I took my grandparents to a funeral the other day for a relative I didn’t know existed. It was a Friday, in between Christmas and New Year’s. As Hollywood is on its winter break, there was a lull in my workload, so I figured, “Hmm, here’s a way to fill a Friday.” I’m not making #funeralfridays a thing, but hey, going to a funeral for the sake of going to one, definitely makes for a unique Friday.
As many elderly family members have passed on recently, funerals have become a frequent occurrence in my life. Weddings have too. Almost like a factory worker’s alternating schedule, I find myself at a funeral or attending a wedding (or presiding over one) every other week. Sprinkle in the birth of a baby every now and again, and I find myself in the middle of massive life event after massive life event. I guess that’s what happens when you’re about to 30.
Death, wedding, birth. Death, wedding, birth. Punch in, punch out.
In the midst of all this – the weddings, the funerals, the aimless bickering– I’ve found myself rather lost. For a guy with such laser focus on my budding career, such genuinely incredible life altering experiences that happen almost weekly, I wondered why I so often was asking myself “I’m almost thirty and this is it?” It was disheartening. I was bitter. I was cynical. I’ve never been THAT guy. I’m the guy that finds the fun and fulfillment in watching paint dry. Where was that guy?
The drive to the funeral was about 2 hours, from my grandparent’s house in Covina to the church in Oxnard. Along the way, my grandparents slept, and at times, bickered relentlessly. In other words, they bicker for the sake of bickering, and as retirees, it’s become their new job or hobby…see it how you will.
Since my grandparent’s best friend died last year, my grandpa is suffering. It’s like dementia and old age hit him over night. And my grandma is doing everything she can to be the incredible wife she’s always been, but for the first time in my near 30 years on this Earth, my grandparents seem old. They’ve always been like the mob bosses in Casino to me. Maintaining a youthful exuberance and steady guiding prowess no matter where I was. At the reception for this funeral in a deteriorating Mexican restaurant in Oxnard, my grandparents and my grandpa’s siblings sat. Once upon a time, the all-powerful figures of the universe, now feebly enjoyed pan dulce, as a haphazard mariachi played their favorite tunes into a dilapidated sound system. My grandpa would sing along here and there, bringing as much from his lungs as he could, fighting back tears of dementia at different lyrics. And, just like the end of Casino, these “bosses” sat around the table, withered, trying to keep their days filled by attending a funeral for a somewhat distant relative.
The meek had inherited the Earth and I laid witness as it unfolded.
I got us back in the car, hoping to beat the undoubted barrage of LA traffic that awaited us.
About 10 minutes into the drive home, we passed a corner in Oxnard near one of the farming fields. My grandpa pointed to it and said “That’s where my brother died.” His delivery as casual as saying “I’m good.” when a friend asks you how you’re doing. He detailed the story of how his brother had died — he was hit by a drunk driver, while headed back to the camp for the field workers. His girlfriend died instantly, and my grandpa’s brother died a few hours later at the hospital. My grandma filled in the parts my grandpa had missed. I had no idea this man had existed and met such a tragic fate. Yet, my grandpa carried on with his life, always loving his brother.
Though just moments previously saying he couldn’t remember a thing anymore, suddenly found himself with a bushel of stories from his early years.
My favorite was that he had been fired numerous times from the fields. Because he was always more interested in eating the produce rather than picking it. He couldn’t hold down a job. One time, my great grandfather got home from work and saw my grandpa sitting there, realizing that his son had been fired again, he said, “Son, you’re too young to be retired.” Hoping to get him in order, my great grandpa sent him to Mexico with a truck to go work with some family members with the instructions to bring money and the truck back. My grandpa sold the truck and used the money to have a most excellent time in Guadalajara.
Un rebelde sin causa.
As row after row of harvested produce blossomed new memories for my grandpa, I heard a life in his voice. One that matched the singing he did alongside the mariachi at the funeral reception. His tears this time, happy ones.
We passed the place where my grandpa was born that has now been consumed by a generic corporate center, I said to my grandpa, “I think that’s where your mom fired you from the womb.” I thought that was funny and so did my grandparents. That moment was ours.
Cut to almost 90 years of a life incredibly well lived for them both, and I found myself at 60 years their younger, realizing what I was missing. I had been so focused on success that I forgot what it was like to live in each moment. Little moments — that is where memories are made and a legacy is built — no matter how they may fade or come back to us in our old age. That’s how my grandparents have built such a strong family that will outlive them for generations, just as their parents’ legacies have. They’ve told their stories their way and it is time for me to tell mine my way.
I went to this funeral for someone I didn’t know but was somehow related to (this too is a very common occurrence) because I looked forward to these moments. Spending time with my grandparents never fails to provide a good laugh and a memory that I will genuinely never forget (the last car ride almost got real messy when my grandma didn’t want to wait for a bathroom, pulled out a plastic cup to…well, I made it to a fast food restaurant in time). Those are the moments I look forward to telling my grandkids about some day.
As my grandparents faded off for a longer nap, I sat in traffic just thinking to myself, a sense of contentment overcoming me.
Big moments are captured in well-polished photos and in books. They’re reserved for memoirs and Instagram feeds, where our “legacies” now exist. Little moments are captured in memories and go with you no matter where you are. In the funerals I’ve been to recently, I feel as though the most talked about photos of the deceased are those that are as candid as can be and withered around the edges, where people say “that was so and so in a nutshell.”
This car ride, a blink, captured for a lifetime. Those little moments are what you share with your loved ones and the moments they treasure about you forever. Those are the stories that become a thing of legend, well past our funerals.
Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo courtesy iStock.