For those of you dedicated readers waiting with bated breath to see how my family vacation went, I must insist you consider abating: The vacation never happened. Unfortunately, about two weeks ago, my grandmother died. The trip to the Lowcountry was called off, and instead, I traveled northward to attend Grandma’s funeral.
But over the course of my trip, something wholly unexpected happened: I think I had fun?
It’s kind of bizarre to answer the question of “How was the funeral?” with “Ya know, I had a pretty good time.” And it certainly wasn’t all bounce houses and balloon animals (although, may the folks who make my final arrangements keep those in mind); I felt more than a handful of heartbreaking moments, both for myself and for my family members who were saying their last goodbye to their aunt, sister or mother. But during the few days I was home for the preparations and then execution of the funeral, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself.
Few consider what their grandparents were like when they were children — or even acknowledge that was something that ever happened — but there I was, tasked with helping create photo boards, riveted as I reviewed photos of a first-generation German-American girl growing up during World War II. Apparently, in her day, Grandma was somewhat of a hottie (and if there’s something more bizarre than having fun at a funeral, it’s using the words “Grandma” and “hottie” in the same sentence); I came across pictures that seemed more fit for the side of a bomber than my family history. Family members relished telling stories I’d never heard about her sneaking out at night to go to jazz clubs in Chicago and showing me advertisements from when she was a dance instructor. I remembered tales of growing up with Grandma from my dad, but this new information was like going to the movies and seeing your own prequel.
The viewing and ceremony, though lined with tears, brought together a great number of people I couldn’t imagine seeing otherwise. Whether family pals with whom I wouldn’t have caught up in years or great aunts and second cousins who hadn’t seen me since I was *waves somewhere in the direction of the ground*, it seemed like I made all these new friends as people chatted on their way to pay their respects to Grandma. The circumstances, of course, were unfortunate, but the emotional affection these folks had for my grandmother manifested itself socially, producing many more smiles than there were frowns.
The realization struck me at the reception we held after the service. I had just finished a plate of authentic German cuisine (I was not the only one with a very large portion size; clearly it’s something in my genes), a conversation on the finer points of journalism with my great uncle — a longtime talk radio DJ — and a beer with my godfather. I picked my head up and looked around. I was genuinely enjoying myself, and so was most everyone else. It was a celebration of a great woman’s life, just as she would have wanted it to be.
So thank you, Gram, for throwing one last great party. Ya know, I had a pretty good time. I’ll miss you dearly.
As much as he enjoyed his grandma’s funeral, Andy still would prefer not to attend another any time soon.