Saturday afternoon I stood on the cemetery lawn while my family all headed back to their cars.
The viewing was over. The funeral was over. The processional was over. The graveside service was over.
But there it was…the carved casket…the object that now held the tabernacle that was home to my grandfathers spirit for almost 90 years…and it was all alone.
For the record I held it together at the viewing. I held it together as I slipped one last letter for him into the casket. And by what I can only call a miracle I held it together during my speech at his funeral. But then…standing there…oh heaven help me…I couldn’t leave him alone and I couldn’t hold it together anymore.
How could I just leave?
Not like this.
The man who taught me to drive, plant a garden , read a map, strike a match, order at a restaurant, use a ruler, open a soda can, use a camera, make homemade spaghetti sauce and a million other things…I couldn’t leave him alone. I couldn’t do it. And in my heart I knew that man…the man who bought me my first sketch book and ALWAYS encouraged my artwork, the man who every single time I failed assured me it was only because “I was ahead of my time”, the man who spent the last 40 years as my champion…he wouldn’t have left me all alone either. He would have waited with me until the end.
And so I stayed.
And my husband understood. Without a word he piled the kids into car and returned a few minutes later followed by the man driving the truck with the crane that would return my grandfather’s body back to the earth.
The man explained it wasn’t customary for family to be there while he performed his job. I explained to him that my sister (who stayed by my side) and I couldn’t leave until we knew our grandpa’s body was safely laid to rest. He looked uneasy but our husbands reassured the man we wouldn’t interfere with the process and the man began to be about his work.
And thus I spent a strange and interesting hour at the cemetery.
In that hour the man shared with us some fascinating facts and I learned a lot about the burial process. But during that hour without realizing it I was given one last gift by my grandfather. You see my grandpa has always, above all, wanted me to be alert to what is going on around me…to watch, learn, understand, document and then pass it on…a skill set that he not only lived but ingrained in my heart. Watch, learn, understand, document, and pass it on.
And as I stood in a field thick with the heritage of my ancestors…surrounded by my great grandparents and great great grandparents…I was given the golden opportunity to quietly and simply talk with my own children about life and death…about saying goodbye…about what is important…about my faith…and then to learn along with them as we saw firsthand how we bury our dead.
Even in death my grandpa was giving me the chance to not only continue learning but to teach my children what he had always taught me…watch, learn, understand, document, and pass it on.
As strange as it may sound it was such a sweet experience….one that I will never forget. And when it was over I was ok to leave.
This is the last photograph I have of me and my grandpa:
It was taken the evening before he passed away.
I didn’t think about it at the time but now as I look at the photo it feels like he is passing me the torch…giving me the chance to pick up where he left off…watching, learning, understanding, documenting, and passing it on..and in the process teaching my children to do the same. And I will try…I will try to do my best.
Oh grandpa…how much do I love you? How much am I indebted to you? How much will I miss you? Indeed, how lucky am I to have had something that makes saying goodbye so hard.