Thursday, January 08, 2004


We got back from our most recent roadtrip to Mississippi at midnight last night. It was a long drive punctuated with alternating cassettes from our books on tape (Tom Wolfe's Ambush at Fort Bragg was excellent and well-performed by Edward Norton; Dean Koontz's By the Light of the Moon was a great story of super-heroes done right and was well performed; Robin Cook's Fatal Cure was so damn awful I ejected it half way through the first cassette, and Barry Bostwick, who I generally like, was not terribly suited as a performer of the material).

My Mamaw's funeral went very well, all things considered. I think she would have liked it, as much as she could like any place where folks were fussing over and talking about her. She would have appreciated all the flowers and beautiful plants people sent, as gardening was one of her passions in life. She had even picked out her own pink rose-colored casket several years ago in anticipation of the day.

There was grieving and laughter and reunions with people we haven't seen in ages. In fact, from the moment I walked into the funeral home, for the visitation, I was shocked. My dad pulled me over to reintroduce me to Brother Anderson, the first preacher I remember seeing at Mamaw and Papaw's church. Brother Anderson's son, who is also a minister, was there as well and both came over to shake my hand and ask if I knew who they were. The trouble here is that I thought the both of them have been dead for years. I based this assumption on my memory of my dad telling me that they had both DIED many years ago. Perhaps I'm mistaken or perhaps he was. Whatever the case, I was a bit hesitant to shake either man's hand until I was sure they weren't about to go for my brain. (When dealing with the undead or the potentially undead, it's always wise to be cautious.)

While we did grieve at the visitation and funeral, we were mostly happy that Mamaw was no longer trapped in that frail frail body in a place that she would have been mortified to be in had she been aware that she was there at all. We were happy that the fog had been lifted from her mind and that she had gone on to something better.

I imagine we creeped a few people out with our laughter and mostly good mood at her visitation. But I'm a firm believer that if a person lived a good life and they've gone on to glory we should celebrate. Celebrate them and their life and their memory and the good times. Sure, there are tears because we miss them and we know that those good times we spent with them are gone (at least for the moment), but if they were in pain or discomfort toward the end we should be glad they are now in stark relief.

It's very similar to the death of my grandpa on my father's side. He had prostate cancer, which wasn't treated until it was far too late to do anything about it. He spent the last year of his life in pain and the last few months of that beging for the Lord to take him home. My grandmother, aunt, cousin-in-law and many others devoted their time round the clock to caring for him and it nearly killed them to watch him suffer the way he did. The day after he died, my father took my grandmother out to breakfast, something she had not done in over a year. When they arrived at Hardee's the employees recognized her and asked where my grandfather was. With a smile on her face, she told them that he had died. They were a bit perplexed that she seemed happy about it even after she explained his condition and that he was no longer suffering and had gone on. My grandmother spent the next few days creeping people out in just this manner. I thought it was fantastic. And the funeral was a blast because we got to watch lines of people file away from her shaking their heads in confusion that anyone would be happy that their husband had died. But it is exactly the right attitude to take and was a lesson to me about how to deal with such things.

Maybe I'm in something of a unique position in this, though. My mother died when I was four. My father explained to me that she wasn't coming home and that she had gone to Heaven to be with Jesus. From everything I'd been told about Heaven to that point, I thought it sounded like a pretty swell deal. I don't recall grieving about it at all as a child, though I know I must have in more internal ways. (I have a stack of haunted-looking photographs of myself, post age-four to speak to that.)

From an early age, though, I began rating funerals I attended as to their positive qualities. I don't really know why I did this, except that it helped form my opinions about what I think a funeral should be. My favorite funerals were the ones where the loved ones left behind sat around and told stories about the dearly departed, laughing and celebrating their lives. The worst have been where the whole affair is dour and lifeless and where everything is about the grief. Of course, people deal with such things differently and there are a lot of people who wouldn't be able to deal with the funeral as celebration.

Don't get me wrong, there is grief in both, but when I die I would rather my friends and family to gather to tell stories about me, both good and bad, eat lots of food, drink lots of drink and celebrate my memory.

Then they can brainstorm an appropriately ironic place to dump my ashes.

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An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.