“A tree doesn’t rid itself of its rings.” Brandon Ferdig is shaken by the death of his grandmother, and chooses to remember how her life connected with his.
Grandma’s funeral was Wednesday.
When she was being lowered into the ground, I looked over and saw my three brothers and sister standing by. “Gosh”, I thought. “This is really happening.”
We five were once all children–Grandma’s grandchildren–and she was the living, breathing, active woman in our lives for summer visits, holidays, and all the days in between. Well into our adulthood (I’m now 31) we were still “the grandchildren” to all four of our grandparents. But Wednesday began the chipping away of that distinction. We’re too old to have our mom’s mom in our lives, and now the goatees on my brothers’ faces and the children my older brother and sister have pronounced more loudly this fact that we are no longer children–no longer grandchildren to this woman who lay lifeless in that beautiful, white coffin before us.
At the funeral of our matriarch, Grandma’s children, her children’s children, (her children’s children’s children), her siblings, nieces, nephews, and many friends filled the sanctuary for the service and church basement for the reception. From these faces were more lessons in change and the suddenness with which it can hit us. I saw distant relatives on Wednesday and had to contrast them with how they had been imprinted on my mind from previous and sporadic interactions throughout the years. This infrequency reveals that a lot of life happens in a few year’s time.
Grandma’s generation is now quite old; my mom’s generation–which I had always known as being spry adults–now show their own signs of middle age: thinner, grayer hair, loose faces, and grandchildren of their own; then from my age bracket were those unknowingly serving as mirrors reflecting back one’s own aging during the span since you’ve last seen them. It didn’t reflect just physical changes, either. I felt the rekindled emotions I associated with each of these distant relatives, living time capsules hearkening back to who I was back when I previous interacted with them vs. who they were standing before me on Wednesday.
Life, of course, happens gradually: each and every moment by moment. My brothers’ goatees didn’t grow in overnight. Yet certain moments also signify new chapters in our lives, shocking our sticky, static minds into a new frame of reference, and helping us say goodbye to the former ways we saw the world.
Wednesday was such a day, as I met distant family and as I said goodbye to Grandma, her coffin lowering into the ground.
Prior to the service, and next to her open casket in the church entryway, was the table of photographs of her from childhood to present. This time, it wasn’t so much a lesson in letting go of the past and moving along with the flow of life, as it was about appreciating the past as a part of the whole that makes up the people we know. A tree doesn’t rid itself of its old rings. It wasn’t that the young woman in the black and white photograph wasn’t someone I never met; it helped me know better someone I already knew.
And this entirety is what Grandma’s peers knew not just from pictures, but knew intimately in life. In that regard, their loss is much greater than mine.
Besides the expected sorrow for losing a loved one, the funeral helped me realize there was much more to Grandma than being a grandma–as the old photographs showed. At the same time, it jarred me into realizing how holding onto one’s past can contrast with the almost sneaky, gradual, and imminent change among us all.
So many lessons of life at a funeral.
photo by nicocrisafulli / flickr