When a family loses someone, the gap that is left behind cannot be filled. The life force that once was is no longer and there is no way around it. We all like to delude ourselves that death happens to everyone else, but it will catch up with all of us. And because of this fact, a funeral can be an incredibly positive influence on the lives left behind. We are reminded that our days are numbered and that one day our book will end. If we are wise, we will take that experience to heart and look inward at the choices we are making and the life we are living.
When I received word that Grandma had died, I felt scattered in the air. I was not with my family, I was not with anyone that knew her and that absence felt loud. I needed to get home. Right away. And I did. The first people I saw was Beth, the greatest gift Grandma ever gave me, and her husband, Steve. Those hugs after I got off the train were the thing that put me back together in my sadness. I was scattered no more. Because when I was with them, I was with Grandma.
At one point during the wake, my Grandfather told my brother and I that if he hadn’t met Grandma, his Stella, he would have joined the army. He looked at my brother and said, “you wouldn’t be here.” I exclaimed, “None of us would be here.” How magnificent that one woman could produce so many lives! Six daughters, 14 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren if my addition is correct….25 people would not exist today if not for Grandma.
The wake was long, and when over, we all were wobbly on our feet and filled with an immense hunger, the kind of hunger that wants food immediately, without fuss, just lots of food. Grandpa wanted nothing to do with a sit down meal or a restaurant; he wanted White Diamond. After asking me what I ate, and hearing my reply that I ate just about anything, he moved to the car. White Diamond it would be.
Steve went in to order our food. Dressed in a suit, he must have looked out of place. When he returned with a bag full of burgers, we tore into them like barbarians. There was never any talk of waiting until we got home. The car was filled with the smell of grease and sounds of a food orgy, groans and moans and satisfied mmm’s. Grandpa decided he needed to undo his belt buckle and the top button on his pants. I ate three cheeseburgers, a feat for me.
We talked about the wake while we ate, and Grandpa said happily, “Everyone had such a good time.”
For the fact of the matter is, we did.
Many of us hadn’t seen each other for years. In fact, when two of my aunts told me they had never met my daughters, I was speechless. How was this possible? How had so much time passed?
My mother is the oldest of six girls. I am closest to her youngest sister, Beth. Beth is my touchstone in this world, more than sister, more than a best friend. My mother, Beth and Rita live in New Jersey. Estelle lives in Connecticut, Joyce in California and Gloria in Chicago. No one lives too far away, but the truth is, there just haven’t been opportunities that brought us all into the same room. The last time I remember all of us together was my Grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration. That was 19 years ago. My oldest daughter was a baby.
So, yes, we enjoyed catching up, and what I found most satisfying was hugging my family. And having a moment, albeit a sad one, to say, “I love you.” I don’t say this enough. Time has been marching on and I have been content knowing all is as it should be, we are all living our lives, but we are all there. I did not know how hungry I was to be with my aunts until they were in right in front of me.
When I was a little girl, we spent an enormous amount of time together. My mother was close to her sisters, and even after we moved to Massachusetts, I remember most holidays in New Jersey with my extended family. Some of my strongest memories are in the car heading to NJ, and at the homes of one of my Grandmothers. In the summer, my aunts and my brother and I would all drive to the Jersey shore. I can still smell the noxema that was smoothed on my sunburnt skin after a day at the beach. My cousins Steven, Donald, and Karen were all infants when I was entering young adulthood, and they are grown ups with their own families now. I remember a lot of laughter. My grandmother created this world.
We had a good time because while we were mourning her death, we were also celebrating the world she created. And it was a very good world. It was a good time because we were forced to pause and reflect on what we mean to one another. I think Grandma would have been proud.