A Family Funeral

Late last Tuesday night, my grandma died.

Grief has been in the periphery of my vision all weekend, and I have avoided looking it square in the face, mostly because I don’t know what I will find there and how it will change me. Also, the whole situation is improbable. My grandmother dead? My grandma to be grieved?

Grandma was not a person of grief but of cheerfulness and hard work and practicality, of swift pats on the knee or a brisk kiss on the cheek, of getting out leftovers on Sunday night.

I did not like to see her lying there in the open casket partly because she never lay still like that. She was always doing and moving. Even in her last months, they had to put up a child-gate at the door to her apartment to keep her from wandering off in a fit of usefulness. And her face in the coffin was not right–they hadn’t drawn in her eyebrows and all the color had faded from her hair. But the hands were hers: round knuckles, dark, familiar sunspots on their backs. (But even her hands were never still and folded like that in my memory–they too were always moving, and usually wet from the water in the kitchen sink…)

I feel as if I am writing this underwater–all of my movements and thoughts are slower. I am unsure of my own feelings, but I’m trying to speak for all of us anyway, which is probably foolish. At the visitation on Friday night, I sat in the front pew with my sister and cousin and Mary suddenly said, “For some reason, I didn’t think this would be so sad.” I didn’t think so either. I didn’t think she would be gone. She was never gone and now she is. I didn’t really know that even in old age, death is ugly like that. It takes. The rest of us know how to keep going, sure, but our roots feel lost without her.

The funeral service was good. I played a few hymns on cello, which wound my nerves up tight into a little ball, the siblings shared memories, and, in an unexpected turn of events, the family stood up front and sang. My grandma would have said it was so nice. I was once publicly chastised in a college class for using that word, but for my grandma it was rich with meaning: appropriate, sweet, lovely, good and right, just-so. It was very nice and mostly we did not cry. Probably because we don’t understand yet. And we cannot express.

We don’t understand this impossible balance between the finite and the infinite. Her face and her voice and her words and even her approval of our niceness are all gone. But she read to my mother and my mother read to me. And when she laughed very, very hard her face crumbled up helplessly like she was crying. The same thing happens to my mother, and sometimes to me. She got up early, early every morning and prayed for children, grandchildren, friends, missionaries whom she’s never even met. These things are infinite, especially that last. At its highest point, her very active love for us meant very actively giving us over to the grace of God.

We came to her to find home, but she knew all along that there was a home and a Host beyond and above, bigger and realler. And in the last year of her life up in Minnesota she asked and agitated again and again to be taken home, until even she was not sure what she meant. But Jesus knew. The home that we found at her table she’s even now finding, to an infinite degree, with Christ.

My grandpa is very feeble, and tired, and now also pretty sad. But what he said over and over this weekend, is this: Christ Jesus does all things well. He did not say much else, but I suppose the things we repeat most often are the things we know we must preach to ourselves: Christ Jesus does all things well.

6 thoughts on “A Family Funeral

  1. Several…far too many…of our dear friends have gone to be with the Lord in the past few weeks. This expresses our feelings so well. In spite of our, and their, faith and hope, we didn’t think it would be so sad, lonely, empty, bewildering. Thank you for expressing it so well.

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