I glared up at the replacement minister—the stranger—who was conducting the funeral service for my grandma. She’d mispronounced her name. Again. She didn’t notice my look. I don’t think anyone did. Only a few people could’ve seen my face, anyway, from where I was sitting. I was in the front right corner of the chapel—exactly where I’d sat just three weeks earlier for my grandfather’s funeral.
I looked up at the casket again while swells of organ music filled the room. I could barely see her. Most of what I could see was just a puff of her thin, white hair, her forehead, and the curved tip of her nose. I couldn’t see her high, rounded cheekbones or her too-thin lips. She’d lost what little weight she had in those last couple of weeks. I wondered if they hadn’t given her a pillow like they had for Grandpa. I knew I’d been able to clearly see his face from this seat before. His lips had also been too thin—stretched out and glued together to keep him looking dignified. Instead, it just made them look strange and wrong—like they were still grimacing in pain.
The preacher started talking again. She read my grandma’s eulogy like she’d never seen if before, tripping over the words and pausing at awkward places. She didn’t sound like a professional speaker—someone who gets paid to speak publicly in a compassionate and convincing manor. She sounded like a nervous kid rambling through her graduation speech. But the words were familiar to the rest of us. It was exactly what was printed in the newspaper. It was identical to what we all held in our hands as the funeral program. But this stranger who’d never seen my grandma before she’d died didn’t seem to have practiced beforehand. It became obvious to me that she had read it, though, when she started repeating parts of it out of order to try to stretch the ill-prepared service to an acceptable length.
Less than half of the people who attended the chapel service came to the graveside service. I guess I can’t blame them. It was wet and drizzly. The ground was muddy and the wind blew cold. It was also Halloween. People needed to get home and get kids or grandkids ready to go out tonight. People had decorations to finish and parties to set up. And I saw it, too. I saw on so many faces the mild look of disgust when my grandma’s daughter wasn’t looking. Too many times I heard whispered, “Who has a funeral on Halloween?” Familiar words; I’ve uttered them myself countless times.
I was the last to leave the graveside. I didn’t want to go because it meant I had to leave her for the last time. But that’s my grandma. She raised me up and I raised her down. She taught me how to be a wife and a mother. She helped me become the person I had to be so that I could take care of her when no one else could or would. If she hadn’t been who she was—who I needed—I couldn’t have become who I did. Without her, I never would’ve had the love and compassion that I needed to be her caretaker in her final years.
I found the strength to leave in the knowledge that she’ll always be with me if I carry her in my heart. And how could I not? Grandma taught me how to cook her secret recipes, how to vacuum and iron so that the lines look perfect. She taught me how to love and forgive. She taught me that we all die, so you might as well enjoy it while you’re here. Even if you won’t remember it.
The last time I saw my grandma alive was Monday. It’s only Saturday, now. All she’d let me feed her for lunch that day was some pudding. She wouldn’t drink anything. But before they’d delivered her lunch, Grandma was hallucinating that her mother had brought her some apple pie. She imagined she was eating it, opening and closing her mouth like she was being fed. When she had a minor moment of slight clarity later, I told her I’d make her an apple pie and she smiled. She reached out to me and almost even knew who I was. A couple hours later, I left after she’d fallen asleep. I went to the store and bought the few things I needed to make her a pie. Grandma didn’t live long enough to eat her pie. But every piece of it that I eat, I think of her.
My grandma was a wonderful woman. I could attempt to list her attributes, but they would only be hollow words, not capable of doing her justice. Extravagant words could never truly impress on another what my grandma meant to me. Only I’ll ever know just how much I cared or exactly how deeply she impacted my life and formation. Grandma was ineffable and she deserved far better than what she got today.