Yesterday I attended the funeral of my 97 year old grandmother-in-law, who peacefully passed away last weekend. Even though she had a longstanding heart condition, she essentially stopped breathing in her sleep. She did not endure years, or even months, of suffering. She was sharp and spry for all of her 97 years. She remembered everything you told her, even if it was something you mentioned offhand last Christmas. She had selected music she wanted to be played at her service, which seemed both sweet and funny. I wanted to imagine her sitting at home listening to album after album to find the song, but in reality she led a very simple life, one in which I can’t imagine too many albums laying around, and the songs were more likely either things she heard regularly at church, or something she came up with off the top of her head after being prompted by the officiating clergy. Still, she was spunky in a no nonsense way, perhaps a gift of a very long life. My favorite memory is a random visit to her house in which she pulled me aside to tell me she liked my body. It still makes me laugh that she said it, and a moment I will forever replay in my head.
What struck me most about the funeral experience, however, was the inevitability of life meeting death, of our own daily foibles getting in the way of formality, though I do feel like this would have been something that Hazel herself would have also found funny. She would have laughed at us all walking around in front of her coffin eating mints and drinking bottled water provided by the funeral home. She probably would have found the bottled water itself ridiculous, and the fact that we seem to think we can’t sustain ourselves for two hours, an imagined chortle from a woman who likely lived through bouts of near starvation in her youth. But, alas, the mints were a hot commodity, and I did chuckle for her as I walked past the empty bowl on my way out.
Predictably there was one obnoxious intrusion from someone’s cell phone. A country song blared as a bugle of a ringtone during the music accompanying our wait to exit the funeral parlor, and seemed to take just a little too long to be turned off, as if there was some confusion about whose phone could have been blasting Keith Urban. (I can’t verify it actually was Keith Urban, I’m the non-country music fan who had to enter “top country music” into my search bar.) I almost hesitated to add this to my list of blunders as it seems too blase of an interruption these days, but it was the Keith Urban that pushed it over the top. File this under “general complaints about people and cellphones.”
I don’t have any stats on cemetery lurkers, but getting out of the car to walk the short distance to the burial site, I heard someone’s car chirp in being locked. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand the reflex of getting out of your car and pushing the button in your hand, and I’m certainly conditioned to do any number of these kinds of things in that mechanical way we tend to carry out our daily business. Nevertheless, it seemed a tad overly suspicious amidst the sea of other car owners bound in familial kinship, and perhaps not totally done out of pure habit; I can’t be the only one that is aware of the loud noise my car will make when I lock it down. Though, who knows, maybe I’m the naive one. Maybe an unknown cousin is a kleptomaniac, or maybe someone was trying to abscond with the family jewels. Maybe Hazel’s most valued piece of advice was to always lock your car, and it was a final sendoff.
The ground was muddy, which made for a messy walk to the plot, and then upon entering the burial tent I was instantly struck with the compulsion to wipe off my shoe on the outdoor carpet. Would anyone notice? Would it a major fax paus to sully the ceremonial floor? Out of the corner of my eye I spied a large mound of dirt, the very dirt that had been removed from the earth to create the hole we were standing in front of, the hole someone had tried hard to not make look like a hole. I found myself recalling the scene in As I Lay Dying in which Vardaman drills holes in his mother’s coffin after confronting the horror of her being nailed in a box. Perhaps we try too hard to formalize death, or rather we erroneously assume it will be perfectly ceremonial. We of course don’t imagine someone will be standing in front of our grave pondering the acceptability of wiping mud off their shoe, likely the same mud that will soon be over us.
*Featured photo credit: Tammra M.