And then he played "How Great Thou Art."
Elvis' rendition feels appropriate, somehow.
The last time I heard that song was at Grandmother Shirley's funeral two weeks ago today. The hometown vocalist warbled it sweetly over my grandmother's closed casket.
Hearing it felt like tripping and falling.
I guess you could say that I haven't really dealt with my grandmother's death yet. She passed on peacefully with my father by her side on August 29th. I was somewhere in Virginia or Pennsylvania or somewhere when I got the news. I felt so far away from everything.
The entire three-day trip up to Massachusetts was a blur, spent mostly in silence in a blank, determined state. The animals seemed to understand the intensity of the situation and behaved amazingly--Boudreaux in Nick's lap in the UHaul and Moppy catatonic in his carrier in the Spruce Goose.
We weren't scheduled to move in until the 1st, but the stars lined up and we ended up completing the final six-hour leg of our trip AND getting the keys and moving our stuff in on the afternoon 31st. We managed to clear enough space to lay the mattress on the bedroom floor and collapse when we were done, both of us trembling with exhaustion and Nick nursing a busted big toenail.
The next morning, I went to Logan Airport and flew to St. Louis, and then made the three-hour drive to Bevier in record time in my zippy rental car. When my mom asked me later how the brakes were on the car, I told her that I was pretty sure I didn't get a chance to use them at all on the trip up. I flew towards my family as fast as I could travel.
I pulled up to my grandmother's house just like I had done a hundred times. But when I walked in, she wasn't in her chair in her nightgown. Then I remembered. She's gone. I didn't cry until I saw a copy of the program for her funeral propped up in the kitchen, her birth and death dates in script below a photo we took of her at Thanksgiving a few years back. It just did not compute--standing in her kitchen, breathing in her smell, looking at this unmistakable evidence that she really was gone. That night, my mother and I slept in her bed.
I picked out my outfit for the funeral before I left for Boston at my mother's suggestion. While picking through the racks at TJ Maxx, I could just see the disgust registering on my grandmother's face as she surveyed our options. Zipper detail? Tacky. Ruffles? Uggy. I settled on a conservative black knit cardigan, a black pencil skirt, and grandmother's pearls. I could not disrespect my grandmother's memory by showing up to her funeral in an outfit with a lace cutout or other such nonsense.
And the next morning, we performed the most sacred of human rituals: burying our dead. My extended family sat across the front row, each of us holding on to the person next to them. I hardly let go of my father the whole morning. Grandmother didn't want an open casket, because she didn't like people staring at her, but they let me see her before the funeral started. Her lipstick was perfect. Her hands felt cool, like wax.
We buried her beside her husband and my sister. According to an old family tradition, a spray of 50 fat red roses adorned her casket. A few of us grabbed single blooms before they lowered her into the ground.
An autumn drizzle began to fall. I pulled my cardigan tighter around my shoulders. The pastor read the poem Grandmother Shirley had transcribed in her own shaking handwriting to be read at her burial.
When he got to I am the gentle autumn rain, we looked into the falling droplets and I think we all looked for her there. I think I'll always look for her there.
We miss you.
What do you think happens to us after we die? Be honest.