Well my last post got some attention pretty much overnight. 🙂
I did end up reading essentially that post at Grandma’s funeral. It went well and I hope it helped people celebrate her life. I made some semi-spur-of-the-moment edits to it, because some stuff works in a blog post but not in speech and vice-versa, but more or less it was the same.
There were a couple things that needed to be corrected when I actually spoke–most notably that the story I told where Grandma hitchhiked home WAS true (my uncle confirmed it for me that morning–she’d been driving a 1986 Buick Century). But also, she wasn’t rescued by a Prime driver, she was rescued by a JB Hunt driver in Farmington, MO. Per Ron (he’s my uncle) she wanted to write a letter to JB Hunt to thank their driver, but he asked her not to because they’re not supposed to do that kind of thing and he might get fired for it. So I’ve got to make the transition from thinking about Grandma when Prime comes up to thinking about her when JB Hunt comes up…and I got my first chance to do that on Thursday! 🙂
My brother also spoke at the funeral, and you can read his transcript of what he said here. He did great. I wish he had more opportunities for public speaking and writing and whatnot. He’s very good.
The day itself felt really long, although also really cathartic. With a few exceptions, I’ve been pretty much locked up in my house since mid-March, so being out at the funeral home and cemetery over those two days was the most I’ve been out and seen people in pretty much four months. It didn’t feel *too* strange, but I was a little anxious about it. Fortunately most people who attended chose to wear masks and there was a decent amount of social distancing going on. My favorite moment was when my cousin Drew walked in and saw me. He walked up to me and said, “Hey Derek! How’re we doing this?” and gestured to ask if I was comfortable with a handshake, hug, or elbow bump. We settled on the elbow bump. I think that Drew’s “how’re we doing this” is going to be my default greeting going forward from here. 🙂
The funeral was lovely. The pastor who ran the service read some texts and e-mails and whatnot from different family members, and via social media my cousin Samantha (Sammy) pointed out that Grandma had passed away on Grandma’s husband’s birthday. He’d passed away in the mid-70s, but Grandma never re-married and always talked about Mel in a way that you could tell he was the one and only love of her life. I guess her final birthday present to him was to come home to him on that day. I didn’t know that she’d died on his birthday–he’d died a few years before I was born–but that fact is so beautiful that it immediately rushed to my heart and my tear-ducts and made the start to my eulogy a little shaky. (I acknowledged that I hadn’t realized it, through tears and a shaking voice as I started my remarks.)
I’ve found that as I get older I’ve been crying more. And it’s not because I find things to be sadder than I used to… It’s because some things are just TOO beautiful.
After the funeral service ended, we all piled into our cars to take the roughly 45-minute drive to the cemetery, due to the weird route we took. I had the honor of being a pallbearer alongside my brother, several cousins, and a close friend of the family. I didn’t always call Grandma when I was supposed to, but I’m glad could do that for her. She was buried alongside her husband Mel, just about a block down the road from where my mom is buried. Y’know, I’d never known where my grandpa was buried. Somehow it’s just never come up–probably because I’ve never met him. So that was an informative moment for me.
After the graveside moment, several of us then drove another half-hour out to my uncle’s church (which was also Grandma’s church in her final years–although I think her heart was still in Ferguson) for the repass/repast (depending on where you’re from) lunch. That felt weird. Usually during those moments I’d work the room a little and decompress. But with COVID in force, I mainly just sat at the table with my immediate family and even then it felt strange to take off my mask to eat. (And of course now I’m 100% sure I have the virus as a result, even though I have no symptoms.) The time we live in makes mourning harder than it’s ever been before… But I did get to have a nice few moments with my cousin Cory that afternoon. We’re going to get a drink together once it feels safe to do it. He’s a good cat.
And that’s one of the things that’s been tugging at my heart this whole time… I’ve got family all over the States, and even into other countries in some cases…but I’ve also got family RIGHT HERE. And for a while now I’ve been wanting to do a better job of honoring that. My cousin Pam–with whom I spent a little time this week–does a GREAT job of keeping up with all of the cousins, aunts, and uncles. But I just kinda fill in the gaps by talking to Pam (and/or our cousin Terry). I spend a lot of my free time just kinda sinking into myself and my own interests when I could be reaching out and building close relationships with family. And I want to get better at being an active member of the family. Maybe a beer or whiskey with Cory is a foot in the door of that. Or maybe I just need to text more people. Or something…
All I know is I don’t want to find myself saying “I should’ve called more” again.
I got home from the funeral, sat down on my couch, and fell asleep for three hours without even loosening my tie. I hadn’t been sleeping much the previous few nights–because Derek–and I guess I needed the rest.
All said and done, Grandma has been laid to rest after a life well lived. I’ve been thinking about her a lot over the past few days, of course, and it strikes me how much she overcame and managed to smile through. Born in the 20s with the nation in a shaky-state, she eventually lost her husband, lost her daughter, lost most of her siblings (there were 12 of them!), had a host of medical problems from strokes to diabetes to who-knows-what…and yet always had time for people and always had joy. For 95 years.
I’m lucky if I hold on to joy for 95 minutes.
Way to go, Grandma.