I lost my grandmother 3 weeks ago. The timing couldn't be worse, I mean, not that it's ever GOOD, especially when it happened out of the blue with no warning. Nevertheless, I had to prepare myself to see my immediate family for a reason NOT Christmas for spring break, and north of the Mason Dixon line to boot. They hate coming up north, especially after last summer's vacation when Long Island was topping the 100s in July, and mom was ready to kill dad for wanting to come up into the land of no central AC to "cool off" for a couple of weeks.
Hearing my dad sobbing uncontrollably on the phone was probably the worst experience in my life. At least with my grandfather, we had warning, we knew he was going to go and mom was ready for it. Gramma was my dad's life line. He lost his father when he was 17, and for the most part, we assumed she was going to out live us all.
Gramma still worked part-time as an activities coordinator for a senior citizens center in Babylon, on top of that, she was also an event coordinator for her apartment complex. She never stopped. Ever. She had called my dad 2 days before she passed to tell him that she won a whopping $120 in Atlantic City, and wasn't planning on spending it all in one place. This is the type of woman she was. They found her on her couch, in her pajamas, holding the remote. She went peacefully in her sleep with no pain. It was just her time. I wouldn't have wanted her to go any other way, despite the total suck it had thrown at us all.
Arrangements were made very fast, because she was to be buried in the military cemetery near Pinelawn next to my grandfather, so we had to book it to Long Island, fully packed 2 days early for Pennsic War. It was damn near killing me. My body hurt, my eyes hurt from crying, and despite the fact I somehow managed to get everything done that I could and packed what I still needed to work on, there was no way I felt ready for anything.
We left New Hampshire at 3am, and I put on my makeup on the Bend of 95, between Stamford and New Rochelle. Mr. Suu would say, "Bump." Every time he saw one coming so I wouldn't poke my eyes out with the liner. I know he was doing it to make me feel better, but his words became grating after a while. I just wanted it to be over with.
We make it to Babylon within a reasonable time, and everyone is at the funeral home still. I was told that we wouldn't have time to get there, so we make it to the church ahead of everyone, and, well, change in the parking lot out of our comfy road trip clothes.
...Yes, you heard me, I dropped trow in the back lot of the very sanctuary where I was christened. This is when the fun begins. My dad calls, and tells us that there's still time to get to the parlor, and that all of the kids and grandkids had limos waiting for us. So, I wince, and we head over. My brother is the first to meet me outside, knowing that I was probably going to snap, and he grabs me tight.
"We got this shit." He says.
My cousin and her husband come out, "Oh good, you still have time to see her!" She says. She's a psychologist. She has no fucking emotions, I swear. I love her to death, and I'm going to miss drinking our way across Manhattan now that she's decided to procreate, but I digress.
I hate funeral parlors. I hate wakes and viewings. That's not the person you loved in the casket, it's a fucking shell made up to look like someone you once knew. Ex-Mr. Suu's father didn't look like himself, and I was scared to death that my grandmother would look equally as horrible. I refused to go up there. Flat out refused...So I got dragged by my brother eventually.
Each grandkid was given gaudy old lady pins to wear. I picked a woman's face wrapped in obnoxious friendly plastic, and my sister, very loudly, goes, "HAH! I knew it! Christina (shrink cousin) owes me 20 bucks!" My other cousin, Danielle, facepalms and goes, "Shit!"
Welcome to Long Island, Mr. Suu. This is my family. Swearing like sailors in front of my dead grandmother.
But wait, there's MORE.
My dad and aunt were, naturally, a mess. But what I saw in their eyes wasn't their grief, it was my own future, freaking out over their caskets. Life is finite, I'm going to lose my parents some day, and now I was dealing with my parent losing theirs as a warm-up. Fuck this. I wanted to leave...but I get dragged up to the casket. My mom and dad had it all planned out. They left all sorts of goodies in there for her:
A bottle of Dewars to drink with my Grampa Sal.
A bottle of Johnny Walker to drink with my Pop, my mom's father. They were buds.
A deck of cards to play with my Uncle Happy.
My brother kept patting her body on the head. She was tiny, he's very tall. This was a joke for a while, and she couldn't stand it. It made him laugh, and as far as I know, he hadn't cried at all yet. That's usually not a good sign. By this point, my sister is force feeding me tissues and Mr. Suu was shanghaied by my uncle, talking Bubblehead shit, since well, here he is, walking in to a funeral home, wearing a Navy uniform, hell of a first impression for the extended family who hadn't met him yet. Mr. Suu lost both his father and his stepfather before he was 18. He's a funeral pro and can hold his shit together well. I'm not so good at this thing yet.
They call us back to our seats to get ready for the services. I sit next to my brother, and my sister walks by us. My brother reaches out and punches my sister in the stomach, making her go, "UNG!" very loudly. Mom facepalms, dad laughs.
Once that's over, the majority of the grandchildren go in one limo, but Danielle and her fiance manage to escape into the "grown-up" limo. So I'm crammed in with Mr. Suu, my brother, my sister, the Shrink Cousin, and her husband. I should mention that putting me and my siblings in a confined space for any significant amount of time is probably a bad idea. I'm pretty sure the limo driver thought we were all psychotic. Seriously, it turns into an episode of the Three Stooges, and I was at least thankful...kinda, that Mr. Suu was separating my brother and I. He could still reach for the noogies, though, totally unfair.
So, back to the church, remember the church? I got naked in the back parking lot of said church. There's about 500 people there waiting for the full Catholic service. Mr. Suu was picked as a pallbearer, along with my brother. My dad couldn't do it, mostly because it's not supposed to be immediate family, but also because he had polio as a child, and limps, badly. My sister and Danielle immediately start imitating my dad trying to carry a coffin and Gramma falling out. We are terrible fucking people.
This was probably the worst part emotionally. Here I am, walking into a large Roman Catholic Church, the one my brother and I were actually baptized in, seeing faces that haven't seen me since I was an infant (how did they remember me?!)
...This was also when my brother decided to pick his time to cry. And cry he did, the minute they put the pall over the casket, I guess the reality of it all sunk in, and he exploded emotionally. This created a chain reaction back to my sister and I. She grabbed my hand really tight and we processed in with my family to the front row pews, collectively losing our shit and receiving tissues from random folks on the aisle.
And then the eulogy started thusly,
"A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar."
Nope, not kidding. The priest actually started it like that. The entire church erupts with laughter, and he continued, making it as lighthearted as possible. Come to find out, we were sitting where she normally sat, and made faces to the choir during mass every weekend. So we all decided to make faces at the one cantor who attended, and she started laughing at us. At one time, my mom and sister started to discuss making a batch of gramma's cream puffs, to which I over heard, and said, "Oh hells yes!" In church. IN CHURCH, IN THE FRONT ROW DURING MY GRANDMOTHER'S FUNERAL, I SAID, 'OH HELLS YES!'
They did have us take communion, and my brother's wafer got stuck on the roof of his mouth, so there he was, getting over his emotional outburst, making funny faces as he tried to pry the thing off of his palette, and my sister and I are trying not to lose it. However, this guy at the service was wearing a really bad toupee, REALLY BAD. That Danielle immediately pointed out, which made my sister snort audibly. We also meet my Gramma's "companion" who was 65. She was 87. so I blurt out loud once we're outside of the actual sanctuary, "Dude, Gramma was a cougar! Fuck yeah!"
Service was over...back to the limo and off to the cemetery, which was a good 20 minutes away at funeral speed. We get there, and there's 2 services ahead of us. They weren't actually going to inter her on the spot because there's just no room and we would be walking on other graves, so they have these, well, picnic shelters to do the final farewells in. However, we had to wait. And wait. Like 45 minutes worth of waiting. Christina and her husband start dozing off in the backseat, and my sister decides that this would be a great time to put her feet up on the back of our seat right into my husband's face. He takes her shoe, and she jumps at him to give it back. He passes it to my brother, who, no shit, opens the limo door, and goes to throw it at the other limo in front of us.
Judgment gets the best of him, and he sits back down, then says, "I forget we're in a cemetery. That would be kind disrespectful. But if we had a moonroof in this, it would have been in dad's lap by now!"
The limo driver at this point has chosen to ignore us and get out of the car. Probably for the best, because my sister claims her shoe back, puts my brother in a headlock from behind him, and proceeds to shove her shoe in his mouth as he was trying to talk.
He starts gagging, and remarking that it's salty. I'm laughing so hard I can't breathe, and my cousin, who had been quiet, goes, "You know, if Gramma was here, she would have thrown the damn shoe and blamed it on someone else."
...So my husband and my brother decide to hold my sister down in attempts to get the shoe back, but the limo driver comes back in, totally ignoring us, and drives us up for the interment service. Once last goodbye. This wasn't easy either, but we all got roses, and said our Psalms. We head back to the limos, and my parents' limo driver had a bottle of rum he started passing around to everyone. Apparently mom came prepared, and we all stand there in the cemetery, hitting the sauce. We drive back to the funeral parlor to get to our respective cars. Our limo driver told us that we were the most fun he's had doing a funeral in years, and that he was glad that we could at least still have some laughs, and wishes that he knew our grandmother, since we apparently know how to have a good time.
We go to the afterparty, we're Italian after all, at Gramma's apartment complex, and we're haunted by her, since there's pics of her everywhere, and her handwriting, and everything. This sucked, so, we put on the disco ball, and us 5 grandkids started dancing like idiots to no music in the middle of the floor, and did the electric slide, which she taught us all when we were younger as we sang it badly. This got an applause from all her friends, who got up and joined us.
Of course this is when the divine interventions start happening. Danielle trips over a bingo chip that wasn't there before, and then when we get back to my aunt's house with all the leftovers, engaging in a drunken game of Cards Against Humanity, the "Grandma" card pops out. So we dealt her in. This is also when I decided it was a great time to run with a meatball and sprain my ankle.
The next day, we had to run to the mall so Christina could get something for a wedding registry she was bitching about. So us 4 girls go into Macy's, and sing a song Gramma taught us years ago, "I won't go to Macy's any more more more, there's a big fat policeman at the door door door. He pulled me by the collar and made me pay a dollar, so I won't go to Macy's any more more more." The store manager was unamused, so we book it back to the aunt's for dinner. This is when Christina announces she's having twins, and I proceed to scream and yell and hoot and holler that I get to make blankets. It's the little things, I guess. It made me happy. Later we went to my Gramma's apartment, and decided to play dress-up with her clothes and take what we wanted. I got a couple of scarves and a sign for my kitchen that says, "Never trust a skinny cook." My husband, who loves playing closet archaeology, found the dress she wore to my aunt's wedding in the 70s, as well as her wedding pictures to my grandfather which I have never seen in my life. I think even though she had a strong exterior, she was forever heartbroken at the loss of my Grampa, and just couldn't bring herself to show them off.
We left the next day for Pennsic, and I wore my pins almost the entire war. At least I know now, that it's okay to throw shoes at funerals. I'll keep that in mind for the next one.