Grandma's Funeral

Grandma passed away last Thursday, four hours after I sent Scrabble Grandma. Bill and I made the decision that the boys should go to the funeral, so I took them to Iowa last Saturday. The visitation was Sunday afternoon and the funeral was on Monday.

When I got the news about Grandma, I waited 12 hours to tell the boys that Grandma had died. It took that long to work out what to say to them. Grandma lived a very long time and her body was worn out. We were going back to Iowa for Grandma’s “funeral” – a celebration of her life. Grandma’s soul was in heaven, but Grandma didn’t need her body in heaven. The funeral is one way for people to say good-bye to Grandma’s body. Grandma would look like she was sleeping in a box called a casket.

How did Grandma die? Grandma’s kidneys failed. The kidneys are a major organ and those organs need to work together. When one fails, they all begin to fail. Did it hurt? No, the doctors gave Grandma pain medicine so she wouldn’t hurt. She died while she was sleeping – but only because her major organs were worn out. You can live without a leg like your other great-grandma did: a leg isn’t a major organ. But kidneys, heart, and lungs, those are.

“What about a mandible, Mom? (Tee hee…) I think that’s somewhere on the head, Mom.” Liam had built up his anatomical vocabulary in a weekly human body workshop at school this spring.

At the funeral home, the flowers around Grandma’s casket weren’t flat funeral flowers. Mom said they asked the florist for garden flowers. Three bouquets of summer’s best, from roses and lilies to iris and daisies, were in perfect full bloom.

The visitation started quietly with just the immediate family before the doors opened to extended family and friends. At 95 years old, Grandma did not have many friends at the funeral. They were already waiting at the Scrabble board. Yet over 200 people came to give their condolences: family and friends that bloomed from one matriarch.

Grandma taught school before she became a mother. And long before she became a grandmother and a great grandmother to 43 grandchildren. At the visitation, I visited with cousins that I had not seen in years, and I needed introductions to their children and significant others.

Will chose not to go up to see Grandma in the casket. By the end of the day, he was walking by the casket, but he never approached it. Liam wanted to see Grandma. I was with him on the first visit when the young undertaker came over to talk to us. On bended knee, he pointed out Grandma’s pink cheeks and immediately put one hand up above his own head and one down low. He explained to Liam that he had put blush on Grandma’s face because when the heart stops pumping, blood stops circulating. After that 30-second explanation, the undertaker held his hands side-by-side: the one that had been above his head was white the one down low was very red. Liam was impressed.

Then, Liam reached out to touch Grandma’s hand. My whispered “D” in “Don’t” was overshadowed by the undertaker’s matter-of-fact, “Sure, you can touch Grandma.” So Liam touched her hand. Another time at the casket, my aunt joined Liam. They chatted a bit, and my aunt walked away. From 10 feet away I saw Liam’s mouth say, “Are you really dead, Grandma?” Later my aunt said that he told her he thought he had seen Grandma’s chest move like she was breathing. My aunt confirmed that she wasn’t alive, that she was with God. “So, it was like an optical illusion?” Liam checked in at the casket throughout the day. I followed him up a few times and ultimately decided he was just curious and didn’t need more explanation.

After the visitation, Liam confided in me some information for which I needed an oxygen mask to drop down from the heavens: “You know, Mom, I couldn’t get Grandma’s mouth open.”

After murmuring “Thank you, dear Lord,” and really meaning it, the definition of mandible hit me. Mandible… the bottom jaw.

Once a teacher, always a teacher. Grandma, thanks for that one last lesson.