This weekend was weird that way.
That way where I had planned the trip to New York months in advance on account of my genius brother’s law school graduation ceremony coming up but at the last minute having the intention of the visit shifted on account of my grandmother passing away the day before I was scheduled to travel.
The way that the day I had reserved for shopping in Manhattan had been re-purposed for a funeral service in Westchester County.
I spent half the day before fretting and emotionally preparing to back out.
Can you even do that? Back out of funeral?.
I stepped into Saint Mary’s.
I lit 3 candles.
One for Grandma Rose, one for Grandpa Fred and one for Leif.
I asked God if that would suffice and waited for a sign.
A man paced back and forth behind me, jingling the change in his pocket.
The message was clear.
My grandmother would never put up with that kind of cop-out anyway. She probably wouldn’t even approve of the candle gesture.
If memory serves correctly she swore off God when she was 43, the day that her doctor told her that (oops) she wasn’t pre-menopausal as he had suspected, but pregnant with twins.
It wasn’t just the funeral part I found daunting –after all, who doesn’t love a funeral – but the family gathering together part. This part of my family.
I don’t have the words to articulately express the feeling I have when I’m with them but the visual comes to mind of an organism (that is my family) with a linty bit of baby-dust-bunny (that is me) stuck to but half dangling from it.
They pull up in Lincolns, Mercedes and Land Rovers.
I pull up on a commuter train.
They’re classy, coiffed and manicured.
I’m disheveled and awkward.
They own multiple houses, marble floors, 6 car garages, boats, chalets and “outdoor living spaces” bigger than my apartment.
I have to set aside 3 hours of each day to boil water for our baths, on account of an outstanding gas bill leaving us without running hot water.
They call me creative. Artistic.
We arrive at the funeral home and I shuffle about, comment on photos and feign interest the upholstery and the drapes. I introduce myself to some people who I have apparently already met in childhood and others who look at me quizzically.
“Who do you belong to?”
My father introduces me to a retired doctor, who he later informs me once posed for Playgirl magazine. I tried to delete the imagery instantly but called upon it as quickly to help stifle tears later in the service.
I sit in the second row. Entirely empty with the exception of my father’s wife who insists on sitting next to me even when encouraged to move up front with the rest of the immediate family. I’m silently grateful.
My father speaks fondly of his mother in between prayers and psalms
I get uncomfortable every time the minister says “she beat us to the grave” like sports commentary gone morbid.
We file out to our cars and wait for the hearse to load.
The cars weave down the winding roads in single file like a rollercoaster in slow motion.
We pass the house where my grandfather sits watching television and I feel like somebody just punched me in the stomach. Grandma is the only one he consistently remembers but when he asks where she is he is told she has gone shopping and he’s okay with that. Every time he asks.
We arrive at the burial site and I’m plagued with guilt every step I take for walking on people.
I try not to read the tombstones.
Once everyone is somewhat assembled Gary abruptly bursts into the first verse of Amazing Grace at the top of his lungs, over the casket.
You need a visual for this.
Rodney Dangerfield and My Cousin Vinny engage in a an evening of heated passion leading to conception of a baby who is a retired lounge singer at birth.
That baby. Is Gary.
The minister speaks.
My aunt’s husband reads the sentiments of somebody too distraught to speak for herself.
It was clearly just an oversight by the author who simply had no idea that I existed; but the letter reads that Grandma was especially proud of her husband, her children and her 2 grandchildren, Cousin One and Cousin Two.
I am neither cousin one nor cousin two.
Linty bit of baby-dust-bunny.
As I said. Clearly an oversight. But I still felt like I was in a Woody Allen movie.
The service was concluded and the family migrated to an Italian restaurant.
Calamari, eggplant parmesan, salmon, martini chicken and vodka penne.
Platters of cheesecake, mousse, pies, pastries and flan.
Most of which untouched packaged up and sent home.
I bump into Cousin One coming out of the washroom.
“Hey. Do you know who I am?” I ask.
“I’m your cousin.”
He looks exasperated.
“How many cousins do I have?”
It’s tough being 10 years old. Every time you turn around there’s more stuff you have to learn and remember. It’s exhausting.
“There’s only two of us here kid”
“This cousin is from Canada” interrupts my uncle.
Cousin One’s eyes light up.
“Do you know Justin Beiber?”
I almost lied.
When I return to the table Gary is interrogating Cousin One about his experience as an infant in a Russian orphanage and berating him for not remembering the language. He follows that up with a verse (Frank Sinatra style) of All Of Me and redeems himself by teaching the kid a few token swear words.
People shake hands and hug and kiss good bye.
“Do come visit…”
“Have you been to our country house yet?”
Cousin One begs his mother to let him go for a play date at “Uncle Gary’s” house.
Gary tries to talk my father’s sexy cousin Kathy into a play date of their own and we all call it a day.
The train ride back to Manhattan was peaceful and thought provoking and upon reflection I was thankful to the guy with the jingly change.
I was thankful to have been there.
I had a touching conversation with my uncle and met a few fantastic people. some of whom I am related to and others that I wish I was.
I was content to have gone and found my own little moment of closure.
And after all, who doesn’t love a funeral?