reflections on a funeral weekNovember 30, 2008
Since my last update I have traveled to PA, seen my grandma for the last time, heard the news of her early morning death, spent many quality hours with cousins, aunts, uncles and cousin babies, attended a 4 1/2 hour visitation, sang in a grandchild choir at my grandma’s funeral, been one of the granddaughter pallbearers and shed a whole lot of tears.
The longer story of all that starts with my brothers, Charletta, my dad and I all driving into PA.
We got a little bit of a later start due to the need to pick up a rather large thanksgiving turkey to defrost in the fridge during the week, but made pretty good time to Lancaster where we went straight to Landis Homes. During the drive, there had been some discussion between my brothers and I about whither or not we wanted to see Grandma again in her state of severe decline. In some ways I was really unsure of seeing her so frail, unresponsive and close to death. The memories I wanted to keep with me of Grandma were the ones where she was strong, busy, and always moving, not so small and lost in a hospital bed. But Tim had decided that he wanted to see her, and I decided not to risk regretting missing my last chance to see Grandma alive. So we went into the room that she had been in for the last year. And while it was indeed very difficult to see her in that state, she was still my Grandma and for that reason I am very glad to have seen her. We each said our goodbyes to her, told her we loved her and then sang (or in my case tried to sing) Great is Thy Faithfulness. Apparently that hymn had been a favorite of the siblings in the past week and one often sung to Grandma in her last days.
That evening there was a lot of discussion about the variety of possibilities and plans depending on if Grandma hung on for a few more days or even another week. Stories of relatives lasting for weeks after they stopped eating and drinking kept floating around and there was a lot of doubt in my family’s mind that we would be able to stay long enough to actually attend Grandma’s funeral. I went to bed with a pretty heavy heart, it is a very odd thing to pray for the death of one’s grandparent, but I was definitely doing that that night.
In the morning I woke up to the news from my Mom that my Grandma had finally passed away in the early morning between 5 and 6am. While very welcome news, it was also bittersweet and definitely the end of an era. For church that morning we went with my Grammy (dad’s mom) to the church at Landis Homes, where my brothers, Charletta, and I were the youngest in attendance by far. It was rather amusing because the sermon was about maintaining faith in God as one grows older. But as the pastor pointed out to us, we too will face the struggles of old age, but maybe in a few more years that most of the other church attenders.
Then after church we met up with my Dad’s side of the family to have lunch and play games. One of my cousin’s from Malawi was able to be there and also another cousin from New Orleans. We of course enjoyed typical loud conversation around the dining table and even heard a few new stories about Pappy.
Later that evening we went over to the Maust household where the Bell family also joined us, thirteen total it was a real treat to spend time with that spectrum of people. Along with many good conversations and some amazing baked potato soup made my aunts Mary & Rachel (with assistence from half a dozen others), we also enjoyed Charletta’s Palin impression. Then we ended up playing the Name Game, which also resulted in great hilarity especially when my Mom got so into the acting round that she literally fell on the floor in order to help us guess collapse.
Tim and Charletta headed off for a day trip to Philadelphia, while I spent the morning working on my dreaded library paper. I got a good chunk of it done, in part due to the lack of wireless and therefore lack of internet temptations. Then Jonathan, my parents and I headed off to Park City to do some shoe shopping. My mom found a pair of good walking shoes and I helped my dad pick out a pair of casual shoes (he owns sketchers now, crazy!). Then we wondered off and found Jonathan happily playing Mario Baseball on a game store’s Wii. After lunch my parents dropped Jonathan and I off at Borders to go visit some of my great aunts and uncles. I located a few Mary Russell mysteries that I didn’t own yet and then proceeded to camp out in the graphic novel section and read a few more volumes of the Buffy season 8 series. That was great fun in a highly nerdy sense of the word. Then we met up with Tim and Charletta and went to Olive Garden where we proceeded to be our obnoxious family selves.
One of the highlights of the week was chance to spend time with Emily and Laura, two of my closest cousins in age. We couldn’t remember the last time just the three of us had had so much time to spend together. While we had seen each other at various reunions it had been a long time that we all had been at the same one. We started off the morning hanging out at Laura and Jed’s apartment with their always endearing daughter, Lillie. Lillie had quite sneakily become a walking/talking almost 2 year old, even though it feels like such a short time ago she was a quiet lump sleeping in her mother’s arms at our first meeting. After Emily arrived we went on a walk around downtown Lancaster doing various errands with Laura and eventually making our way to Central Market. Full of memories and classical Lancaster food, I purchased some Wilbur chocolate buds, a half a dozen of whoopie pies (one of my all-time favorite desserts) and some Bubble Tape to round out my collection of nostalgia candy.
Then Emily, Laura and I went to Isaacs for lunch and continued chatting. It was rather strange to look at them sitting around the table with me and realize we have quite sneakily become adults. Emily is finishing up her college degree and enjoying her waitress job (she recently waited on Jesse Jackson!), Laura is being a wonderful mother to Lillie and learning how to quilt and I am well into my third year at the high school and looking at the beginning of my grad degree. I could have sworn it was only a few years ago we were playing together at Grandma’s house or playing viola together at family reunions. While our trio has changed a lot over the past few years, I think you will agree we still complement each other pretty well!
Tuesday evening was the viewing, which fortunately wasn’t too exhausting because the grandchildren weren’t expected to stand in the receiving line and great the many guests. But it was also there that we first viewed Grandma’s body. While at first I found it rather difficult to look at her, it eventually became an almost odd thing to me because it was so clearly not Grandma. It did bear a faint resemblance to the Grandma of my memories, the much more vital part of Grandma was spending an evening hanging out with her many and varied descendants.
A blistery November morning, we all gathered together at New Danville church for the final viewing and funeral. The highlight for me was singing two hymns as a part of a choir of grandchildren. One was a old classic, Children of the Heavenly Father, and the other was a newer hymn called Nothing is Lost on the Breath of God. Both were very poignant songs to sing and it was a powerful experience to get to sing with family at such a special time. In his tribute to his mother, my Uncle Dan said that Grandma had always dreamed of being a teacher. But when lack of education, marriage, farm life and children prevented her from doing so, she did the next best thing and created her own school through her children. As we sang together as grand-children, I realized that not only had Grandma created a school, she created a choir, a softball team (we play a game every summer at the family reunion), a group of world travelers and a small tribe of people of faith.
The ceremony ended with a short burial service on the windy hilltop graveyard at my childhood church. The clouds were beautiful and the wind more than a little brisque as we sang a few more hymns and I along with the other eldest granddaughters from each family acted as pallbearers for Grandma’s casket. That too was an important act for me, while having female pallbearers is not unheard of these days, I am guessing that this is the first one of my anscesters to have women carry their caskets and I think in some ways that would have also made Grandma quite proud.