Thursday, May 29, 2008




(my grandma, Dorothy, third from the left, surrounded by her sisters in 1951; she was 36 in this photo, 5 years younger than I am now. Sweet Carol Channing, but I'm actually holding up pretty well. This is also the photo that one of my favorite large galpals once spotted hanging on the wall, a photo that caused her to holler out, "All I see is a line of breasts and hips; you didn't stand a chance did you, hon?")


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"Above the Horizon: Part Two"

We both interred and memorialized Grandma Dorothy on January 13th of 1999.

Well.

By day's end, any self-possession I'd started out with had been adroitly flayed by the Ginsu knife that was my dad's grief. His face had such a beautiful composition of lies and planes and dignity and character, and at the gravesite that day, during the interring of his mother's ashes, all those lines crumpled upon themselves into the most terrible mask of agony.

He affected me so much that I couldn't bear to look at him, for fear I'd have to drop to the frozen ground and pound my fists with the pain of seeing my uncomplaining, silent father attempting to keep his composure. Instead, I gloried at the backdrop of the Beartooth Mountains--a view that would prove sustaining when I stood in the same spot four years later, in February of 2003, interring my dad's ashes next to those of his father, mother, and brother--and then distractedly browsed the surrounding tombstones, musing at how many Finns were buried on this Western plains hill. The sole thing that commanded my attention entirely was the unrelenting torrent of wind, a wind that caused the lanky pastor to yell out his words, lest they be blown away before reaching our ears.

His vestments flapping in the wind like Grandma's laundry had, the pastor stood, raised, on the cement outline of the family plot and asked if anyone wanted to add some words of rememberance. For a few minutes, it was silent.

Then, of the eighteen immediates huddled in a bunch against the blasting gusts, those least disposed to words spoke up. First, my grandma's niece (my dad's cousin), Sandy, contributed, "Dorothy was a kind lady." From there, Dorothy's sister, my great-aunt Ethel, observed, "She was a hard worker." It was Ethel who, alongside Dorothy, had milked the ranch's 80 dairy cows, morning and night, throughout their childhood. In such a case, being yoked to a "hard worker" was good fortune, indeed.

Furthering the tribute, my grandma's youngest sister, Ruthie, agreed: "She worked hard. And she was unselfish. She cared."

After that, no one else spoke. At the time, I fretted about the lack of commemorative words, thinking that at my gravesite--at anyone's gravesite--there should be inspired, seemingly-spontaneous, even lengthy words of regret and ongoing devotion; for myself, I fancy a mass outpouring of bereavement, a stampede of verbal processing, so heartfelt that the sky will hear and know that I had been below it for even a short while.

However, my hard-working, unselfish grandma would not have countenanced or even understood such a luxury of words and public emotion. A few carefully-measured sentences, stoically acknowledged, were more than full tribute for this deceased.

After the graveside interment, we had about an hour before the memorial service proper.

22 comments:

citizen of the world said...

A fitting memorial for her, then. I think it is most sensible to match the service to the person. At my brother's funeral, we palyed a tape of a CCR song because he would have liked that. But it was still wrenching.

furiousBall said...

i agree with citizen of the world. my dad's funeral, there as this big silly picture of him, and it was the only thing large enough to display next to the coffin. i cringed when someone suggested it, my dad shouldn't be memorialized as that goofy guy. but his sense of humor was so much a vital part of getting his heart. and i'm glad i relented, because dad would have wanted that.

it always seems to work out that way.

flutter said...

I am so totally enraptured with this

Claire said...

I really would have liked your grandma Dorothy! I suspect she cared for you more than you know. That 7th grade flower project she helped you with probably made her summer.

Jazz said...

Citien has hit the nail on the head with her comment.

Bob said...

while some people actually do specify how they want their funeral and memorial services to be conducted, all in all memorial services are really to help us left behind deal with the loss. While I tend to agree that they should in some way match the character of the deceased, ultimately these services should in some way help provide closure. Some do this by celebrating the deceased - the irish wake, for instance - and others in sombre ceremonies. Ultimately if you were helped by the service, then it was appropriate.

lime said...

somehow a gushing and sentimental remembrance doesn't seem fitting here but i am gripped by throat at the description of how your father's stoicism dissolved so quickly. his grief is palpable in your words.

susan said...

I have to agree with Bob. If it helps the most to play CCR or to say that the deceased was a hard worker...it's all for those left behind and what they think would be most fitting.

Greta said...

So beautiful. I linked over 'cuz of your whore comment on furiousball ;) So glad I did.

Um...also...somebody please tell me that they can see FB's avatar occasionally blinking at them. Seriously, do I need to up my trazedone?

Diana said...

I don't know about your Grandma. In that picture she looks like she's about ready to bust a gut. Perhaps she was a merry prankster at heart but had to squelch it in front of the cows? I'm told cows don't have much of a sense of humor and maybe one ill-timed chuckle can offend their sensibilities and put them off their milk.

In any case, your sense of humor must have come from somewhere. I suspect it came from both sides of the family, perhaps well hidden.

Claudia said...

It amazes me how a generation or two can so alter a person's convictions and morals, how much we've changed, as humans, and not always for the best, you know? Perhaps we can voice our opinions better now, and as women, have more power in the world, but back then, the power was in the home, and they ruled, those grandmothers of greatness and majesty, with an iron fist and an apron filled with yummy scents and security. You're a beautiful person, and now I see why.
* mwah *

Princess Pointful said...

It is funny how the circumstances can seem to suit the person so.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This was so beautifully written. I read it yesterday and returned, still with nothing good enough to say but to let you know that I was here.

"By day's end, any self-possession I'd started out with had been adroitly flayed by the Ginsu knife that was my dad's grief."

This stands as one of the most brilliant sentences I have ever read.

I'm sorry for your family's huge ongoing loss.

cathy said...

I was unable to attend my maternal Grandmother's funeral. I still haven't been able to grieve for her properly. It's like having a fishbone in my throat.

Say It said...

I'm not sure what to say other than wow. You have captured both a mental image and emotional imprint.

Pam said...

I love your gutsy and honest way of writing.What you write is interesting and delivered so well.I just had to look back at previous posts of yours-perceptive, humourous -they make for great reading.If I had to fit the funeral to the person, my Dad's would be a doozy.His coffin would be badly put together with masking tape and wire (like everything else in his shed)with a badly handpainted sign in thin wobbly black paint that read "this way up".With his history of hand-painted signs its a wonder he didn't write a sign on my mother's birthing bits, saying"this way out" when I entered the world.Your family looks like fun.

Minnesota Matron said...

I just felt how fleeting this time on the planet is, reading your post. Very sweet. And thank goodness we look better living it than we used to. Lovely tribute.

jameil1922 said...

love it. i think about death probably over a lot but i attribute that to how much of it i had to deal with fairly young. your thoughts of "a mass outpouring of bereavement, a stampede of verbal processing, so heartfelt that the sky will hear" sounds almost eerily like i want for my own funeral.

velvet said...

Yet another touching post. I suppose that she, as no-nonsense as she sounded, would have approved the economy of language.

pistols at dawn said...

I'm going to go make some eloquent friends right now.

Dorky Dad said...

A funeral really should reflect the person. My sister's funeral was totally packed -- seems as if she had many, many more friends than even she thought she had. It was quite amazing.

Glamourpuss said...

The words fit the character, no?

Puss