It’s odd how a song can trigger a memory. They sweep in, unannounced, like that loud aunt who never gets invited but shows up anyway, bringing with her all of the energy in the room.
This particular aunt brought with it the memory of my grandma’s funeral. To my surprise, I began to cry, even though I never did the day they buried her. See, I didn’t get to stay for the actual funeral. Grandma lived a long, peaceful 95 years. Well, peaceful isn’t exactly the right word for her life. It’s more that she managed to pull peace for herself from the chaos of my dysfunctional family. I’m not trying to paint her as a saint; she would have scoffed at the idea, and she was as much to blame for the chaos as anyone.
When she died, her entire family had gathered around her hospital bed. I was the last one there, having come the furthest and having taken a wrong turn at the last minute. She held on, fighting against death …. waiting, waiting, waiting. At precisely the time my elevator opened and I rushed out onto the floor, Grandma’s spirit felt me there, the circle was complete, and she let go.
She died moments before I walked in the door.
I still said my goodbyes, however, since I knew she was still there, watching. She knew I’d come, even though others in the room probably doubted it. I’m not the predictable sort, unless you actually listen to me. See, I have the disconcerting habit of doing precisely what I say I will. Always. Throws people the fuck off when they’re used to unreliability.
In any case, we all resumed some time later to plan the funeral arrangements. There was the normal squabbling, over money of all things. I decided to resolve it by paying whatever the difference was between what was owed and what people had. I spoke up, said I’d pay the balance, and left to use the john. When I returned, miraculously, the squabble had ended, and I was told it wasn’t for me to pay. I was only the eldest grandson. Her five children decided they should settle things amongst themselves. I shrugged. Whatever.
Never mind that I earned more than 4 of the 5.
Discussions then turned to the details, like pallbearers. As the eldest grandson, I made certain I would be one, and everyone agreed. Grandma and I had a complex relationship. For a long time, she wasn’t comfortable with me (according to her) due to my perceived temper. My temper was directed only at her constantly bickering kids. Grandma, however, never recognized I was working to change the culture of her fucked up family. Of course, I probably shouldn’t take that to heart, given she told me that when she had already begun to succumb to dementia. Prior to that, I was just the grandson who would spend hours sitting with her as she would watch her “stories,” the soap operas she loved. She was the only grandmother I had, and one of a very few people I thought gave two shits about me during the entirety of my childhood.
Her death wasn’t devastating. She’d told me something was wrong at 88, when dementia first began. By then, she was very comfortable with me, and we’d become as close as I had previously assumed we already were. Over the next 7 years, we watched her slip away, a piece at a time. Finally, at 95, she announced she wanted to “Go be with James,” her husband who’d died 40 years earlier. When she passed, we were happy for her.
So, on 14 October 2005, I drove the 3.5 hours to be a part of her homegoing service. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had been replaced as a pallbearer by a 2nd cousin whom I’d not seen since 1966. I asked why I had been replaced, and of course, got no answer.
I knew the answer. The squabbling asswipes were mad that I’d “tried to show them up” by offering to pay for her funeral. I hadn’t of course. She was my grandma. What the fuck else could I do with the couple of thousand bucks or so that was needed? Big fucking deal. In disbelief, I sat there for 30 seconds, whispered to my sister that I was leaving, kissed her on the cheek, and left.
Which brings me to the song, in my ADHD, roundabout sort of way. You see, Grandma’s service was filled with photographs. All of them – I mean every one – had either been taken by my daughter, me, or were personally restored by me. One was the last photo taken of her when she was fully coherent, when my daughter was 6 and using her very first (Fisher Price) camera.
Grandma had been 89. My Kiddo and I had spent a lot of time picking out, buying and rearranging frames for the photos. It was our goodbye to her, given she hated having her picture taken. We would make certain she looked good.
At the funeral, instead of our arrangement, there were the photos, taped to black felt poster board. The frames had been discarded. These people would rather have a tacky funeral than allow themselves to feel shown up by me. I probably should mention that I restore photographs for money and that I’d been a photographer, at that point, for 35 years.
I left the funeral, and my family on that autumn day in 2005. I still enjoy a healthy relationship with my parents, and ones with my 3 sisters, but I haven’t seen or spoken to any of the rest of them since. A few have reached out, like the aunt who was “in charge” of the funeral, whose own son was killed almost 1 year to the day after grandma. I have nothing for them. Whatever love I had for them was buried with Grandma. I’d always been private, you understand, and was never demonstrative around the family. As a result, they all assumed they could ignore my feelings (at best) or put me in my place (more likely). None, except my parents, and Grandma, had any idea how important that woman was to me. They get it now, 8 years later, knowing they’ll never see me again.
And the song? I had my own funeral on the way home, all 3.5 hours worth. Amos Lee sang me “Colors” all the way, just as he’s sung the song the entire time I’ve been writing this memory. It reminded me of my favorite of the photos I restored, and I sang right along with Amos until my voice gave out. Then, I kept singing.
“Your mama called, she said,
that you’re downstairs crying.
Feeling like such a mess.
Ya, i hear ya,
in the back ground bawling.
What happened to your sweet summer time dress?”
Goodbye Grandma. I still love you. I guess I’ve still got that temper, huh?