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A post where I talk about going to funerals

March 19, 2011

I’ve been thinking about funerals this week.  A dear aunt is gravely ill and our whole family (even the pagan ones) are earnestly praying for her recovery.  My mind keeps wandering back to last summer, when we lost my grandmother to a quick sickness that is common to old age, but came on so fast the family had little time to prepare.

Fortunately, Grammie was ready in every sense.  Spiritually, there was no doubt where she was going when she shuffled off this mortal coil.  She was a faithful Christian, and her faith was hard-won during her years as an orphaned child left in the care of a cruel adoptive mother.  She suffered the loss of her adoring adoptive father relatively early in life and later lost an adult child to heart failure related to HIV.  She endured the addictions and rebellions of several of her 5 children, and rejoiced when each one of turn back home as prodigals.  She made mistakes in her own marriage, having had no model of a loving marriage to follow, but she humbled herself and remained committed to her husband long after his passing—a decade before her own.  She loved much and kept all manner of family secrets, to her delight and her detriment, at times.

I was asked to give a eulogy at her funeral.  It wasn’t my first funeral, but it was my first eulogy.  Like everyone I’ve ever met, I hate funerals.  I’m not comfortable with public displays of grief, so I tend to steel myself for whatever is coming during the required “visitation” and try to prepare ahead for the service, imagining what passages will be read and what songs will be sung.  The songs always get me, especially the home-going ones, but I can usually make it through the whole thing with one Kleenex.

And I really hate that people want me to go look at the deceased.  I’ve been told for many relatives and friends such a tradition brings closure.  I don’t want closure.  I want the hope that I may see them again in a more vibrant state.  In a Southern funeral (the only kind worth doing, IMHO), people always say the same things after they’ve gone in there.

“She looked real good.”  My mother likes this one particularly because she’s seen so many who didn’t look good in the casket.  She will tell me, for instance, that my paternal grandmother, Louise (who is enshrined in my memory as the image of what ALL grandmothers should be), did not look good.  Now I didn’t see the woman, so I only have my mom’s assessment to go on.  It’s my policy not to go in there.  The closest I’ve ever come to a real-live dead person was my great-grandmother who was lying at the front of a rather large Methodist church and I saw the tip of her nose from the bridal room just off the foyer in the back.  But the way Mama describes Louise’s appearance, it sounds like some freshman from the local beauty school (who may have also done time at Glamour Shots) got a hold of her and made a big mess of things.

The other thing my people tell me, encouraging me to go in and look at my lifeless loved one, is that “she looked just like she was asleep.”  This I find creepy and a potentially strong case for my cremation.  I don’t want people looking at me WHEN I SLEEP.  Especially not the retiree funeral-goers who are barely related to me, but are making their rounds after circling slightly familiar obits in the paper that Sunday.  “Caldwell?  Honey, there’s a Caldwell in the paper.  I think it’s Louise’s granddaughter.”  Yikes.

And for those, like my husband or mother, who are familiar with my sleep habits, I would think seeing me lying face up in a rather uncomfortable, yet silky-slick pallet would feel inauthentic.  Now if they could make a casket that would accommodate me on my side in the fetal position, I might go along with it.  “That doesn’t look like Becky.  Get her mouth open.  And there should be a little puddle on the pillow.  Where’s the spray bottle?  And tuck a remote in there, wouldya?”

But I digress.  I was telling you about my eulogy at Grammie’s funeral.  Did I mention that my father videotaped it?  Yes.  He’s watched it several times since the funeral.  Not because he missed Grammie and relishes the final portrait I painted of her with my poignant words.  He watches it because he thinks it’s funny.  He said I was hilarious.  This, of course, gives me an abundance of overconfidence.  Every time he tells me he’s recently played the video, I think to myself, “hey Becks (because my alter-ego is a British, Spice-Girl-marrying, dominating soccer player), maybe now’s the time you should try your hand at stand-up.”  Personally, I don’t think you can get a better start than at your grandmother’s funeral.

I know that sounds distasteful and totally Sarah Silverman of me, but I’m pretty sure Grammie would have found it funny.  I can’t even take credit for the laughs I got in the eulogy.  Mostly I just told stories about how inappropriately funny Grammie was.  I capped my homage to her with a passage that suited a remembrance of our beloved matriarch and familiar to anyone who has been in a “woman’s” Bible study:

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
-Proverbs 31:25

My only shot at living up to that model is if “strength and dignity” come in a hoodie.  Which reminds me, if you don’t already know, author Rachel Held Evans is doing a great blog series/personal experiment on living out a “year of Biblical womanhood” like the wife of noble character in Proverbs 31.

I guess as I contemplate my own mortality (and yours, if I know you well enough for something like that), I would like to be remembered like I remembered Grammie: tough enough to make it through every hand the Devil can deal you, but loving, and able to laugh at the days to come (even when they kind of suck and involve attending funerals).

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kate permalink
    March 19, 2011 2:01 am

    Southern funeral awesomeness.

    You can’t be dead if there’s no tomato aspic.

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