes and photo albums. We have stories, and memories, and a sense that now it is up to us, now that Grandma is gone, to help keep our family together. Maybe we can do it, and maybe we can't do it alone. The real test of our strength as a family will come sometime down the road, when we fight over who gets the Heywood Wakefield.