Death is a motherfucker.
It’s been about a month now since my grandfather passed away. We — the immediate family consisting of my mother, my grandmother, and yours truly — knew it was coming, but even as we saw him wither way, it was still a shock. A routine procedure followed by a month in the ICU, and now we’re planning a funeral.
Can we talk about how no one teaches you how to plan a funeral? Consulting the funeral home, buying a casket, setting up the service, coordinating the program…it’s a good thing my grandfather was the head deacon at his church, because they basically took the reins and we just wrote the check.
On top of this, I’ve had to deal with the rest of the family. I couldn’t have planned for their reactions, most of which ranged from sheer hysteria to shoulder-shrugging indifference. My cousins just lost a grandfather they never saw, and having them suddenly throw themselves into the pain of losing a family member felt odd. But people process grief differently, so you know…different strokes for different folks.
I tried not to judge, until…
This was from Chef Nigga, my first cousin who’s probably seen my grandfather only three or four times (and he was a baby half of those times). I mean, I grew up with my grandfather and I wasn’t doing a virtual casket flop on Facebook but…people process grief differently.
Like my mother.
She selectively dropped out of most of the funeral planning, saying something about energy transference and quasars and cosmic shit like that, so I had to step in help handle things. Her siblings are in Dallas and Detroit and were only showing up for the funeral and going right back home. (Not that I blame them.)
Going back home to rural Alabama for the first time in years was extremely depressing (even more so for a funeral). The last time I went home, I got berated by my mother for all my shortcomings and got into a fistfight with a former best friend from high school. Hell, I’ve blogged on here before about why I can’t go home again and what’s waiting for me when I do visit. The only time I planned on coming back was if someone died.
So here we are.
The funeral was nice. There was a great turnout from the community, and the eulogy was really touching. It was interesting to see a side of a man that I always saw as a stoic, silent figure. (My name for him was Yes Man, remember?) He was a community leader, a religious man, and was well-respected by his co-workers at the candy factory where he worked for 35 years.
Since the funeral, I’ve been back and forth to Alabama a few times. I helped clear out weeds from the family burial plots and instaleld new copper plates on the headstones there since vandals stole them. The house my grandfather built for my grandmother and their kids is falling apart. My mom still lives in the same institution-like duplex I remembered from the last time I visited. It’s weird seeing the things I grew up with in this stark, sanitized, unfamiliar space.
The city has actually gotten even worse since my last visit. Unemployment is above 20%. Half of downtown is boarded up. Children roam the streets because the mall’s damn near empty and there’s nothing for them to do that resembles entertainment except going to church. Burned-down remains of houses are still free-standing, and factories that span city blocks are abandoned. It would be a stock photographer’s dream if it weren’t so goddamned dreary.
I’m back in Atlanta now, but that whole trip really put a lot of things in perspective. For starters, my grandmother and mother have got to move. They’re at least 50 miles away from the nearest bus station or airport, so if anyone needed to get to them in case of an emergency, we’d be shit out of luck.
I’ve also been thinking of my mother’s future funeral preparations. She’s fit as a fiddle, but I don’t want to be caught off guard like she was and I’d like to have some sort of plan in place. Despite all her Bible thumping, she doesn’t belong to a church, so I’d like to make those preparations as easy as possible.
Now I see why people get cremated.
My mother is also retiring at the end of the year. She’s spent pretty much all of her adult life in that small hick town working and caring for her parents. What is she gonna do after that?
Ugh…heavy shit overall.
I’ve been compensating by throwing myself into work and trying to have a fun summer. Life is to be lived, y’know. I’d like to think my grandfather would’ve wanted that way.
Kinda fitting that I’d come to write all this on Memorial Day.