Friday was an abysmal, dark day with steady down pours and that accompanying tension that goes with a looming event. In this case the funeral for my dear Auntie. Couple that with I was/am getting sick, multiple familial factions were coming to town and…..
The ‘and’ as silly as it will seem, weighed heavy on me for several days. Days earlier I had met with the Pastor. I had seen him hold a service recently and liked his unique, gentle way of speaking of the departed and tying it together in a spiritual way. But, he was a bit edgy playing his guitar, quoting scripture and adding humor to his presentation.
So, when I met him this week, he listened to my input re Tillie. He honed in on her dances, dresses, shoes, barn gatherings and polka music ‘and’ he thought it would be a good, fun idea to play the Beer Barrel Polka. Oh, I thought, ‘I don’t know how that will go over. I mean there are some fairly uptight people that will be there’. He remarked “do you want a somber service or do you want to celebrate Tillie’s life?”
“What does your slide show represent?” he asked. Well, I told him it was indeed celebratory and showed her young and hopeful and jumped ahead to old and smiling. Well then he suggested we go with the one song that would bring relief to the tension and he would join it all together in a tidy, uplifting, spiritual way. ‘Ok’ I said.
Well as the week was winding down toward the funeral and as my health seemed to wind down with it and the weather turned bleak, I had persistant misgivings. Part of my thought was ‘what the heck this will be fun and she would/will love it’. Part of my mind got sucked into that ‘what will people think’ pit.
So, yesterday the day dawned chilly, dry and no sign of rain. It was a morning of making sure everyone driving knew how to get into the cemetary (a very stressful, tricky affair as the street address in no way provides the GPS systems accurate means of figuring out how to get there). My daughter over slept and missed her train (tears and angst on her end…scrambling to reach the next train and arrive via cab at the funeral home minutes before the service) and a series of other events that lets me know I would not be a good event planner.
The different factions of the family arrived looking grim, drawn and in deed somber. Hmmm? Was the Polka music the best idea. The Pastor was running late, having already officiated at two prior funerals (one being a 3 year old boy). The primary care giver, our sacred lady, called to say she would not be in attendance because a resident had suffered chest pains and an ambulance and fire were on scene. But, I thought, it is all good. I was in that zone, without meds I might add, and thought whatever happens happens. I can only do so much and that’s that (I ought to be here more often).
The slide show had a very first slide that had the word “JOY” etched in stone. I put it up on the large screen. It was my ‘pre-Polka’ way of relaxing everyone. Now it was my planted, psychological seed of positivity. The Pastor lead us in prayer and said a few preliminary salutations and then reached for the guitar. I couldn’t help but tighten. My wife clutched my arm. And, the Pastor launched into the Beer Barrel Polka. I figured maybe a verse or two, but no he hammered out four joyous verses of the Polka. And!!! to my surprise, my Aunt from the South starts moving her 93 y/0 frame with delight….clapping her hands and weaving side to side. I could see her son and daughter in law were looking at each other with a ‘WTH” look but, the Aunt was tapping her shoe and the there was a bit of whispering rush and humming through the room. In the end, when he leaned the guitar against the wall, there was applause. Well, I thought, now I can relax.
Remembrance presentations were offered up by my wife and a great niece and then I turned on my slide show, that I had spent weeks on. It started off nicely, but somewhere in my moments of watching with the others I hit a button on the remote. I didn’t notice, but the presentation jumped ahead from slide 30 to slide 74 and then ended at 84. Somehow I didn’t notice and in the end all the slides of family members were cut out and only showed me. They were none the wiser, but probably thought ‘what about us?’ (I resolved this later, when we all came back inside from the internment for coffee and cookies, I replayed the DVD in its entirety and everyone had their day with pics of them and Tillie).
After the indoor service we got into our vehicles and proceeded up a long winding road behind the hearse. Now that is a sobering moment. Some of this does work its way through into the present of your brain. Numb as you are it does invade, if not you others, who sob. By now it was colder, in the 40’s with a wind atop the hill. We arrived and exited our cars. This was more somber and final. We guided the older toward the canopy and chairs, which did not provide any respite from the wind. I had been in this exact spot 42 years earlier for her husband, Felix’s, funeral in January 1970 in a blizzard. This was a nicer day by far.
The Pallbearers, nephews and two of my sons, carried the casket to the graveside stand. The Pastor said a few words and sang a song version of the 23rd Psalms. Then he prayed and we listened to a lovely prayer of hope.
I then recalled a suggestion of the Funeral Director, that we could each pull a flower from the casket wreath and place it atop the casket and say a few words. I stood up and suggested we each do just that and I lead the way by removing a white rose from the floral arrangement and laid it atop the casket uttering ‘I love you Aunt Tillie. Rest well’. Others followed suit. Sobs, crying, solemn words and silence ensued as several dozen roses were laid atop the casket.
We somberly departed that casket, that canopy atop the hill and drove down to the funeral home again. We had cookies, coffee and tea and I ran the slide show in it’s entirety again. Then, I decided to ask for recollections about Aunt Tillie. Silence. Hmm? Well, not to be deterred and thinking ‘Come on now folks, remember the polka music…lighten up a bit’..I launched into additional comments about Tillie and soon others followed my lead and in the end, an eight year old great grand nephews, who often called her Grandma Tillie when he saw her said ‘She was a sweet, old lady’. Well said little guy. She was indeed.
We made our way to the after service event, an area restaurant that serves Italian. A table for 22 was set and everyone, as typical, sat with their own family units. Like a summit of sorts. Well, wine, martini’s other concoctions flowed and soon the hugs were forthcoming and the voices raised and the clinking of glasses was heard. Everyone ate well and when dessert came, one dollop of Spumoni ice cream had a candle for my father in law who celebrates his 79th birthday today. We loudly sang Happy Birthday to this gentle man.
In the end, all the factions hugged, said the appropriate, seemingly genuine remarks of love and compassion and then loaded up and went their separate ways.
I do hope at some point they could all recall Tillie’s smiles and hear the Beer Barrel Polka. And, Tillie, you did finally escape all those restraints didn’t you sweet girl?