[This is much more of a personal journal entry than a blog post. I am mostly writing this for me, but you are welcome to have a peek into my life in perhaps a more personal way than I typically share. Warning: It’s kind of long, winding, and I’m not sure if it even makes any sense.]
Today was my grandma’s funeral. I’ve already written a little post about some of my thoughts and memories about her, but there are details of a more internal and personal level that I experienced these last few days that I thought might be good to record. Things that stood out to me, the little details I noticed and don’t want to forget. The impressions that I want to file away in my mental library.
With that being said, these are things that I personally witnessed and filtered through my own experiences and feelings. So take them for what they are.
In preparation for today I had to purchase a new suit. The last time I did something like that was for my wedding, when I purchased a tux – a tux which no longer fits me because, well, life and age decided to contribute a few pounds since then. I am currently hoping to lose weight again, so purchasing an expensive suit didn’t really appeal to me. So I headed over to Burlington Coat Factory and purchased a very nice suit for a fraction of the normal price.
Purchasing a suit these days is not as gratifying as it used to be. I’ve put on some weight, and nothing really seems to highlight that fact like purchasing a new suit. The pants, the neck size of a new dress shirt, and the suit coat size – definitely gives me that extra kick in the pants to get more serious about exercise and eating better.
Wearing a suit fills me with mixed feelings. I don’t think this is probably typical for most people my age. But, when I was in college I wore a suit nearly every single day. At first it was cool, and then it wasn’t. Once I was graduated, I just didn’t wear suits anymore. It’s now been about six and a half years since I graduated college – so it’s been a while since I last wore a suit.
I do like the feeling of wearing a suit. I feel put together. I feel oddly sophisticated and more confident. But wearing a suit does give me a weird sort of time travel experience. I am transported back to when I was in college living in a somewhat oppressive environment with strict standards and a very specific worldview. But I’ve grown a lot since those days, I’ve also gotten married and had two kids, and so when I put on a suit that time travel experience sort of plays with my head.
All that being said, I do enjoy my new suit.
Yesterday was the first time I had shaved since sometime in November. I had grown a pretty substantial beard up to this point, and I hadn’t really planned on shaving it anytime soon. But with the funeral, and with my new suit, I thought it would be more appropriate if I shaved it off. Plus, Sarah had been threatening me that she’d shave it off of me while I slept.
My uncle Norman has Down syndrome, and we didn’t really know how he’d handle the fact that his mom has passed away. It’s been seven years since his dad died, and he still to this day tells me (and anyone else who will listen) about his dad Dr. Knott who was a dentist.
But from what I can tell, he seems to be handling it like a champ. As people came in for the viewing last night, and as people came for the funeral, my uncle Norman made his way around the room shaking hands with everyone, and often hugging anyone he knew. He would share about his dad and talk about his mom. He is a very affectionate guy, and that was just amplified these last couple days as he was greeted by people that had been a part of his mom’s life, and therefore often in his.
One of my favorite parts of the funeral was graveside. Because my grandmother was a veteran in the Army, her coffin was draped with an American flag, she was given a 21 gun salute, and taps was played on a bugle in the distance. The flag that was draped over the coffin was folded very carefully by two men from the American Legion. When they were done folding it into it’s perfect triangle they presented it to the family by giving it to my uncle Norman.
I found that to be extremely touching. As we walked back to the limos he grasped onto that flag with deep concentration and attention.
Anyone who knew my grandma knows how particular she was about how she looked. This was brought up over and over again as people walked passed her coffin. She had her classic bright pink fingernail polish and her matching lipstick on. Her hair was done just right. She had all sorts of bling on – rings, earrings, a big necklace. She was wearing her classic leopard print top.
She would have been very happy with how she looked.
Throughout the viewing and during the start of the funeral they had a running slideshow of pictures of my grandma and our family. So many of them included me. It was kind of fun to see those, of course, and then think about how if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be here today. My two sons wouldn’t be here today. It’s a simple thought that we all have from time to time when we think about our parents and our grandparents. And then to think about all the people that she has come in contact with, and how many people came to pay their respects to her and our family. So many stories, so many connection points, all in one room.
I haven’t really been to many funerals in my life. That’s a blessing, but at the same time I have a hard time knowing what to expect. Did people want this to be a time of mourning or celebration? Or maybe a mixture of both – a sober celebration?
The fact that her death wasn’t unexpected perhaps dulls the sharpness of her loss a bit. That she went out on her own terms, so to speak, perhaps help with the sorrow and grief.
The pastor who spoke at the funeral was formerly a pastor of the church that my grandma and aunt attended years ago. He came all the way up from Dallas to do the funeral. But he hadn’t seen her for 36 years. So I was curious about how he would lead the service. He mostly tried to make it a sober celebration. He kept things pretty upbeat as much as he could. A sincere pastor simply lives authentically in how he performs weddings and funerals, and in how he preaches and conducts his life with his church. The pastor’s personality came through today very evidently. For me, there were some parts I kind of winced as he talked about my grandma, but overall he was an old baptist preacher through and through. And overall, that was enjoyable and agreeable. I don’t think he had any kind of notes before him. He just preached and was himself up there behind that pulpit. And I think he did a good job.
Later I did talk with him and his wife about when they lived in Chicago near the Cabrini Green area as one of only a few white people in the entire area. I asked a few questions of what it was like being some of the only white people in the area during that time. He and his wife told me that they lived there during the time of race riots and much racial tension. They had rocks thrown at them regularly when they drove down the street. Once, the apartment they were living in was bought by a black person who once he owned the building knocked on their door and told them they had thirty days to get out. Another time a bunch of black girls surrounded their daughter and threatened to beat her up on her way home from school, but right at the last moment another black girl stepped in, put her arms around her and told them not to beat her up because she was with her. And they didn’t. And that girl who stepped in and this daughter of the pastor and his wife became great, lifelong friends.
People live interesting lives, you just have to ask the right questions.
With Sarah being a nurse, conversations about life and death are a regular occurrence. But that shifted to us a bit as we discussed what we would like to have done with our bodies should one of us die before the other. We talked about our feelings about viewings, and burials, and cremations, and the such. Sarah told me long ago that she wants her body to be donated to science so that med students can study and perform tasks on a real human body rather than animals. As hard as that is to think about, we both agree that it makes a lot of sense. Schools are in need of bodies like that, and many people don’t even think of doing such a thing. We pretty much agreed that as of right now, that’s what we would like for each other. If after they are done with our bodies, we’d like to be buried on a hill somewhere with a nice view. A picturesque view. A peaceful view.
My grandpa died just over seven years ago. He was buried during the Obama inauguration. It’s amazing how much can change in that amount of time. I remember flying from Pensacola, Florida before me senior year of college to go to the funeral. It probably was a mixture of being younger, being acclimated to the Pensacola Christian College environment, and losing my grandpa. I remember not knowing how to feel and now it is mostly a blur. That’s partially why I’m writing all of this now.
But I’ve grown a lot in seven years. I am a husband, a dad of two boys, and I’ve gone to grad school and gotten a masters degree (almost two), and moved from Chicago to Omaha. My dad was in a serious car accident six years ago (almost to the day). My mom and brother have moved out here, too. Lots of changes. These seven years have really matured me in many ways, and so today during the funeral I felt much different than I did during my grandpa’s funeral. To stand up in front of a room of family and friends of my grandma today wasn’t a nerve-wracking thing like it was for me seven years ago. It was purely an honor and a privilege. And I am so thankful that I got to share a few things about my grandma, and read a few verses from the Bible that she had written down in a book next to her chair.
The smaller details I don’t want to forget from today (in no particular order):
- Getting up and getting the kids ready to go to our neighbor’s house for the day. Finding a babysitter for the boys was harder than we had hoped, but silly us, our next door neighbor was more than willing and able to help. What an incredible blessing to us.
- Sarah and my conversation about death on the way to the funeral.
- Seeing lots of people walk up and smile at how my grandma looked and how she was dressed. “She looks just like she’d want to look. She was always such a schnazzy dresser!”
- Seeing Norman give anyone and everyone a hug – including the staff who were holding doors open for people.
- The feeling right before going up to the pulpit to say a few words and to read a couple verses from the Bible. I felt a bit emotional, but overall I felt very proud and honored to be one of the three people to speak.
- The moment after I sat down and Sarah putting her hand on my leg and patting it as if to say, “Good job, I’m proud of you.”
- Sitting with my other Grandma, who came to the funeral, and listening to her stories. Learning how to appropriately give her room to talk, while also protecting my mom and others from her often self-focused comments.
- Hearing a family friend from both sides of my family play and sing “In the Garden” during the funeral.
- Having two adult siblings – one about to get out of high school, and one about to get married.
- Realizing that the coffin was actually a lot heavier than I thought it was going to be.
- Seeing all the boarded up houses on the way to the cemetery. Many of which had “crime watch” written on them.
- The very cold wind that blew through the cemetery as we got out of the limos.
- Sitting next to my mom, not knowing if I should put my arm around her in comfort or not.
- Seeing the American Legion men do their duties with the utmost seriousness and respect.
- The moment when they presented the flag they folded up to Norman.
- How pretty my Aunt looked today, especially knowing how heavy her heart must have been.
- The conversation with one of the pastors about my grandma on the way back from the cemetery.
The small details I hope to remember from the viewing the night before:
- Micah and Ezra got haircuts just moments before coming to the funeral home.
- Both the kids were surprisingly good. They were friendly and overall were obedient.
- Having our family friend (and my godmother) sit with us and talk and share memories and things.
- Seeing friends of my mom and friends of the family come and share some memories with us.
- Before leaving, Sarah, the boys, and I all looked over Mama one last time – and Micah said “Night night, mom-mom.”
- After everyone had left, it was just me, my siblings, my sister’s fiancé Clint, and my mom and aunt. My aunt went home for a while, but the rest of us went out to eat and just hung out and chatted for a while.
- Seeing that the flowers inside the coffin said, “Mama.”
- Having my memory sparked by all the pictures being shown in the slideshow, reminding me of just how many incredible memories I have of my childhood coming out to spend time with my family out here in Nebraska and Iowa.
- Being told I look just like my grandpa did when he was young by a friend of my grandfathers from high school.