Although the drive up to Pennsylvania was beautiful weather, and I worried my poor wife driving the twisty roads entirely too twistily for her preference, the next day was more conducive to a memorial service. Rain and gray filled the sky, clearing up enough for the attendees to arrive at the funeral home without having physical misery of rain and wet add to what they already were bearing.
My grandfather had wanted to be cremated. I never heard him discuss his religion, so the service was without priest or viewing. It was almost like I would imagine a Society of Friends meeting would be; a house that would fit well among its neighbors a hundred years ago in a small town that hadn’t changed much since then, open rooms with chairs, and mourners talking about their departed one.
The children ran the show. The only daughter and her husband had been taking care of both of my grandparents for many years, retired in fact to do so, and lived a few doors down in the small town. One of her brothers officiated, such as the officiating was, and for a man who never really showed me he was capable of much emotion in the brief moments I had seen him, he was for this day broken by sorrow. This loss was a shock, and fresh. He tried valiantly to get appropriate words out before he was struck dumb by his grief.
Several people talked about the man we honored. I heard of a different time, a different path, different interests than I had known as a grandchild. I can see where my path and theirs had converged–mutual interests–but the folks in the room, if they even knew who I was, would not have seen the same man I knew. I loved the grandfather I knew, but they loved him as well, and it was as if there were two different people to miss–one they talked about, and one I knew instead. I would have liked to meet the other guy, too.
After the children spoke, a few relatives mentioned some memories, and the floor was opened up so anyone could talk. A few took up the opportunity–a brother, a man helped by my grandfather and his family a long time ago, a person inspired by my grandfather’s work. I had thought about speaking, as the eldest grandchild (“from the prodigal grandson wing of the party”), but kept silent. I wore no uniform–no need to stand out here, and it would not be a comfort to discuss my vocation in this venue among folks who did not agree or understand.
My grandfather had not been doing well for a while. He had a stroke which robbed him of his language–something taken that had been a great source of pride and capability to him. There were decades-old family troubles, not his fault, that saddened him greatly–suffice it to say that I am distant from my family as a tertiary effect from bad things happening a long time ago and leave it at that. The distance of the family hurt him. His beloved garden had been tended for a while by someone else, and age had taken his rich dinners and desserts. His body was failing in other ways, too–he would have lost his mobility in a few months in another blow to his dignity. This was a man who died after a long and full life. Every life has an arc. But it still hurt.
After the service we had a reception in the Arty Restored House the daughter and her husband had built as a life project decades ago. There was much food and people were reverting back to normal speech. I spent a little more time with my grandmother. My grandmother hid it well, except once. She lost him on her birthday, and this was Father’s Day weekend. She started to talk, and spoke as a child lost when she talked about finding him in the morning. She had not touched a dead person before. She was shocked by how cold. She could not speak.
It was a very long drive back home.
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