How It Went
Last night was the visitation for Grandma. We gathered at the funeral home, the immediate family was supposed to come 45 minutes before the thing began. But the thing about my immediate family is, there are about a thousand of us and the room was quite full. And loud, so loud, before the time officially began. For 2.5 hours, we chatted, reminisced, laughed at Grandma stories, did some crying, but mostly enjoyed each other's company. It was, in short, the most amazing way to celebrate a life.
They stopped us for a prayer service toward the end. It was a somber thing. We listened, participated, and when it was done, went back to talking. Loudly.
When Grandma was sick, she'd often have more than one visitor at a time. Sometimes, she was so tired, she would choose to just listen to her guests talk to each other. That's how last night was -- Grandma there in the corner, listening as we all talked and laughed.
All week, I've been visualizing how I'd do my reading. Going over what I'd say, how I'd do my best to slow myself down. Being anxious about giving my talk at the end of the service kept me from being too hysterical during the service. Even as her casket, which I'd avoided looking at during the visiting hours and even before the funeral, when we all met at the funeral home to take her to the church, was unloaded by my brother and many cousins, even as I stood with Andrea at the doorway of the church I attended as a child, the same church where my grandfather's funeral was held back in 1983, I mostly held myself together.
Finally, the mass was over and it was my turn. I'd printed out my text, which was pretty much what I posted yesterday, blown it up to HUGE type and folded each of the corners of each of the 6 HUGE typed and spaced pages it had come out to be. I carried it in a manilla folder and walked up to the podium, set it down, took a breath and did it. Yes, a little too fast, yes, I shook so hard that I wasn't sure I could keep standing, but I did it. Read every word, reminded everyone there how amazing and funny, yes, how very funny my Grandma was. When I read the part about the wave, I raised my right arm and waved towards her casket.
Afterwards, many of my relatives said they hadn't lost it until I read my piece. It seemed like everyone was crying, but smiling too, at the image of Grandma laughing in so many ways.
Reading it, writing it, sharing it with my family was the right thing to do. I will always be glad that I spent those final moments with Grandma talking about her in that way.
We processed behind Action Ron, the Processional Professional, aka the motorcycle cop who escorted us. He was amazing, stopping traffic in it's tracks the entire way with a gesture or a wave. Grandma would have giggled at how many people had to stop for her. When we pulled into the cemetery, Action Ron blocked 2 lanes of opposing traffic and saluted the entire procession.
The graveside service was very Catholic, lots of traditional prayers and signs of the cross. After it was over, we all lingered and the family took turns blessing the casket with holy water. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to wave the wand of holy water. I stood instead with my mom and cried at last. When we left, I placed my hand on the casket and said "I love you," but not before many of my cousins did The Wave to her.
We headed back to the church for a catered lunch and a few more shared memories. The party spilled over to my uncle's house, where we stayed much of the day and into the night. Throngs of my second cousins ran around the house while we were once again a very loud bunch.
I'm amazed, touched, saddened and pleased by what's gone on here the last few days. Most of my family has come together in ways we haven't in years, I've reconnected with so many folks. As we pulled out of my uncle's driveway tonight, the remaining family members gathered to give us The Wave. It was ridiculously sweet.
Yes, oh yes, I miss Grandma like crazy. But I know in my heart that she's in a better place now and that, right now, outweighs the pain of the loss.