Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Best Worst Days

My Gramma died on December 4. She was 92 years old.

My mom called me in the last two minutes of the Bronco-KC game to tell me the news. The Broncos were attempting a come-from-behind win. I couldn't find my phone, however, so the ring went unanswered (typical of me, so if you ever call and get my voicemail, I'm probably home, I just am frantically following the ring, picking up pillows and blankets trying to locate it). When I eventually found the phone, I saw that my mom called. A call during the final two minutes of any bronco game by my mother would be unlikely, but especially during THIS game, so I knew there was something wrong. I called her back, and got the immediate voice mail transfer which is the 21st century's version of the busy signal.

I knew something was wrong, but never in a million years imagined it was my Gramma. Even though she was 92, she was still mentally sharp (if not more than me on a good day). She told me once that she attributed this to her daily habit of doing word searches and crossword puzzles.

When I finally did hear from my mom, she told me that Gramma had died. Weirdly enough, we are gauging time by that Bronco's game, which she was also watching. She died during the 2nd quarter or halftime, I think. Because she also had grandchildren living in Kansas City, we are uncertain for whom she was rooting. I take comfort that she had Denver and KC on her mind as she watched the game, and so was thinking of us all. She loved watching football games, and I don't think it really mattered to her who was playing, as long as she could watch a game. It is especially fitting that this was her last (I just wish the Broncos had won, ha ha). There is a connection with football and women in my family, a tradition I never really realized was so multigenerational until my sister wrote this, much more eloquently than I ever could, here.

After I had a good private cry, I had to prepare to tell The Kid that his Great-Gramma had gone to heaven. I'm not an over thinker. I am also not a "protector" of kids from bad news. My dad died when I was twelve, and I've often thought that I grieved and understood my dad's death in a much more intuitive way, as only a child can, than my sisters (all adults by then) and mom. Children, quite simply, are amazing in their wisdom.

I knew I had to just tell him, simply. I had no idea how he'd react, as he's never seen death except in our family dog (he was only three) and a slew of pet fishes. I went to get a drink of water. He had quickly taken over the TV after the bronco game, and I told him to turn off the TV and come to the kitchen. He saw that I'd been crying, and I must say I love that my child has empathy. He knew I was upset, and in a soft voice, said, "What's wrong, mama?" I told him, Great Gramma Taylor died today, she's in heaven now.

His reaction shocked me. He gasped and started bawling. Much like I was surprisingly shocked that my Gramma had died in the first place, The Kid's emotion also surprised me. He stood by the fridge, crying. He leaned back onto the fridge and slid down by his back, into a fetal position while holding his arms out for me to hug him. We cried and hugged in the kitchen for a long time, until I moved him onto the couch, where we talked through our cries. He asked me, "Does this mean we won't see Gramma ever again?" That's right, Kid. "But I'm going to miss her." Me too.

The funeral was set for Friday, December 10th in Bethany, (North Central) Missouri. This town is both my Gramma and Grampa's birthplaces, and where my Grampa was laid to rest 11 years ago. It was strange to go to work on Monday, wanting to mourn, but not really knowing how that would be done here in Denver, and knowing that we'd leave for the funeral on Thursday. The week went by in a liminal state, until we could get to Missouri.

On Thursday, we finally set off. It's a 12 hour road trip. Not much to tell about this road trip except that The Kid and I did our own version of Homer and Bart's "are we there yet?" but ours was more like, "Are we still in Kansas?" Yes. [10 minutes pass] "Are we still in Kansas?" YES!

When we arrived in Bethany, it was late. I roomed with my sister who told me about the next day's service. She, of course, would be singing, as she is a professional singer, and as a family we do everything we can to hear her sing at every family event (Bonnie, now you know why we bought the karaoke machine... ha ha). Gramma was not a religious person, although she was by all accounts a good, faith-ful person. She didn't leave us instructions, bible verses or poems to read at her service. Everyone had been racking their brains to choose a bible verse or two, and no one really had volunteered to give a eulogy.

I tossed and turned all night thinking that no one would eulogize her from our family (of course the preacher was going to, but he had only recently met her at her brother's funeral, just a month ago). The seed of the eulogy took shape as I fell asleep, so the next morning, I volunteered. The way my family is, someone would have done it, and done it beautifully, I just volunteered first.

So, the service began at 10:30 the next morning. I remember little, as funerals always go so quickly. The preacher said nice things. Bonnie sang wonderfully. My sister Kathy read a bible verse that I still don't know what it was. My cousin Stephanie, all heart, read from Ecclesiates. Then it was my turn. I would have no idea what I said, except that I kept the pages that I wrote my notes on, but the basics were thus:

If there is one thing in my short 29 years on earth is that funerals are the ultimate bittersweet experience. Although you've lost someone that is dear to you, you have the opportunity to come together with all of your family and friends, to mourn and show your love. We get to sort through the memories and make new ones together. There is laughter through the tears.

Today we've come together to say goodbye to Gramma. The first thing that I think of when I remember Gramma is her accent. There is none out there like it, she had the most amazing affect to her voice, containing Missouri, Washington DC, Texas, Nebraska, all in one. Henry Higgins could have never placed this one.

The second thing I think of is food. Her amazing molasses cookies, hamloaf, her excessive freezing... All remnants of her generation, of waste-not-want-not, and the understanding of real need.

The third thing, is her opinions. If you knew her, you knew her thoughts on everything.

The fourth were her letters. Our Grampa's letters were weekly updates on his typewriter: long, wordy newsletters to his friends and family. [total side note and not mentioned in the eulogy, but I think my grampa would have been a blogger!] Gramma, however, wrote something more like a telegram, a real slice of the 5 minutes it took her to write you her note: "Dear So-and-so, The weather is fine. Uncle Don is out running the dogs. I'm going to make a sandwich. Love, Gramma."

The amazing thing is that most of my memories of Gramma are intermingled with everyone else in our family. I can still see my dad cleaning the picture windows of their house before Gramma and Grampa's 50th wedding anniversary. I remember Christmases in Texas, and the long road trips to and fro, and the varying degrees of drama within. I remember Gramma making breakfast while we lined up for morning hugs from Grampa. I remember talent shows at the reunions in Kansas. I remember hearing Gramma laugh at her great grandchildren at our big family reunion just this past summer in Colorado.

As I think of all of these family memories, I realize what a great gift Gramma gave us. Eachother. We are her legacy. She's given us so much to share, so much to build on, and so much to be grateful for. She gave us the gift of us, a family, together.

Thank you. And Goodbye.

I know that I didn't say all of that. I also cried very hard through much of it, so if I said it, it might not have been intelligible.

The service was really simple but beautiful, and was mostly attended by family although there were a couple of family friends who were there. There was a mouse, however, who attended the service. As he didn't sign the guest book, it is uncertain if he knew my grandmother, or if he was a funeral crasher, like Maude. At any rate, he darted around the podium/pulpit/dais (it was a non-denominational funeral home, I don't know what to call it), under the flowers, and even under the casket and gave my mom and my aunt a good case of the giggles in the middle of a prayer.

After the funeral we went for lunch at Bethany's finest eating establishment, The Toot Toot. It's an all you can eat extravaganza of farm food and Midwestern delicacies (I'm so not kidding, the food is really good. As a testimonial, as we ate, a huge family-or village?-of Amish or Mennonite folks came in for a meal. If the Amish are showing up for the farm food, you know it's good...). There is an extraordinary amount of antique-ish dolls, old signs and fantastic old photographs of local history throughout the restaurant. The chairs and tables have price tags on them. I have no idea why, but I might venture to guess that if you really over indulged at the buffet, you could just buy the chair you are sitting in and perhaps another patron could just throw you, still affixed with mashed potato and gravy epoxy to the chair, into the back of their pick up and just drop you at home. Just a possibility.

In all, it was an great experience. I feel so morbid saying this, but I really like funerals. Like I said in the eulogy, it's a chance for the family to get together, to bond, to re-cement. And I feel that right now. I've seen my entire extended family twice this year. This is, all things considered, the best thing about 2005 for me. My Gramma only got to see us one of those two times, but I am confident that she would have been pleased to see us together again.

One last note, and I'll end this very very long post. My Mom gave Gramma a "Grandmother's Journal" a couple of years ago and she filled it out. It is absolutely priceless. In it she wrote about her childhood, her parents, meeting and dating Grampa. My advice to the internet and the world: if you have a grandparent who you would be interested in knowing more about, give one of these books to them. Hopefully they will fill it out.


m.l. said...

Damn, Molly. I'm so sorry.
love you!

Peggy said...

Thanks for writing all of this, and including your euology here, Molly. You were eloquent that day, and said what we all wished we could put into words. Gramma and Grampa would have been proud. Wait. They ARE proud.
Love, Peg

jacik said...

molly, that was so beautiful. i am at work. and crying. it's just about holiday lunch time. you are so amazing. so is william. he is too brilliant for his own good. love ya.