Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Hardest Goodbye (Part 2)

If you didn't read yesterday's post, you might want to start there.   I'm also going to say if you have a problem with language and people venting unbridled anger at men of God, you need to skip this post.  For real.

When the Mr was getting breakfast, I got this strong urge to write a prayer for the pallbearers.  I don't know why.  I don't know if it was Grandma or what but I was practicing what I wanted to say while he was gone and by the time I was done eating breakfast, it totally left me so I jotted it down and put it in my purse with the eulogy.  Before I knew it, it was time to go.  It was already busy on the main drag and I was jealous of all of the people going about their weekend.  I couldn't help but be reminded of the weekend recap from the previous weekend where I talked about how bored we were.  As we were stopped at a light, I let a tear escape down my cheek and my chin started to tremble a bit and I could tell whoever was next to us was looking over.  If they only knew.

We arrived and got in line with the cars for the procession and got our little magnetic flag.  I couldn't even look at it.  We talked to my uncle for a few minutes and went inside.  Almost everyone was there already.  My mom got there early so she could have some time alone with her since her husband wouldn't let anyone up there without him there.  I'm glad she was able to have that time with her.  I talked to the grandkids and we all hugged and it seemed like even though we were all still upset, we were emotionally drained.  I went up to the casket where her husband was sitting and he said it was the last time he would see her and I said yes, it would be for all of us.  I know he's her husband but it's not just happening to him.  I talked to my aunt who said she gave the minister a copy of what the daughters wanted to be said about her but she wanted to go over it with him so we set out to find him.  Just as the night before, he kept reversing my name with my cousin who was singing.  This man was corrected no less than 20x over the course of two days.  When my aunt said she wanted to make sure he read what she gave him, he said he would "touch on" some things.  That pissed me off so she pointed out the things that she absolutely wanted to be read and he said okay.  He continued to call me by the wrong name with the wrong part of the service even as my cousin who would be singing was in there.  This was not going to go well.

My MIL came and thankfully left her boil of a brother at home and she sat behind us.  A lot of people came, which made me a little more nervous because I had no clue how many to expect at the service the day of.  It wasn't that I was scared to talk in front of them but more the pressure to get it right since I had a sneaking suspicion the minister wouldn't.  My other aunt requested How Great Thou Art by Carrie Underwood and I hadn't heard that version.  When they started playing it, I was okay but there was just this weird tension and then I started thinking of the Elvis version which always makes me cry so I had to slip out and excuse myself.  Well, of course, as I rounded the corner, there's Mr. Magoo and I'm like "Lord, I know I'm your personal comic strip but cut me a break!"  He starts talking to me and calling me by the wrong name again and I politely but firmly correct him three more times before needing to get the hell out of his sight into the hallway.  "I'm going to need bail money for swatting a retired minister, aren't I?" I said looking skyward.  I slipped back in before the song finished and sucked on a cough drop to relieve my horribly dry mouth.  We all watched him scoot over past Grandma to the podium, salute her husband and begin yammering about their man lunch dates before getting started. 

"In the beginning...(10-second pause) the beginning...(10-second pause)"

"Is he stroking out right here?  Seriously?"  I thought.

"in the beginning....there was darkness."

"Holy f**k, he's not reading from the old testament, he's going to read the old testament!"

*Commence squeezing of Mr's hand and well-planted sighs throughout*

He droned on for twenty minutes basically inflating his own ego of having a pulpit to preach to on Easter weekend in front of a crowd who 80% of which are not particularly religious.  You could hear a pin drop...on carpet.  There was nothing he said that was personal about her despite the fact, I think he knew her to a degree from being a neighbor.  He read this from Proverbs and while I suppose in some ways, it could fit, it felt impersonal and generic.  Plus given his propensity for the dramatic in addition to being well into his 80's, it took a LONG time to get through...not that I was listening.  From the second "in the beginning", I checked out.  I didn't look at him once during that cluster of a speech he made.  Oh and the paper my aunt gave him to read?  When he finally took it out, we all were like "thank God!" and he read the first line which was basically a line of like six adjectives to describe her and then tucked it in his bible before yammering on about not a single of the beautiful things she wrote.  My hand began to shake because I was not just so seething with anger at that point, now the ONLY representation of her from a family point of view, would be mine.  I had to take some deep breaths and try not to crush the Mr's fingers as the minister tried to sneak in the final line of what she wrote from memory and botched it so hard, that I almost breathed fire.  My cousin was sitting two seats away and I could feel him looking at me.  I glanced over and he was beyond livid and crushing his girlfriend's knee trying to contain himself.  Then it was my turn and he introduced me by my cousin's name.  My mom, who was in front of him and pissed in her own right at this point, told him my name and he's like "what?"  As I stood up and he's looking over at me with question marks popping over his head, I forced a smile, repeated my name and walked up.

As I made my way up, I thought, "Don't smack an old man of the cloth, don't smack an old man of the cloth.  But he's retired.  I think it still counts against ye."  When I got there, he's just standing there behind the podium not moving like he's supposed to so I can have the microphone and looking at me with this glazed look.  "Oh, am I doing this from here?" I said in front of her casket. 

"Oh, do you want the microphone?"

"NO, I'm Eminem on 8 Mile and I carry my own for rap battles, sit down fool!"  


I turn to the crowd and as he's making his way to the chair beside him and I relay the story Grandma's good friend told me the day before with her permission.  "While he's getting settled, I'll share a story Penny told me I could share with all of you today.  I guess when she and Grandma were talking about what they wanted when they passed away, Penny said she wanted to be cremated.  Grandma said "no, no, no.  Not me!  I want to be laying in my casket with everyone looking down saying how beautiful I look!' 

(laughter from a crowd who have desperately needed this release for 20 minutes) 

"Well, she got her wish because she sure looks beautiful."  I saw he got seated so I went up to her and smiled and then took a step over to the podium where my mouth went completely dry.  I mumbled I forgot my tissue and my mom and aunt both held up their packet.  It put me at ease.  I began my eulogy reading the card she got me for my 25th birthday.  From that, I went on to talk about our Christmas cookie days, how I was introduced to her husband (a story told many times throughout my life), her famous noodles including when she surprised us by coming back from the winter home for Thanksgiving after I kind of did a little heart string manipulation, how she would mispronounce a couple of words but it always made us giggle because she was so damn cute.  I ended with the promise she asked me to keep, that when the time came she didn't know me anymore to not see her so I could remember her how she was.  I ended by asking everyone to do the same and give her the dignity of remembering how she lived and not how she died.  My mouth was drier than the desert but I got through it.  As I sat down, I heard "thank you, Liz" and Liz reached behind her and grabbed my knee in frustration.  My other cousin (Liz's brother) shot me an angry look and said, "it was cute the first two times, now I'm effing p*ssed!"  My middle cousin in front of him turned around through her tears and looked at me and rolled her eyes at the minister like "really?  AGAIN he got it wrong!?"  We were all so upset but I just prayed I did her some justice because Lord knows he wasn't going to.

He yammered about ten more minutes while spouting off an obscure version of the 23rd Psalm, you know, the one that you rely on for comfort but now can't get because it's totally different?  I was crushing the Mr's hand as he introduced my cousin as me to sing Amazing Grace and her brother yelled "LIZ!!!!!"  That's mah boy.  We kind of wish she'd done it solo because she had some pianist friend with her who did a cringey job.  We honestly would never have known it was Amazing Grace if she hadn't sung it.  He was screwing up chords and my blood was just boiling because this woman suffered for 7 1/2 years and this is the only send off we get to give her.  You have a man who should be in a dementia ward himself and a pianist who sounds like he just started playing two days prior.  Thankfully, even though she broke down a few times, she belted it out in her operatic voice and that's when I was able to finally just let go.  Yes, it was beautiful and that's why everyone else was crying but I was letting out five days of doing everything I could to distract myself from what was going on and I knew that we would only have less than 20 minutes left with her. 

When everyone filed out, we had our time to say goodbye.  The grandkids all signed a wooden spoon and stuck it in with her.  (I was the good one, I never got it!  HA!)  I wrapped up a maple cream egg (her favorite) in a ziploc bag and stuck it in there with her.  I think all of the great-grandkids wrote notes and slipped those in too.  Even the Mr wrote one and while he offered to let me read it, I said it was between the two of them.  All of her grandchildren (including the Mr who she has always treated as a grandchild and has known him since he was 19) were serving as pallbearers.  Before we did that, I led a prayer thanking God for making her whole again, allowing us to be loved by her and to remember that no matter what we should all have each other's back.  I asked for the physical and emotional strength to get us through our final gift we could give to her and we lined up.  It was thankfully evenly dispersed so it wasn't heavy.  At that moment, I felt like I was standing outside my body, witnessing this intensely beautiful but painful moment of seeing these adult men and women carrying their grandma to the hearse for her final ride.  As we sat her down and started to roll her in is when I lost it as I pat the top of her casket.  I thought my legs were going to go out from under me as I sobbed.  I looked at Liz's brother who was shooting me a blank look of "why?" which was funny in the moment because he said I was one of a few people that could make him cry.  To break the moment, I said "well that prayer went straight to sh*t didn't it?" and he started laughing and hugged me.  (We're appropriate like that.  Me, him and his sister and very straight shooters.)   We drove a long path to the cemetery and I was surprised because I thought she was being buried in a different cemetery with a similar name closer to my aunt.  We all piled in under the tent as Flubby McGee thankfully kept it to about four lines and still managed to switch our names to which we both basically did a talk to the hand motion.  Done with you, sir.  (And come to find out later, basically, everyone was.  I am still so mad at myself for not asking for the paper my aunt gave him and just read it after mine.  I will always regret that because with as much as they took care of her and sacrificed to do it, they deserved to be heard.)

As people started to go back to their cars, the Mr and I, Liz and her brother with their respective significant others and my other cousin and her two kids all stayed.  I made it clear I was going nowhere until she was "tucked in" and they agreed but we made sure the other grandkids knew it was optional, it was just our preference to stay.  We were okay at first but it's once they had her loaded on the mover is when I started crying.  Then others did too and we watched her be lowered.  As my cousin gathered her kids and started heading to her car, the other two came over and hugged me and we all cried.  I could sort of see the funeral lady heading our direction but I was not going to be hurried out of there.  As we all cried, I just said "this f**king sucks!" and they laughed and he said "it DOES f**king suck!" and the funeral chick detoured.  Bwaaaahahaha!!  She went over to the Mr and asked if we'd be staying for the actual burial because it would likely be awhile and he said he didn't think so.  If the dirt had been there, I would've wanted to start the process but it wasn't and I'm sure they would've said for insurance reasons they couldn't because the ground was so saturated.

We went back and got some flower arrangements from the funeral home, then came back to grab some food I made and heat up something the Mr's mom brought.  We were late getting there but people were ready for seconds and I brought those chocolate peanut butter stuffed cupcakes so you know those went quick.  We sat with Grandma's two good friends since they were sitting alone in a corner and not too long after, Liz's brother and his girlfriend sat with us too.  Grandma's nephew's wife whom I'd never met before, came up to me twice and said she was sobbing during the eulogy because even though she didn't know her, she felt like after what I said, she did.  That really meant the world to me because that was the goal was so that people who knew her would remember those things and people who didn't would still know what kind of person she was.  We stayed about 90 minutes or so before it wound down.  I told the Mr. I wanted to go see her now.  We went back to the cemetery and she was buried with several arrangements over the grave.  I cried and talked to her for a little bit and then my uncle pulled up, not far behind were my aunt and grandma's husband.  Since he'd been talked out of watching her be buried (something he was grateful for some of us grandkids sticking around for) it was his time with her so we left.  The cemetery is close enough to the freeway that you can see it and as we drove by, it gutted me seeing the three of them standing over Grandma's grave.  Many times I would see the same sight of some "poor family" going through a day of hell and now we were the poor family. 

There was no time to wallow because the next day I was hosting Easter.  Our friend lost his grandpa hours before we lost grandma and since he was in town, I wanted him to have an Easter even if he didn't usually celebrate.  I felt like that was something Grandma taught me, to share the holidays with those without a place to do so.  She did that one year when I told her a friend of mine and his cousin were ordering pizza for Thanksgiving and she said "you tell them to come on over" and they did.  It was awkward but I remember my friend telling me later it meant a lot that our family let them have a Thanksgiving that year.  I made as much ahead as I could and the next morning I was making stuff until about 20 minutes before they got here.  I had a chocolate bunny and some Reese bunnies in a bag at their place settings.  It was hopefully a nice thank you gift for the flowers he brought me.  We reminisced about our grandparents and laughed and got a little sad but no tears.  He indicated he basically wanted to stress eat and we were down with that because that's just so much to go through and healthy lifestyle went out the window over the weekend.  (I paid for it too.  I couldn't move my rings for days!)  Even though the circumstances were bittersweet, I will always remember the first time I hosted a holiday and did it in honor of the woman who taught me about the importance of holiday traditions and how they can connect you to those who went before you.

Goodbye Grandma.  Thank you for everything you taught me.  For loving and accepting me despite my glaring flaws which you seemed to never see.  For knowing when to be firm but kind...sweet or sassy...and making me feel like I was your favorite even if you might've made every grandkid feel that way.  (I won't tell!)  Keep sending those signs, they are such a comfort to us all and through our families story, I hope we can help someone else so that your death was not in vain.

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  1. It was a beautiful service thanks to you and Liz and in spite of that buffoon who never should have anything to do with an important service again. It's a painful experience as is without someone ruining it out of essentially stroking their own ego. In the end, though, what matters most is how you stood up and represented her and shared your experiences with everyone there so that Grandma could be proud of her own life as well as the life that brought her wonderful family into this world.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, I know it was not easy.

  3. I'm glad you were able to give a eulogy that both reminded people of good memories and allowed new people to get to know your grandma. That's a special gift to give to everyone. I'm sorry the minister screwed things up, but it sounds like everyone was able to say goodbye and do some family bonding over a shared loss. I hope your aunt got back her notes that the minister didn't use, that's the kind of thing that should be in a family scrapbook somewhere.

  4. My grandmother’s longtime minister ran off with the church secretary (both married to other people, 6-8 children between them) the week of her funeral.

    An out of state minister was sent in to cover. Huge church. Poor man.

    And he did a very good job. He went to each of her children and her last living sibling/a sister, asked what they wanted said/a memory, and that is mostly what he talked about.

    So I guess that is a lesson for us all, if you ever are in a position to speak and do not know what to say, ask a group of people for one or two things each.

    Very sorry for your loss.

  5. Oh man. Yeah we did ours at my dads house. I did everything. Just like before he died. If he was going to have any send off, it was all on me. One of my brothers wrote something that I read for him. And I wrote something to sum up a life well loved and lived. Seem such a small token for all the love and acceptance he gave. I am so glad we did it at home. Still praying for you, your broken heart and family. It so sucks.

  6. Such a beautiful summary of all you went through that weekend and the emotions that will remain with you for a long time. So much pain mixed in with a memory that will pop into your head to make your heart smile. And as was your Grandma's nature, those signs will keep coming just when you need them most. Big hugs to you my friend. xoxo

  7. Sorry to comment so long after the day. Such an emotional account it has taken me a while to get to it. I suppose that is also a credit to you as a writer that you can suck a reader in and make us feel some of your heartache. I’m so sorry you lost her, and that you lost her to this lingering disease. I’m sure you were a blessing to her


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