Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dad, Grammy and Remembering the Living

At 40 years old, I can count the number of funerals I've attended on two hands.  Of those 10, 4 are funerals that I've gone to strictly because it's part of my in-law duty.  Another 2 were because it was "the thing to do" in the community at the time (police officer and a child).  One I was too young to even know what it meant.  And 3 were for people that I was actually close to. But even those I didn't find meaningful.  I didn't need to see the body in the casket to cope with the loss of my grandfather, my great-grandmother and my cousin.  Actually, I'm quite cynical.  I think funerals are a crock of shit.  And I HATE seeing a graveyard.  All that land that could be forest, habitat, used up to store dead people.  Insane. 

I'm not sure if my dad shared my exact opinion of funerals, but he certainly shared my hatred of burials.  He made it known many, many years ago, when he was still healthy, that he wanted to be cremated.  I'm not sure when the idea of a memorial service took root, but he chose that as well.  I guess when there's no body, it's memorial service or nothing?  I don't know. 

Before the memorial, set two weeks after his death, I focused on getting by.  I didn't grieve.  I didn't want to participate in the memorial.  I couldn't understand, resented even, my mother's complete focus of The Memorial Service.  For me, the memorial was something to Get Through.  It was something I had to endure because that's what good daughters do.  I didn't anticipate having any more emotional impact for me than the actual loss of my parent. 

But, Mom wanted to go all out.  She found several people that Dad worked with, was friends with, that he golfed with, that would be willing to talk.  One, my Dad's good friend Stan, whom he'd known since law school, a former prosecutor, dry, stoic, almost said no.  Actually, he did say no, but changed his mind. 

I'm glad he did.  Stan's well spoken, as most people would expect a prosecutor to be, although if anyone's ever been to a country courthouse, that perception would change dramatically.  And he prepared.  He told me afterwards that he didn't want to make my dad look foolish or goofy by telling silly stories, but he also wanted to honor his friends craziness (although I'm fairly certain he didn't use that word).

He shared a few stories that I'd never heard before.  My dad, running down the highway in suit and dress shoes because he bet Stan, a runner for life, that he could beat his 8 minute mile.  He did.  My dad doing a standing vertical leap onto a desk in the lawyer lounge on a bet.  He made it.  Mostly.  My dad playing tennis with Stan in the middle of the night and losing so badly that he wouldn't fess up to his family that he'd been playing tennis at all.  And this crazy thing happened.  In that five minutes that Stan talked about my dad, he brought him back to me, if only for a short time.  You see, I'd started seeing my father as the grouchy, old, sick man that he'd become.  And I'd forgotten his zest for life, his love of learning, his craziness, his arrogance, his athletic ability.  In those moments, I remember my dad as he'd been 10,20, 30 years ago and for that, I will forever be thankful. 

My mom and I have talked about this a few times.  She had also forgotten the man that he'd once been.  She needed the reminder too.  But the thing is, it extends beyond just my dad.  That memorial service changed the way I interact with my grandmother.  Yes, she's got Alzheimer's and most of the time she's bat shit crazy.  Yes, she's accused my kids of all sorts of things, from stealing her money to hiding her purse from her to knocking her down the stairs.  But I'd forgotten who she used to be.  I'd forgotten that she used to bring Nathan and me groceries when we were broke because of the cancer stuff after we first got married.  I'd forgotten that she helped foster my love of yard sales, that she'd take to the garden to help pick veggies, that she'd make the best fried bologna and mayo sandwiches that I will NEVER eat again, but loved at the time.  Yes, it's about remembering the living while they still live.  Not simply the way they are now, but also what they used to be.

And I'm trying to remember me, the way I used to be, 15 years ago, before kids and cancer and death and responsibility took over.  Did I really drive 36 hours during a three day weekend just for a boy?  Did I really enjoy running?  Did I really drink so much I'd fall over?  Oh wait.  I still do that one sometimes.  Who was that creative, single, crazy girl I used to be?  I want to find her again.


Livia said...

I love your new blog and haven't been commenting because I just discovered it! I love this entry too--because it was really good. It is important to remember the "whole being" of what a person was--not just who they might be now. I can tell this is helping you--keep it up!