Thursday, September 16, 2010

When through the woods and forest glades I wander

Yesterday, while I was waiting for the T to take me back to Cambridge after my excursion to Arnold Arboretum with Molly, a busker horrified me by playing "O Holy Night." There may be a nip in the air up here, but that's ridiculous.

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.

Discussion Question:
What do you think happens to us after we die? Be honest.


  1. Katie, I love you a lot and thank you for sharing this post. I couldn't do the same. I am still hoping Ryan builds one up about his Dad here sometime soon. I am glad you also shared the details about what to wear at the funeral. At Tom Flannery's, all the women wore short skirts. I also don't know how to ask you this next question, but I'll just be blunt and I won't be offend if you delete this comment. You had a sister?

  2. Meghan, I have thought of you and Ryan so much recently. I hope you're all managing okay.

    I had a baby sister named Elizabeth about three years younger than me who didn't survive very long because of a heart defect. She's buried with the rest of our family in Missouri. I don't mind that you asked. :)

  3. Katie,
    First of all let me say I am so sorry for your loss. Having just lost Pap in February , I know what you are going through.I also remember the stressful process of finding "the outfit".It sucks! Thank You for sharing not only your feelings, but your grandmothers poem, it was beautiful.I hope you are well and happy and enjoying your new home. Don't be ashamed to cry when something small reminds you of her. Finally, thank you for being there to kick me in the butt when I needed it to go see Pap. If it wasn't for you and Blue, I wouldn't have gone to see him. Love you babe!

  4. P.S. Paps song was also Elvis, You were always on my mind. I BALLED in the airport waiting for my transfer....... so yea.....

  5. Elvis manages to pull right on those heartstrings, huh? Miss you girl.

  6. this is beautiful and got me all choked up. i have no idea how i'll handle losing my grammie when it happens. <3

  7. That's a sweet photo of you two. Thanks for sharing the story, K. There's nothing harder on the heart than saying the last goodbye. I miss my elders, I wish I had known them better in the short time we had together.

  8. You're grandmother would be proud of how well you can articulate your feelings about her. I know she's proud of you, she even had some of your first beautiful writings on her wall in the hallway.

    This is a wonderful tribute Katie :-)

  9. Nick and Davina, I love you both so much. :)

  10. Katie, so beautiful.
    I finished reading and immediately ran outside to catch my breath.
    Nick's right, your grandmother is, and always will be, so proud of you. For your brilliance, your beauty, and for being waaaaaay awesome.
    We're all proud of you.
    Love you, prettygirl.

  11. Oh Denise, thank you! That is the sweetest thing.