My sister and I with Frances, image courtesy of the Browns
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 31, 2016
I think I slept ok. Yesterday was long and busy enough to make that happen. As usual, I set my alarm to look responsible. A floor below, I could hear the typical traffic of the house and headed down to join the noise. The coffee was its usual hot and ready and I grabbed something to eat. Five days had come and gone pretty fast, but it was time to get realistic about what was to come. Ahead of me was another long drive, alone, but now with a double dose of heavy heartedness. Frankly, I am not sure how I made the drive up with only the breakup under my belt. Knowing that I am driving home for more heartache was insufferable, but I had no choice. I had to get myself home. It was decided that it would only be my sister coming home for the service, meaning she had to have her own car. In addition to needing to get herself down there, she had to first stay with the kids for another hour because her husband had a meeting with a client in the morning.
The thinking was that I would leave and she wouldn’t be too far behind. With this in mind, I didn’t see the point in taking a shower there. All the attempts at gussying up would best be made at home. During the drive back, I was feeling extremely nervous. Miraculously, I had managed to steer clear of the truth of what had taken place for days. In the beginning, I thought that perhaps my family was right; there was no need for me to be there any sooner. I realized now, that I was basically jumping into a hot frying pan as a result. I was second-guessing what I wrote for the program on behalf of my sister and I. Here was my chance to be liquid with words and I thought I stumbled and hadn’t said enough or the right thing. I had no clue what I was going to wear to the viewing or at the service tomorrow. I had no real sense that any of this even happened, nor how I was going to respond. Thank goodness again for the XM comedy radio station to neutralize my thoughts, because it would have been just as easy for me to pull over on the side of the turnpike and fall in my feelings. I would have been one big, hurling ball of irrepressible emotion.
I had already known from an earlier conversation that my parents would most likely not be there when I got home. There were some things at the funeral home and at my grandparent’s that they had to take care of before the viewing. Immediately, I began to get ready when I got in the door. It was difficult. I was more or less bumbling around. Fumbling almost. The viewing was scheduled from 5:00 - 8:00 pm and I knew that my sister would be arriving soon. I tried my best to put together an “outfit” so that would be one less thing to worry about. The shirt and pants were ironed by my robot self and my nails got a half-ass coat of polish. The earrings that I decided to wear have a bit of a story. On this recent trip out to the Midwest for filming, I purchased black dangling earrings outline and encased with specks of Dakota gold. My original plan was to give them to my sister, but I was still on the fence. What can I say? They were growing on me. They weren’t quite my style, but they looked like something my grandmother would wear, and now that was more precious to me than anything. I decided to wear them. Besides having made that definitive decision, I was back to my robot self. When my sister arrived, she got settled in, came up and down the steps a few times to talk and got ready.
I drove my car to the viewing, to give her a break. To our dismay, the traffic was hellacious. Around here, the bewitching hour is anytime between 3:30 and 4:30 pm. Where my parents live, there is a community college and a high school and slow turning lights on two lane streets. On the inside, my blood was reaching its boiling point. We had somewhere that we needed to be. I made a quick assessment of the stopped lane of cars and made a u turn in right in the middle of the street, thinking that the alternative route would be much better. It was not; it was as bad or worse. Every car and every person was on the road at the same time. The world was working against me. Taking twice as long as it normally would, we finally got to funeral home. When I turned the ignition off, I stopped breathing and felt panicked. I had no time to think about this or for reality to hit me. Only when we got out of the car and I saw a friend of my aunt’s that I hadn’t seen in years, I knew that I was not ready. I hadn’t even thought about all the people that I would have to see. For a brief moment we caught up. Probably seeing the shell-shocked look on my face, he left my sister and I in the parking lot.
I know I was breathing, but I couldn’t tell. I was not ready. The last funeral I went to was for the father of my ex-boyfriend. Although I was there for him, I don’t do well with funerals. These are not events I ordinarily attend. There are a few that I had not gone too that I thought I should have, including my grandmother’s sister, who passed away months before my grandmother. Since I was a child, my mother has always told me that I would have enough funerals to go to in my life; there is no need to go to them all. I understand this sounds ridiculous, but that was fine by me. Death is my least favorite topic. I am extremely emotionally and sensitive to be pragmatic like some people are about death. It doesn’t take much for me to get way too caught up in my mind about what it all means, existentially. As soon as we walk in, we see my aunt (youngest) talking to the staff at the desk about the cold temperature in the chapel room. Her eyes were red from crying. I was not ready. Luckily there weren’t many other people in the hallway. Everyone was congregated in the chapel room, but I had to keep walking. I was going to the bathroom and it was past the open door where I knew my grandmother would be lying in rest. I couldn't look in. With blinders on, I walked past and fast. I desperately wanted to walk right out the exit door that was next to the bathroom. I was going to do it, but my sister and aunt wouldn’t allow me.
I tried to stall in the bathroom as long as I could, but they were forcing me to come out. Inhale, exhale, and inhale. I walked to the chapel room door without looking in and see the picture of my grandmother in the sign holder. This big smile, with big glasses warmed my heart and saddened it simultaneously. Before I walked in, both my mother and my aunt tried to pacify me by saying that she looked good, but what does that really mean? The moment I walked through the doorway, in my mind, the room got quiet. All volumes down as I still tried my best to look everywhere else but towards the front. There were a lot of old and familiar faces, some I hadn’t seen in years and some I wasn’t expecting to see. My dear friend must have told our other friends because one was already there and it struck me, all of it. I hugged and waved and the time was here. I had to go up front. Nothing can ever prepare you. I was extremely nervous for several reasons. Traumatized may be an exaggeration, but that is how I look back at my paternal grandmother’s funeral. When it was time for her viewing, she did not look like herself. It was horrible and we were all unhappy and disturbed. I could see in that situation how someone can look “good.” Although, selfishly, to me, standing there, looking, “good,” would be looking alive and being alive. Needless to say, I cried and touched her and stood in disbelief. This is the other thing I was afraid of; my absence from home and literally getting back in town with enough time to shower and get dressed, was not enough time for me to be able to walk in here and not find this entire scene surreal...I was helped to a seat. I was not together.
Over the course of the night more family and friends poured in. I hadn’t told many people and some, I don’t even know how they even knew where or when it was. Having people support you when you aren’t even expecting it at a time like this meant the world. Strangely enough, as comforting as it is, it pulls at your emotions even more. Perhaps you are grateful for your friends and loved ones or you feel touched that they care. My dear friend, who my mom calls my “soul mate,” had shown up with coffee for me, without being asked. It may seem small, but this is why I can’t live without her. She always knows what I want and what I need, sometimes before I do. I imagine that as emotional as I was, people may have thought I had something else besides coffee in there the way I was holding on to the cup for dear life, which given the circumstances would have been the only thing that could have been better.
I must have looked just as I felt, as weak as water. My handler, my sister, already had a plan and politely tried to excuse us before the end of the viewing. I was overwhelmed and I know she was thinking of what was best for me, best for us. The plan was to go shopping for clothes for the service. Neither of us felt prepared. Whatever I had on today was thrown together and I wanted to be put together at least for the service. At the moment, I didn’t have anything in my closet that I thought would be appropriate for the weather or occasion. Leaving proved not as easy as we thought. People that wanted to speak with us saddled the path and it was almost an aggressive nudge in the end that got us out of the door. By that time my friend/lady boss who now flanked my other side, joined us. She and my sister are sister spirit animals; they are caring and don’t take no stuff! I felt like I had security. Since the two of them rarely see each other, the conversation once we were free and clear of the funeral home and in the parking lot, was quite funny. I am forever thankful for these two amazing ladies.
This time my sister drove my car, which compared to her cars, was like a go-kart. She is made of much stronger emotional material than I. The time was getting too late for an extensive mall trip as planned, ergo, we decided to try Marshalls near my parents. Typically we are pretty successful at Marshalls. Lots of bonding moments have happened hunched over clothing racks at numerous Marshalls across the country. We bumped around in there for a bit and found ourselves eying some leather pants close to the front, paired with an equally knockout shirt. She couldn’t get enough of the shirt and she wanted me to get the pants. Instantly I squinted my nose and agreed that they were indeed hot pants, but questioned how I was going to get away with wearing this to our grandmother’s funeral. We go back and forth and she insists that I get the pants. Her selling line was that our grandmother Frances, would love it. Frances was not a shrinking violet. I've yet to see anyone more beautiful than she in her younger days when women "dressed." With her hat just so, gloves and heels, I dare anyone to rival her in the days of old Hollywood glamour. As the fashions changed and the prints became more liberal, my grandmother morphed into a mix of Mrs. Roper with the boldness and Claire Huxtable with the cross-cultural fineness. Even today she was dressed in an emerald and gold kaftan, made of velvet that my aunt purchased while on Hajj (in Mecca), that she apparently requested. It was flawless; perfect for the queen she was and will always be. This was all I needed to surrender to the pants. My grandmother would want us to always express ourselves and be open to being on the edge. They are only pants, if I end up looking like I am about to perform “I Love Rock and Roll,” instead of paying my respects to my grandmother, so be it.
Our final plan of action was to get carry out at our Pho spot. Not only is it in the same shopping center as Marshalls, but also we frequent it often when my sister is in town. We can rely on it for tasty food and I knew that they had good, strong drinks at the bar from past trips with my friend who originally took me there. Unfortunately for my sister, while we were perched on the barstools, my brain was still all over the place as she pointed to each item on the menu, trying to get me to figure out what I wanted so she could place the order. Half-heartedly I picked something and we talked to the bartender about drinks and her recommendations. After reading the descriptions again and thinking over the suggestions, we placed our drink order while we waited for our food. Sunglasses were out and diva faces on and we took a selfie sipping our drinks. To Frances…