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August 15, 2005

Bending Sickle's Compass Come

I went to a funeral on Saturday. The deceased was the husband of my grandmother's sister, Silvia. So my ... great uncle? His name was Bob, and he died of a heart attack. He was 89.

I only went to the funeral to show support for my grandmother and Sylvia. Quite honestly, I didn't know Uncle Bob very well, and he was never really that nice to me. Perhaps because he didn't know ME that well, either. I don't know. At any rate, I wasn't going for him, but for his survivors.

So I drove down to Largo, stopping to meet my mom at the Women's Center at Morton Plant Hospital, where she was teaching a weekend Lamaze childbirth class. We drove down to the church - First Methodist - together, and planned on meeting my stepdad and brother's family there.

My mom and I walked in and greeted various family members - my grandmother, her eldest sister, Evelyn, her brother, Herb. Later I saw my Uncle Scott and his family (wife Lisa and kids Meagan and Zach). My mom and I went up to the altar, where the family had placed three or four collages of photos - glued to posterboard - from Bob's life.

This was when I learned that Bob was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, just like my grandfather, K.R., had been. I never knew that. In fact, Bob had stayed in the Army for 27 years, retiring as a major.

There was an entire collage of photos just from his WWII days - they reminded me so much of the old photos I have of K.R. Just the look of them - the faded black-and-white with touches of sepia - seems to denote a time that was much simpler than the time we live in now. The photos seem quaint and uncomplicated, much like the world was back in 1944 (at least compared to today).

My brother, Rob, his wife Terri, and my nephew Alex came in - Alex was dressed up wearing trousers, a white button-down shirt and a tie. He looked so adult. We sat down in a pew and I asked him when he had turned 25.

The service started and it was performed, coincidentally enough, by my former preschool teacher, Bonnie Lattimer. Bonnie - I'm an adult now, so I don't have to call her Mrs. Lattimer any more - became a minister after giving up the teaching profession. She was at the hospital (along with my mom) to support Silvia when Bob was at the end of his life.

The service was very nice. We sang two hymns; of course, being a heathen, I had never heard them before. I was suddenly very glad that I had taken band in middle school - I can read music, so I was able to muddle through the hymns on key and looking like I halfway knew what I was singing.

After the religious part of the service - which I got through without feeling very much emotion - Bob's family stepped up to the altar to give rememberances. First was his oldest son, Ronnie. He had a difficult time getting through his remarks, even though he had written them down. Then David, the youngest child spoke, followed by Cheryl, Bob's oldest child.

I think there's a difference between sympathy and empathy. From the moment I heard that Bob had died, I felt sympathy for his survivors. Even if I didn't care that much for him, he was certainly loved by his family and friends.

It wasn't until the rememberances that I began to feel empathy for his children and grandchildren. Until then, I hadn't even been close to crying. But hearing the pain, loss, and longing in these people's voices got to me very quickly.

They spoke of how Bob told stories to anyone who would listen. How he made friends no matter where he was. How he loved to sing - he'd sing to people instead of talking to them. How he'd always have a roll of cinnamon Certs around to share with others.

But mostly they talked of how much he loved Sylvia. I don't know how they met, or how long they were married. But every single person that spoke commented that Bob loved Sylvia more than life itself.

And in that moment, I realized a few things. I realized that I had been wrong in my assessment of Bob. Clearly, I hadn't known him very well. I should never had judged him as "not friendly." I also realized that it was my loss that I hadn't known him better.

Mostly I realized just how important our relationships with others are. We live forever in the memories and rememberances of others. I realized that when I'm finally gone, that I hope people have good things to say about me. I hope that all of the good outweighs the (admitted) bad, and that if some people come to my funeral just out of support for my family, that they leave thinking that they would have liked to have known me themselves.

At the end, the family formed a receiving line at the altar to greet the people as they left. This was the first time I had been able to speak to Silvia. She was always a small woman, and I'm tall ... I know she's old and frail but I felt like I could envelope her entire existence in my arms without even trying. I told her that I was so sorry for her loss, but that I felt like I knew Bob much better now and that I was humbled by the love he had for her. She thanked me and told me that she couldn't have made it through his death if my mom hadn't been there at the hospital supporting her.

I continued down the line and then got to Cheryl. I know I had met her before; I look a lot like my mother, so she recognized who I was right away. I gave her my condolences and she asked me how I was doing. But there was something unspoken in her words; I immediately recognized it, but I wasn't sure if she had meant her question to have the subtext that I was reading into it. So I just responded that I was doing well.

She looked at me again and said, "So you're doing OK?" Then I knew that she was actually talking about The Thing, and I said, "I'm doing really well - it will be nine years of remission in October."

Cheryl's sister, Regine, had been diagnosed with leukemia a month before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, so Cheryl and my mother corresponded during that time and supported each other while Regine and I were both going through chemotherapy. Both Cheryl and Regine were always so happy to hear that I was doing well, and that the chemo was working for me.

Chemo didn't work for Regine, though. She eventually opted for a bone marrow transplant, but it failed. About six months after I was declared in remission, Regine died.

Cheryl said that my recovery was a wonderful thing, and that cancer survivors are "wonderful people." Bob had had cancer, too, several years ago. I don't remember what kind; I think it was liver or pancreatic cancer.

Cheryl's comment threw me at first. Mainly because I don't really agree with her, although I fully understand what she meant. Some cancer survivors are bastards, just like everyone else. I didn't know quite what to say in response. I think I said something about how we just get handed this challenge to overcome, and all we can do is handle it as best we can.

I didn't attend the lunch afterwards; instead I went to my brother's house to hang out over there.

Later that afternoon, I told Rob and Terri that I wanted two songs played at my funeral - "MLK" by U2, and "Hey Julie" by Fountains of Wayne. This got us off on a conversation about Songs for Funerals:

Me: It all depends on how I die. For example, if I'm killed by a piano dropping on my head, you can play REM's "Fall On Me."
Terri: Or "Orange Crush."
Me: Right, and if I die in a train accident, you can play "Driver 8."
Terri: Or if you die in a car accident, we can play Primus' "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver."
Me: Now I'm thinking how I could work in "Winona's Big Brown Beaver."
Terri: You could have it playing softly at the beginning of the service.
Me: The instrumental version.
Terri: Right!
Me: And if I die after inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning the bathroom, you should play Specimen's "The Beauty of Poison."

We do have an ... interesting ... sense of humor.

Then my brother detailed how he wants his body disposed of using a Viking-style funeral pyre. OR he wants a plexiglass casket that is buried within a lead sheath so nothing can get to him.

Me: How about we just mummify you, like King Tut? We can paint the front of your sarcophagus to look just like you.
Terri: But then all of his organs would have to be removed.
Rob: Yes, BUT, they'd be put into special containers solely for that purpose, so that's ok. And you don't have to paint the sarcophagus to look like me - just use death masks.
Terri: Like Mozart did.

My mom and I went out to Mama Fu's that night for dinner. Mmm, pad thai and potstickers. Then I drove home, stopping at Cold Stone Creamery for a cup of cheesecake ice cream with brownie, walnuts, and caramel mixed in.

There's nothing better than ice cream as a salve for your sorrows.

Posted by Highwaygirl on August 15, 2005 01:11 PM to the category Family


Posted by: Eric at August 16, 2005 01:47 PM
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