The Day We Buried Grandmother

I’m reprinting a post from my other blog that I posted in September…because it’s one of my favorite pieces.

We buried my grandmother the second week of September, 2010.


My husband and I arrived at the funeral home before my mother did (which is strange because we are usually so late to everything).  We kept the girls in school, figuring it would be better for them since they were very upset to be missing school.  At 8, 7 and 5, they would understand what was going on, but would also be very cranky and so I thought it best to leave them where they most wanted to be.   My siblings were in the lounge area of the funeral home.  I walked into the foyer at the same time my mother was coming in the door.  I was the first person my mother saw when she walked in.   My mother looked very composed for a split second before she sighted me and then the moment we locked eyes, she just started crying.  I walked up to her and hugged her and she held tight, and she cried some more.

I have had a difficult relationship with my mother and I’d been shaped by the abusive and manipulative behaviors she had during my formative years.   Over the course of time, the abuse lessened considerably, and eventually, miraculously, my mother morphed into a more humane human being, capable of an empathy she lacked when I was living with her.

My own empathic nature picked up on the subtle changes in her demeanor.  I can say with all honesty that it was those subtle changes I detected that kept me holding on to any kind of relationship with her.   My heart went out to my mother, who lost her own mother today.  It doesn’t escape me that I openly offer comfort to a woman whose nurturing I never got when I needed it as a child.

Perhaps that’s precisely why I’m more sensitive to her loss.  I’m more sensitive to everyone’s losses because of my own.  And it occurred to me, just now, that maybe my mother has become more empathetic because of seeing it in me.  I don’t know.  I’ve managed to touch a few people’s lives in my lifetime, maybe I managed to teach my mother how to be more empathetic after seeing my example over the years.  I don’t know.  Maybe it IS possible.  Maybe just as she taught me (indirectly) how to be strong, maybe I taught her how to be softer.  I’d like to think so anyway.

There was a short prayer service for the family, and my siblings, parents and I put pictures of us and our children in Grandma’s casket.   And we all wept.

As I turned to leave, I noticed my uncle John who came in from out of town with his wife was sitting alone on a couch at the back of the room wiping his eyes with a tissue. My uncle was taken in by my grandmother and my grandfather when his parents died young.  I wasn’t particularly fond of this uncle (because he was a criminal defense lawyer and me, being formerly a forensic DNA scientist, we were a bit on opposite sides of truth), and I rarely saw him since he lived out of town. But something told me to sit with him a moment.  I could not have passed on by without attending to him.

I sat down next to him, put my hand on his shoulder and gave him a hug and the dam broke loose and he sobbed in my arms.  I wasn’t taken aback by this (I have been noticing I have this way with people), but it was unexpected.  He was so arrogant whenever I spoke with him on other occasions.

And as I sat with him, I wondered where his wife was off to, because I felt this she should have been the ‘first responder’, not me.  Later I watched the interactions between the two of them and discovered that she always remained nearby, but apart from him.  Aloof, seemingly unaffected by her husband’s sorrow.  She didn’t touch him…didn’t hug him…her eyes were never dewy with tears.  I know, everyone is wired differently, and perhaps she didn’t know how to be empathetic to his pain.

At the grave site, I was noticing the wind and its effects.  The wind was blustering cool, but the sun was shining warm and bright. It was quite a nice, soothing, subtle contrast of warmth and chill. It was blowing at us from behind, and as the priest was saying prayers over my grandmother’s casket, I was wondering if the large bouquet of red roses and pink asiatic lilies on it would have taken flight right during the prayers.

Fortunately, the flowers were lifted up a little, but they were heavy enough to stay put. After the service, the gloves the pall bearers wore were placed on top of the casket when the short service was over, but they kept blowing around, until someone tucked them into the handles. I never knew that they get buried along with the casket or why, but they do sometimes.

At the luncheon, my husband and I sat at the table with that uncle, his wife, and two of my other uncles and my niece and nephew.   The men told us some fun stories of my grandmother at the memorial luncheon and we all laughed and agreed that my grandmother was a very kind woman.  My uncle John also told me some nice things about my biological father too, as he remembered him from long ago.   I told them about the trip we took this year to see my father in Colorado, and it was really nice to have them say we did the right thing by going.  My own mother had a difficult time accepting why I needed to see my father when I told her we were going.

After the luncheon, on the way back home, Mr.  RSG  and I stopped at our favorite park so I could have a few moments to contemplate the day.  I asked him to take a picture too, because I knew I was going to share the story of the day on my blog.


We stood by the water and talked about the events of the day as we looked at the pond.

The pond is normally tranquil, but today the wind tossed the water about and it was really fascinating to watch the movement. It was mesmerizing.  The sunlight made the water sparkle, and even though you can see the sunlight on the water, the picture doesn’t really really capture it quite right.  I wish I could have lingered, but we had only a few minutes to spare and then we had to get the girls from school.

There was pain, but there was beauty too.

There was some sadness and some concern for my relatives, but there was joy too in hearing how well-regarded she was by others.   She outlasted many of her siblings, her friends and her husband, so there wasn’t many who were still around to pay their last respects.  A small price to pay for a long life, I suppose.  My grandmother died five weeks shy of her 95th birthday.

I will miss meeting with her once a week to talk and share stories.  We’ve done that for the past 6-8 months or so.  I’d go over to her house, or the hospital, or the nursing home to visit and tell stories of what was going on in my life, or stories of the distant past.  We’d go through her scrapbooks and talk about the volunteering she had done, or we’d talk about the trip to Poland she took me and my sisters on when I was 10, or show her pictures of my daughters and tell her what they were doing.  She always told me my daughters were beautiful and asked me if my husband was being good to me.

Towards the end of her days, she started getting goofy.  We had a long humorous conversation about my brother, who she often referred to as my mother’s nephew.   It was comical how much she held onto her view, getting ALL the details of his life right, except insisting that he was my mother’s nephew, when he was my brother.  I kept things light-hearted, and realized it was better to go along with her beliefs than to change her mind.

She’d often forget who my youngest sister was, or my oldest sister’s children, but when I went to visit her, she always remembered me and my daughter’s names.   I don’t know why, but it seemed like I got lucky to visit her during her more lucid moments.

I looked forward to those visits a lot.  I tried to make them on Tuesdays so I could have my “Tuesdays with Grandma” (a subtle nod to Tuesdays with Morrie).  It didn’t always work out that way, though.  Towards the end it was “whenever she ended up in the hospital”.

I’m going to miss those visits.  I’m going to miss my grandmother.  But I know that I can still talk with her in my mind  – something I frequently do with all of my absent friends and loved ones.

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
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