Saying Good-Bye To A Special Woman
My sister Jen picked me up Friday after work so that we could make our way home to be with our family in advance of our Grandma's funeral the following day. As she waited for me to close up the office, she informed me that we had an extra passenger. To my inquiry of "who?", she replied "Grandma".
Now, I am about as subtle as a sledgehammer, and I thus failed to understand the inflection in Jen's voice, the certain arch of her eyebrow. I assumed she meant our other Grandma, who would have also been making her way out for the occasion.
"Not Grandma Edmonds," Jeni informed me. Oh, I thought. Oh.
Dad and his siblings had decided that it would have been pretty silly of them to pay the funeral home an extra $600 to have Grandma's remains shipped out to our hometown from the city when there were going to be all kinds of family making the same trip anyway. And so, the task fell to Jeni, and by default, to me as well.
There are a couple of things you need to know about this situation. One, the urn was extremely heavy and not entirely stable. Two, we would be going down Highway 51 - the very highway that Grandma had mentioned in her DNR order as refusing any further care that would necessitate her travelling on it. Jen had driven the entire way from the funeral home to my work with one hand on the wheel and another on the urn as it was, but how were we going to get it all the way home in one piece? Keeping in mind that Jeni had gotten an impassioned plea not to spill anything in the car from her husband before she left.
We tried strapping Grandma into the back seat, but the urn was shaped in such a way that the seatbelt couldn't hold it securely enough. If we had had an infant seat with a five point harness, we probably would have been okay, but we didn't. So, after some hemming and hawing, it was decided that I would hold Grandma the entire almost three hour ride out.
However, she was too heavy in all of her marbled urn glory to sit on my lap for the ride, so we finally opted for putting on the floor between my feet. I tucked her in between my calves, and we were off to escort our Grandma on her last journey home. It was an honour.
The trip also had its moments. As we bounced down that highway, whenever Jen saw a particualry big bump coming from up ahead, she would say "Clench!", and I would clench my calves around the urn harder, just to keep Grandma sunny side up. The ride actually got smoother once we got off of the highway and onto the grid that would take us past the farm we grew up on to my Uncle Dan's farm where everyone was waiting, but man oh man, did we ever live in the middle of nowhere. The only living thing we saw after leaving the highway was one lonely coyote ambling across a field. Still, after all of these years, it still felt like going home. As we rounded the corner of Bouchard's slough, my body remembered how it felt, just like it knew instinctively where the turn off to our uncle's farm was, even though the trees that used to mark the spot had been cut down.
We finally arrived with the guest of honour, and because I am so classy, I announced that I hoped she didn't smell like my feet. Someone set Grandma atop of Auntie Pam's piano, and there she was able to one last time watch as her children and grandchildren sat around telling stories and making each other laugh. The laughter continued on at the little hotel in town where most of us were staying. The owners of the hotel had basically reserved the whole thing for us, and so we could sit on the floor in the lobby late into the night, being together and putting off going to bed.
But go to bed we eventually did, my parents, Jeni and I all in the same room just like old times. Thankfully Dad didn't snore this time, and so I didn't have to sleep in the bathtub in order to get some peace. But he is the only one of us who did sleep. Part of my reason for not being able to sleep was that I had been asked - along with the three other eldest children from the four of Grandma's kids who had spawned - to say something at the service the next day. It wouldn't have been so big of a problem, except we had all been told that we had three minutes. I promptly replied that I could easily spend two of those three minutes bitching about only having three minutes. And so, thinking of how to condense how I felt about my Grandma into three mintutes presented me with a conundrum. I know that the three boys - Jeff, Jon and Paul - had all been working on theirs with dedication and full sentences. In the shower that morning, however, I got a vague idea of what I would going to say, and so wrote down four key words, and that was my speech. I did that as much to see who I could irritate by my lack of planning as I did it out of my not feeling like writing a whole lot down. Anyway.
The morning was filled with tasks. Jen, Mom and I ran to the next town over where the flower shop was to pick up the flower arrangements that had been sent. We headed to the church after that and angsted over the arrangment of the table with the urn and picture of Grandma. Next was a quick stop into Grandma's apartment to start planning the clean up slated for the next day. And then it was time for lunch and to get ready to go.
Because this was the funeral of a woman who had lived a good long life, and who had been ready to go, we were afforded the luxury of having our grief tempered with being glad for her that her pain was finished and that she was completely at peace with her outcome. And so, as we waited in the hall of the church for it to be time to go in together as a family, we were able to have gentle laughter and resignation. And as we walked in to the packed church together, I swear the feeling of love and support coming from those who had gathered to celebrate a life well lived was palpable. But that love and support was as much for Grandma as it was for us. She was that kind of lady. Her warmth and kindness drew you in, you felt like you were family, and to her, you were.
As far as the service went, it was about as perfectly Olfert as you can get. When the four oldest boys (known to Grandma as 'the boys' as oppsed to the three youngest children who were known to her as 'the kids') got up to do the eulogy, they handed the microphone back and forth to one another, turning it this way and that and trying to figure out how to turn it on. Keep in mind, two of the three are engineers, and another one designs circuit boards. Finally, my Uncle Dan - one of the kids and a farmer- got up and patiently moseyed to the front, took the microphone for about two seconds, and we had lift-off. This led to many variations of the joke "How many Olfert boys does it take to turn on a microphone." It was classic. My winging-it speech went well, and my cousin's did well, too. But when I noticed Jeff choking up during Jon's speech, I thought I would be ever so helpful and subtly and cooly grab him a tissue from the box underneath the pulpit. But I forgot that this was me we were talking about, and I don't do subtle. And the stupid tissue got stuck in the box, which resulted in me pulling at it and making a face. In front of everyone. Again, perfect.
The singing was also perfect, but what was especially moving to me that day happened at the cemetary. My brother - the eldest grandson - was holding the urn, as it was his job to put Grandma in the ground. His oldest boy, Jordan who is almost four, asked if he could help. Jeb said yes, and Jordan stood there solemnly beside his sombre father. However, in a small voice, he was heard to ask "Daddy, why are we burying one of Grandma's kitchen pots?" After Jeb had lowered her into the ground and the pails of dirt had been dumped back in, the great-grandkids came forth and patted down the earth that formed the resting place for the remains of one who had loved them so very much. Grandma would have chuckled so proudly at that. It was about as fitting as you could get.
The rest of the weekend was kind of the headache you get after having dealt with stress. This doesn't mean we didn't have fun sneaking items into the piles of what others were taking of Grandma's stuff. I'm sure my cousin Jill was extrememly pleased with how thoughtfully I added items to her pile in general. Young girls starting out on their own need a Slap Chop. And I bet my sister was giddy with glee at the ugly table cloth from our youth that I hid in her car when getting my stuff out of it. But I think it fair to say that we were all done before the clean up was.
And now comes the hard part. Now comes the days and weeks and months and years of living without Grandma. This is the part that I cannot fathom. A huge chunk of who I was is no longer here. If Ricky Henderson ever does manage to break one of his legs, who will I call to giggle about it with? How am I going to fight with Chris over the last of Grandma's molasses cookies when there aren't any left? How will I never hear that chuckle again, or see those outstretched arms coming to me for a hug that always let me know just how loved I was?
Hard days to come, but made a little less lonely by knowing I am not the only one feeling like that. Family, I love you. I am blessed to have you. I look forward to getting together and laughing again soon.