Back from Oklahoma and the early flight and past stressful days saw me sleep straight through some gorgeous windows-open sunny Northern Californian weather this afternoon.
Grandpa’s funeral was an experience; to be sure.
It really was something otherworldy. Partly I think because of locale: the middle of America is much different from the west coast; and partly because of the fact that my folks, my brother, and a cousin were the only blood-family present. That’s not to say Grandpa didn’t fill out the little mausoleum where they held the services with friends and acquaintances, but the combined feelings of being among a different kind of America and being family yet likely the least close to the man we’d came to pay tribute to had me feeling a little bit like an explorer from another planet; misplaced.
On top of all of this there was tension, doubt, grief. I returned home today and realized I felt like a wrung-out dishrag; like a spring that’s been coiled and is finally getting to relax. I guess I didn’t realize it while we were all there, but there was a lot to keep my mind busy and a lot of physical hither-and-thither too.
Grandpa’s viewing was the first I’d ever been to. In fact, this is the first funeral for a blood-relative I’ve ever attended. I either lost my other grandparents when I was too young, or they had no services. The viewing was held at a brown-brick funeral home in the central Oklahoma countryside. A pretty building, all angles and lines, set amongst the scrub just off the road. As we walked in a pale overweight man greeted us. Experienced with grief, he was as sober as any man could have been – and I think welcomed us.
Mom and Dad had already been, but John and I had not. They led us around the corner into a room with several smaller rooms opening from multiple doors around the perimeter. I walked past the first door and caught a quick glimpse of the gentleman in repose the room: A flag-draped coffin and a stark white face flashed by. Each little side room had the deceased’s name on a plaque near the doorway.
We passed into my Grandfather’s room and there he was: Peaceful, eyes closed and hands clasped, he looked thinner than when I last saw him and he was clean-shaven. His head cocked slightly to the side and the smallest hint of a smile on his thin lips. His ears were just as big as I remembered them, and seeing his face brought instant recognition. He was in a nice gray suit and tie, and his skin looked clean and tight, although not so tight as to look unnatural. In my immediate reaction, a huge smile split my face.
Not a normal smile; I immediately recognized it as the same kind of sad-proud smile I’ve experienced with Keaton before. It may sound silly to relate the two, but I remember when Santa broke Keaton’s little heart this past year in Florida, and I was so sad for her, yet so proud of her for trying to play it tough – that I can remember smiling this same sympathetic smile. I was happy to see Grandpa, and I was sad to see Grandpa. I was proud of Grandpa’s life, and I was sad to have it be over. It was that kind of smile.
I walked close to the casket and looked at him for a bit, trying to remember some of the times we’d spent together. I didn’t have much, but I could recall his voice the last time Sharaun and I went to visit him. As the family began to leave, I stayed in the room an extra minute and said a little prayer of my own; something to say goodbye.
The service itself was the next day. Everyone crammed into a little mausoleum near the center of the cemetery. The plaster on the walls was shedding and the place had the smell of age. Grandpa’s coffin was arranged in the corner and a few rows of folding chairs sat facing it. The minister had met Grandpa through a hospice ministry program he runs, and had come to visit with him over the past year or so. He stood behind the casket. One of Grandpa’s hospice nurses sat back there too, in her scrubs.
The service was simple and nice. We sat in the front row. The nurse had wanted to sing for Grandpa. At a couple points during the service she sang hymns, acapella; she had a gorgeous voice. The minister mentioned conversations he’d had with Grandpa about God and Heaven and salvation – all things I’d have loved to had an opportunity to talk to him about myself. Too bad. Age always imparts such keen views on things. He read a few passages. My brother got up to speak, he did a great job… just a short funny story about a roadtrip he’d taken with Grandpa. The folks who took care of him spoke; heartfelt and short.
At the end they asked my brother and I if we could lend a hand lifting the coffin onto the hoist that would allow them to put Grandpa in the wall. He’d share a slot with his wife, her ashes already in the casket alongside him. As I lifted my Grandfather’s body over my shoulder and positioned him to be sealed in the wall behind a white marble marker, I could only think about how light the casket seemed. Before we all left I said “goodbye” one last time.
And that, along with a few hours at the blackjack table on Indian land – to blow off some steam, was the extent of the long weekend.
It’s good to be back home.