Thursday, January 8, 2015

Not Goodbye

We arrived at the funeral home over an hour before the celebrant, a Catholic deacon, shared his words. I stood around awkwardly.  Through tears, my wife snapped photos of the chapel: upright piano, stained glass window reflections, the flower arrangements ("sprays").  A screen overhead flashed a slide show of photos of Theresa at various stages of life, including a few with my grandfather, who passed away in 1984.  My grandmother had been made up and set in her pink casket at front. Pink was her favorite color.  It was odd to see her like this, as it always is at viewings.  Unnatural.  I had seen her face the night she passed, an image I will always have. It also seemed unnatural and just wrong to capture images of her, but there were folks who could not attend the service this day and would want to share in it in some fashion.

Ten people were there. Family, friends, and a couple who visit my mother every week, trying to encourage her rehabilitation.  I could tell that their style of humor would be appreciated by my mother, who often describes feeling scared and/or alienated by the staff.  The Deacon regularly leads masses at her and my grandmother's facilities.  As I was finalizing details at the funeral home a few days before the ceremony, the director relayed that the Deacon was very taken with Theresa and wanted to conduct the service.  He took my wife and I aside just before to share his warm memories of her unfailing optimism and spirit.  His message, like the entire ceremony, was simple and appropriate.  I stood up and uttered an impromptu remembrance.  There was so much to say.

I thought of her huge influence on my forty-five years. How during my childhood she brought me to church, disciplined my smart mouth, encouraged me.  She dealt with an alcoholic husband who tended bar down the street and refused to join her for church.  In response, she and her pastor began an Al-Anon chapter. Where did she find the time? What with her successful Mary Kay salesperson gig and jobs at places like Razook's in Palm Beach. Her large network of friends. My memories of grandma are of a very proactive, strong, and godly woman.  She put up with the verbal poisons from my father far better than I would have in her position.  A real model.  Heartbreakingly, she also had to cut off all ties from her son, another alcoholic who was back in Brooklyn and doomed never to escape. 

Theresa also led a bereavement group which met at her apartment every Sunday afternoon for several years, concluding sometime around 2006-7.  Seems so recent.  I thought about the women who came, how most had not attended the funeral this day because they too had passed. 

Some of us met at the gravesite afterward. My mind flickered with images of my younger self riding a bike with friends around and over the many nameplates on the big lawn. We'd try to spook each other in the moonlight.  This resting place for so many is not far from the houses in which I spent boyhood.  It was impossible not to be rushed with memories of those days as I made my way to the tent.  The funeral director delivered a brief farewell and gave me a crucifix.  Seeing my grandmother's casket lowered into the ground was more difficult than I had imagined.  It was poignant as she would now be in the same plot of land as my grandfather, some thirty years later.  The finality of it was crushing, even as I rejoiced in remembrance of her unwavering faith. But something about it was so matter of fact.  The cemetery workers toiled, then perhaps went home.  Another job.

So much to write but so hard to do so.  Maybe more later.  Thank you, my grandmother, for molding and inspiring me.  It is not "goodbye", but "see you later."

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