Apologies for the past two incredibly personal funeral/death posts, but, as you may imagine, I have had some unbelievably complicated thoughts I needed to put into words. Not sad. Not angry. Just…complicated.
This post’s title references this Tweet.
As I walked past my chain-smoking relatives the irony hadn’t yet set in for me that the woman whose death had brought us all together had died at the age of 69 from complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease brought on undoubtedly from her constant cigarette smoking for the majority of her adult life.
That’s because I didn’t know what had actually led to her death, but it was also because I was trying to approach the entire funeral experience with tact. I wanted to be open-minded to the woman and family that never seemed to embrace me, if only for my mom’s sake.
But then I met my aunt/cousin Rulinda (see previous post for explanation) and she walked toward me smelling of smoke and tears. She hugged me and said as she was pulling away “Thank you for coming.”
And I think I gave her the most horrid face that I’ve ever made at a woman above the age of 50 (who wasn’t an educator), saying with my expression “Why the fuck wouldn’t I be here? This woman was related to me through blood. It’s a matter of respect and she and I were family.”
She was taken aback and I immediately regretted my expression. Sheepishly she said “I don’t know what to say, I just say what I think,” showing she knew exactly why I had scowled and, unbelievably to me (the asshole) that she was human.
I vowed to be more understanding from that moment on because, in truth, no one ever knows what to say at funerals. “It was a lovely ceremony.” “He/she looks great” referring to whoever’s in the casket. What? And that brought me back to the truth I’ve always adhered to concerning funerals: the fact that everyone ends up going to more funerals in their lifetime than they ever want to.
So I adjusted my tie and prepared to meet and speak with family members, because lo and behold, it turns out I am related to the deceased! My name was listed first as her grandchildren (nearly solving the mystery of whether I should follow legal or biological genealogy to know my place in the family), and I was expected to stand and receive friends and family.
And so began a parade of people that used to know me when I was this big. The fact that these people live less than an hour from where I’ve lived my entire life and haven’t seen me in more than 10 years only compounded my anger that these idiots were assumed relatives of mine. Some gems:
“Are you a rock star?” – from an uncle(?) who lives in Raleigh, no less. Clearly he wanted to say something about my hair, but he just choked.
“I haven’t seen you in a long time. We’ll have to do something about that.” – from a great uncle that used to visit us twice weekly when my granny was alive but since 1999 has visited my mom perhaps a dozen times. Oh and he married a woman who was accused of killing her husband, lives 10 minutes from my house and my mom changed his gauzes daily for him following his surgery in the early 2000s.
My response? “We just did.”
Then Rulinda comes by with a friend of hers to introduce to my sister. “This was her…granddaughter…I guess…”
What the fuck? You can’t read the program? Let’s just go with what’s printed there to keep things clean today…
So after hugs, handshakes and two trips to the bathroom to wash my hands because the idiot pastor insisted on shaking my hand after my first sanitation trip (even as I shoved my hands into my pockets and made it clear I didn’t want to shake) it was time for the ceremony at which the idiot pastor preceded to talk about how hard Faye worked for her family.
I laughed. Silently, of course, so I didn’t disturb those grieving, but it was hard to keep it quiet as I leafed through the program, complete with a bio indicating that Faye graduated in 1959…yes, a year before my mom was born. She began her work career as a high school graduate (no college) to begin saving enough money to provide for her other three daughters while my mom was being raised across town by her biological grandmother. (Though, as noted in my previous post, I have accepted this was for the best).
So my complications with that side of my family were compounded today though my ride back to Raleigh with Taylor let us both vent.
Big surprise: we were thinking the exact same thing at every stage of the funeral.
The closest we came to crying was when we imagined our other grandparent dying. We got pissed off every time someone brought up how long it had been since the last time we had been together. We talked about how disconcerting the entire affair was and which songs we wanted played at our funeral. (Friends: please assure this is played).
And so while the entire weekend has muddied my emotions about my mom’s side of the family and complicated further my understanding of my family tree, I came out of it with even more understanding about my connections within my immediate family: my sister is my best friend.