14 hours ago
Sunday, November 9, 2008
My Grandmother's memorial service was yesterday. She died very peacefully on October 21, four months before she would have turned 100, and she wanted everything to be the same as when her husband died in 1984. No wake; just a cremation, memorial service, and scattering the ashes off a ferry in Long Island Sound.
I honestly thought that because I really didn't have much of a relationship with her, it would not be a big deal. I would fulfill my familial obligation out of respect for her, and it would be over. I guess I'm more sentimental than I thought, and I shed a few tears for the old battle axe.
The memorial service itself was beautifully done. I'm sad my father couldn't make it up from Florida, but he's still not physically able to travel. My Aunt C, who was Gram's only daughter, is the one who has taken care of everything for Gram for years, and planned it all down to a tee. Both my uncles got up and read passages, the hymns were gorgeous, and three of my cousins offered eulogies. The eulogies were all well thought out, and 2 of them lovingly poked fun at her. One of my cousins said it best when he said (and I'm paraphrasing), "If I just painted a rosy picture of my grandmother, I wouldn't be doing to justice to who she really was." Another pointed out that "she was a difficult woman". But they all were able to talk about good memories they had and lessons they learned from her.
After the memorial, we went back to the assisted living facility for a reception in the dining room. It was a very simple affair, highlighted by extended family and friends sharing memories, and a ton of photo albums.
When all the other people left, Aunt C asked us to go back to Gram's apartment and go through the remaining possessions and take whatever we wanted, or that we have given to her, or held sentimental value to us. In addition, Gram had a Hummel collection that she had written a list of years ago, assigning one to each member of the family that was alive at the time. No small task considering she left behind 4 children and their spouses, 13 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great-grandchildren. I was incredibly touched that she specifically left something to my son.
What I treasure most is being entrusted with the pictures. I promised to scan them all and put them up on the family website I started, so everyone can share them.
Today, my sister Kouf and I drove to New London for the 11:15 ferry to Fishers Island. 15 of us boarded the ferry, with Gram in a backpack getting her last free ride. There were probably only 5 other people on the ferry, besides the crew. I cannot tell you what a beautiful day it was. It was windy, but the sun was shining and the swells were only about 4 feet. Considering what Long Island Sound could have been on a November day, we agreed that Heaven was smiling down on us this day.
My uncle had called ahead to make arrangements. As it was off-season, they were willing to accommodate us. About 2 miles off Fishers Island, they slowed the engines and allowed us down on the lower deck that would have been full of cars peak-season. We gathered around in a circle as my aunt recited one last poignant reading. My uncle handed the biodegradable urn to my aunt, and she simply said, "Goodbye, Mom" and tossed the urn over the side, along with a huge wreath of pink and white fresh flowers. We all rushed along the side and then to the end of the ferry, watching as the current took the urn and the flowers away. We waited until we could no longer see it, and then we dissolved into group hugs and tears.
Kouf and I hugged and cried until the engines started back up and they made us go above. We all still stood right at the top of the stairs, watching the waves even though we couldn't see anything any longer. We marvelled that the urn didn't sink right away, even though we knew it would float for a couple of minutes before filling with water. We joked that the old bird was stubborn even in death, and would somehow find her way over to Lord's Point, where she and Gramp had lived for so many years. We even joked that we hoped Aunt C had put her name and number on the urn so that when it showed up on a beach, someone could return Gram's ashes to her.
And that is how we will heal. We shared an incredibly intimate moment together, and immediately diffused it with humor - that is what we do. I will never forget how beautiful it was.
I took pictures. The bright blue thing amongst the flowers is my Gram's ashes in the biodegradable urn. Rest in peace, Gram, I think we honored you today in the best way we could have, and I hope you know it.