I promised to offer an accounting of Grandpa's funeral, and I'm a WoolGatherer of my word.
Darren and I got to Lake Benton just before 4:00 on Tuesday afternoon and joined the rest of the family at the funeral home. Grandpa looked like a tiny wax carving of himself in the casket. He had shrunk quite a bit in the year since I last saw him. It's just so discomfiting to stare at the empty shell of a loved one. How can that be the man who taught me to fish, who tried unsuccessfully to interest me in tossing a baseball with him?
The hat he always wore rested next to him on the edge of the casket. I thought that was a nice touch. He was never without that hat, even when he lived in the nursing home.
We were at the funeral home about three
hours just chatting with my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my sisters and dad. The other people there were pretty much strangers to me--classmates of my mom and uncles, people from the parish, the children of friends of my grandparents. Grandpa had long outlived most of his own friends, and most of his family, for that matter.
The theatrical highlight of the visitation was the ceremonial tribute paid to my grandpa by his fellow Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus. Four septuagenarians in full regalia--capes, fur-trimmed hats, and drawn swords--stood somberly and silently next to the casket until the priest finally told them take a load off so we could start the prayer service.
I had seen such K of C displays many times when I was a kid visiting my grandparents, but I was still somewhat taken aback to have to deal such fraternal frippery on this occasion. "Oh Lord," I mumbled, "they brought the swords." Darren, who was raised in an Evangelical Protestant home, had never been exposed to such outlandish Papist shenanigans. Despite himself, though, I think he may have fancied the hats...
About 7:00 we all went to dinner at a kitschy but fairly decent restaurant near the funeral home. (In a town of 600 people, everything is near the funeral home.) Many animated Christmas figures kept watch over us as we ate.
We all agreed that this snowman looked evil somehow. What do you think?
Normally the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, but the proprietors opened it just for our family in honor of my grandpa. We all appreciated their kindness, if not their aesthetics. (Sorry, apparently even when I'm grieving, I'm a catty bitch.)
To my amazement, grandpa's last few dollars paid for the family's dinner, which was a nice feeling. In his honor, I ate meat and potatoes, although I didn't order my steak burned as he would have done, nor did I eat my potato with meat drippings instead of butter and sour cream.
The funeral was held Wednesday morning. The priest, a jolly, off-the-boat-Irish chap, delivered a touching yet light-hearted homily that was very much in keeping with my grandpa's identity as a devoutly Catholic Irishman. My uncle, Jim, read a wonderful eulogy that he had written. It had us all laughing and crying by turns. That's the best one can hope for at a funeral, I think.
My sisters, two cousins (plus one husband), Darren, and I served as pallbearers. That pretty much sucked, if I may be so blunt. Grandpa may have dwindled to 75 pounds, but the casket alone weighed about four tons. After the service, we had to wrangle the brass and cherry behemoth down a short flight of stairs, through a narrow door, and out into the hearse (or as they say in the trade, "funeral coach"). It wasn't easy lifting, not even for a man with my stunning and extravagant musculature.
After the funeral, out at the gale-swept, rainy, frigid cemetery, we had the unique, traditionally Irish treat of not only seeing Grandpa's casket lowered down into the grave, but we were also each asked to scatter a shovel of dirt onto him. "In the lovely Irish tradition," so said the priest. (Most of my shovelful ended up on the astroturf lining the lip of the grave. I didn't ask for a do-over.) Later, I told my dad that if we had done that bit with the dirt at my mom's funeral, I would have needed sedation. (Come to think of it, I was sedated.) Cremation, that's the only way to go, but my grandpa--pardon the expression--would have rolled over in his grave if we had even considered it.
After the burial, we returned to the drab church basement for gluey scalloped potatoes, ham, rolls, pickles, cake, and watery coffee served out of livid yellow plastic pots. Within 45 minutes, the whole thing was over, as people scrambled to hit the road home before the weather worsened. It was 33 degrees and raining, which is NOT what one hopes for at the start of a long drive across rural Minnesota.
Maybe Grandpa was watching out for us, though, because even when the temperature dropped to 31 degrees, the road didn't turn icy. We started to build up some ice on the car's wipers and side mirrors (I focused ever more intently on my soothing knitting while Darren drove), but as we headed east, the temperature quickly went up to the high 30's, and things stayed wet but not icy.
It was a huge relief to get home Wednesday night. Darren wrapped presents, and I watched two versions of A Christmas Carol while Hudson slept on my lap. We were pretty well exhausted from the stress of the drive, and the sadness of seeing Grandpa on his way.
So, nearly fifteen years after losing his wife of over 50 years, grandpa is now resting next to her once again. In some ways, it's hard to be sad about that.