Oct 22, 2011

Nana's Funeral

My Nana was 92 when she died.  She had a long, wonderful life and we were all expecting her to pass.  Many of us woke up that morning at 5 am,the exact time that she actually passed.  This is not unusual in my family, and so none of us were surprised.  Nana went to heaven just a couple of days before a huge ice storm hit Southern Missouri, the effects of which would be felt for weeks afterward.

The twins and I had left before the ice storm hit, so we were safely ensconced at my Uncle Melvin's house, which had not lost electricity and was heated by wood,when the storm started getting bad.  Some of us would not be able to make it if they hadn't already left, and my two older kids were in that group.  I was too afraid they would have something bad happen to them to have them risk leaving then.  I felt lonely without them but I was so glad to know they were safe.  Northern Missouri hadn't gotten it as bad as we were about to get it in Southern Missouri. On the other hand, I have never seen my Uncle Melvin so happy as he was that weekend, stuck in the country with a house full of family and firewood and food.  Odd to feel so safe and warm when you should be mourning, but that is the way I remember it.  He just kept bringing in wood and smiling.  The kids were all playing and my generation, the "parents" now, talked, cooked and stayed up late.  It was, in short, wonderful, even with the circumstances.

During this time, we "cousins" discovered a little secret about our Nana.  When we were little, there was no "favorite" among Nana's grand kids.  This subject was never even discussed that I remember.  I was always sure that I was her favorite.  Such was her genius and love that every single one of her grandchildren believed the exact same thing.  The way she accomplished this was to never treat anyone any differently when we were all together.  Instead, when she was alone with each of us, she would get teary eyed and hug you and say "You know you're special to me, don't you?" Then she would hug you so hard you couldn't breathe and had to beg for mercy.   This phrase, which I am positive was true for each and every one of us, allowed us all to believe she loved us best, without ever causing any jealousy.  We laughed so hard when we discovered that we had all had exactly the same experience!!  In all those years no one had ever let on to anybody else that she loved us best.  That, I dare say, is an ideal grandmother.  She was a woman who had all her babies at home and could whip up a 3 course meal out of a cup of dirt and some water.  For her, a fun week end consisted of having all the boys home with their wives and grandchildren and having music parties all night long, only to turn around and fix breakfast for everybody.  This was, to my Nana, a good time, in fact, the best time.  It certainly gave us lots of wonderful memories involving waking up with all your cousins strung all over blankets on the candy striped carpet of her living room, smelling biscuits already in the oven.

With the ice storm and all, I was pretty impressed that we planned to still have the funeral. The actual decisions were all made by our parents, her sons, who seemed not to doubt that pressing on with the schedule was the right decision.  So on we went.

My cousin Jimmy drove my van, with only me and twins as passengers, due to the Rock Star and The Beautiful Redhead being stuck in North Missouri because of the ice.  I was heart broken about this when we started out, leaving Seneca Missouri for Southwest City via Route 43.  Shortly into the trip I was thinking maybe it was God's plan after all, because this way at least two of my children would live!  If you have never traveled this road, I think you should get on Google Earth right now and take that trip in an imaginary van with two imaginary twin 10 year old boys and, this part is important, you have to picture it all ICE COVERED with limbs (see all those trees?) down everywhere.

I come from a family of fearless men.  Maybe that's where I get my sense of adventure, but even I, 15 minutes into the trip, was clutching my cousins arm and saying in a trembling voice, "Are you SURE we should be out in this weather??  No one will be able to come and help us if we slide off the road..."  He just shrugged and looked at me like I was nuts, pointing out that we were in a caravan with the rest of our crazy  fearless family.  So on we went.  Big pieces of ice catching the wind from the car in front and crashing down in front of us?  No big deal.  Huge ice covered limbs over the road?  Nothing a 4 wheel drive can't handle, just let the trucks go first......  I thought of my mother and how she had "nerve pills" for times like these and wondered why I hadn't gotten some such prescription by that time. Useless thoughts always come to me at such times.  I think it's a symptom of shock, focusing on the silly little details to distract your mind from blowing all it's circuits at one time.  It's odd, the thoughts that go through people's minds before a funeral.  They would probably make a best selling book if you could get people to tell the truth!  I remember that trip through the lens of terror, trapped in that van and just watching to see what was going to happen next.  It did not seem possible that we could just drive to Southwest City and have a funeral for Nana.  It seemed like something, something BAD was just about to happen.  Nothing bad did happen, but I felt like kissing the ice covered ground when we arrived.

When we got to the church, there was no electricity or heat, so we kept on our coats and lit candles.  It was actually the most beautiful experience I've ever had at a funeral.  And not just because I was so glad nobody wrecked on the way there, either.  The light was soft.  The singing was acapella, and nobody was there to see us cry but us.  It was pretty stress free, as funerals go, and I get the most comforting feeling every time I remember it.

Because only crazy people would head out in that kind of weather to begin with, there were only a few people who were not family that came. The preacher, of course, and the much beloved Frank McKee, who ran the garage in town are the only ones I remember.  There might have been a few more, but since I have been 3 years old, if Frank McKee was in the room he was all I ever could see.  He will be immortalized in a blog post all his own sometime.  He probably drove the wrecker, I forgot to look.  And he had his overalls on. Had we known no one else would be there (how could we not have known that?), we could have all worn overalls, and been just as warm with less bulk!  He was about 10 years younger than my Nana, I believe, one of her life long friends, and it would be the last time I would ever see him before he passed a few years later.  I know they are both having the best time in heaven now.

After the candlelit funeral we headed back to our cars in order to drive down the normally pretty, winding, and now ice covered lane to the cemetery.  Nobody had thought to bring boots any more than we thought to just wear overalls, and I should take this opportunity to make a public service announcement about the danger of dress shoes in ice covered cemeteries.  It's not a good idea.  Just don't do it. We all made it with just a few minor slips and slides.   At one point, when we were all huddled around the grave, silently astounded that we were still doing this (!)(at least I don't think I was the only one), some ice broke free of a tree in the distance, slinging the whole top of the trunk back and forth in the gray sky, ice showering down and making an interesting background for our frozen, surreal thoughts.  I know for sure I wasn't the only one thinking that was a sign from her that she was free.  A goodbye wave, if you will.  We all smiled.

After that we still had to get back in the cars and get back to where we came from.  For me, this was just the first step in a hair raising trip that lasted many hours.  I mark that trip as the last time I've ever voluntarily gotten in the car to drive anywhere in bad weather again.  I followed my cousin Jimmy back as far as KC with many stops to wipe off my headlights.  That was in the daylight.  Without him to follow I had no confidence but I just had to keep going anyway.  It was horrible, trying to see the white line under the snow blowing all over the highways.  We made it, but I will never forget that trip and hope never to have to anything like that again.  I also learned what "snow-blind" really meant.  In short, I learned my lesson.  Finally.  Some things take a long time, but that did it for me.

It certainly made for a memorable time, though.  Everybody in Southern Missouri sold out of gas generators and a lot of people didn't get electricity back for a week.  By the time we made it back to the other end of the state, home was never so sweet.  I was so grateful to be home, so grateful to be one of Nana's grandchildren, so thankful for my crazy, fearless family, and most especially I was thankful because I was always special to my Nana.

This was her legacy, to make every person feel like they were secretly her favorite, loved more, naturally.  There is no doubt in any of our minds that we were special to her, all for our own unique reasons.  It is exactly right for her, and so was her funeral.  She was always so welcoming, never stood on ceremony, and would never have been thrown by a little thing like no electricity.  She knew what really mattered and she never lost sight of it.

We should all be so lucky.