Times of tumult…

I don’t know why, but for a couple of months now my favorite word to say is “tumult“.

My 94 year old grandmother died just after midnight April 15th.  Which lead me to say that she was just living out the cliche of “nothing is certain except death and taxes…”  While she had been ill, I am going to blame the IRS for her death.  This year she had a hell of a time filing her taxes and even had to pay because of an early withdrawal from a CD that was going to mature not five days after she needed the cash.  And she had some capital gains from stocks which got a little confusing.  When I spoke to her during her tax filing crisis, she was out of her head with confusion and worry.   This isn’t the kind of stuff that would have bothered her at 64 or 74 or even 84, but at 94 it seemed to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I went down to West Virginia the morning after she died to be with my mother and help her with the funeral arrangements.  One thing that we both learned during that trip to the funeral home is that I am a cheap bastard.

Me:  How about that coffin? (pointing at a wood box marked $1080)

Funeral Director:  That is for cremation only.

Me:  How about this one? (pointing at an ugly red coffin marked $2050)

Mother:  No.  That is ugly.

Me:  But it is the cheapest one…

Later when we were talking more about the arrangements:

Funeral Director:  This is the price for our package with two showings and the funeral service. (handing me a sheet with a price of $3995 on it) 

Me:  Um, how about one showing?  Or we could even skip that part.

Mother:  No.  Your grandmother has a lot of friends and family and they are going to want to see her.

Funeral Director:  And there is an extra fee for the cemetary for preparing for the burial and a little extra for opening the cemetary on a Saturday. ($600 to dig and $50 for the weekend)

Me:  Dude, I could dig a hole for three hundred bucks.

Mother: (nervous throat clearning sound)

Me:  And we could do the funeral on Friday instead…

Mother:  No.  We have people coming in from out of town.  It has to be Saturday.

Funeral Director:  You’ll need to choose a guest registry book and you can do service cards as well.

Me:  Seriously?

Mother: (acting as if money is no object) We’ll take this book and these cards. (another $100)

Funeral Director:  Now the obituary as you have stated it is going to be about $400 to run on two days with a death notice tomorrow and a funeral notice on Saturday.

Me: 400 dollars?!

Funeral Director:  The first five lines are free and then it is five dollars per line after.

Me:  Well, I thought five lines pretty much summed it up well…

Mother:  (this is where I am totally paraphrasing what she said) No.  I want every name of everyone she ever met listed as well as the names of all 90 of her organizations and clubs as well as the names of the neighbor’s pets.  And I want a picture.

Funeral Director:  A picture will be about another $90.

Me:  I could just go around town to every newspaper and draw in a picture for you.

Mother:  You really aren’t as helpful as I would have thought.

Me:  Yeah, well, I’m totally planning your funeral.

Last night while I was trying to sort out my grandmother’s important financial papers I kept finding magazines.  Over the past year she had signed up for dozens of magazines, mostly through Publisher’s Clearninghouse, which she was absolutely sure she was going to win one day.  She had both Time and Newsweek, Forbes, Fortune, Money, Entrprenuer’s Monthly, Money Inc., Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, Organic Gardening, Southern Living and on and on.  My mother, who has lived with my grandmother for 30 years now had no idea that Grandmother was getting all of those magazines.

Me:  Why didn’t you stop her from odering these?

Mother:  I had no idea.

Me:  But you can’t see the living room carpet because it is covered with all sorts of magazines addressed to her.  You didn’t put two and two together?

My theory here being that a 94 year old person should not be paying large sums of money for year long subscriptions to magazines that only she is interested in.  Although, maybe she was just optimistic that she would live out the subscriptions or that my mother would become fascinated with Forbes.  Don’t know.

The night that my mother called me to tell me that my grandmother died, I curled up in the fetal position and cried like a baby.  I didn’t take it well.  Not because it was tragic, she had lived a very long and very happy life.  I was crying because my safety net was gone.  She was the one person I could always count on to have my back.  She took on my teachers and college tutition bursars and the City of Pittsburgh when they booted my car for $800 worth of parking tickets.  She fought for me like a lion.  There is nothing in the world she wouldn’t have done for me.  And having someone like that in your corner allows you to be reckless and to try things that you otherwise wouldn’t.  I knew she would always bail me out of a jam and she would always love me no matter what I did.  If I had ever gotten caught in a foreign country with a bunch of drugs, she is the one person who would get me out, even if she had to tunnel into the Midnight Express prison to get me. 

Now she is gone and I am at a loss…  I know that I have people who love me and people who will support me but I don’t know that any of them will ever be able to be as ferocious in her support of me.  It’s a little scary.

My mother has asked me to speak at the funeral.  At first I said no because I didn’t think I would be able to get through it without breaking down and I don’t do that in public.  But I have had a change of heart.  I know that my grandmother would want me to stand up for her as she always did for me.  And I think I might have gotten all of the crying out of my system, or at least I hope I have.  So, here is what I plan to say:

I’m counting on the other speakers to regale you with stories about my grandmother, and there are many.  But I wanted to talk about a thought I have been having about her for awhile now.  That thought has gained some clarity over the past few days.  It helped me figure out what I wanted to say about her and what I wanted to say on her behalf.

 

My grandmother loved this family.  She loved her parents and her brothers and sisters profoundly.  And when she and her brothers and sisters grew up and started to expand the family, her love for it grew exponentially.  My grandmother adored her nieces and nephews and that love spread on down to her great nieces and nephews.

 

I know that she loved being our grandmother and L and SK’s great grandmother, but she loved being your Aunt Meg just as much.  When someone in the family would achieve something special, be it getting into college, winning a basketball tournament, getting a great job, she was so proud of them.  And she would brag about their achievements to anyone and everyone.  When someone in the family was facing a time of tumult, she would pray for you and worry about you – she was a very good worrier– but she always had faith that any member of her family would pull through whatever faced them. 

 

Without a doubt, her best days were family gatherings up at the farm.  She loved being with you, spending time with you and hearing what everyone was up to, good and bad.  Anyone who sat down beside her for a chat was her favorite person at that moment in time.  She even loved the picnics that ended up with her storming off to the car after an argument with Uncle Dana, and I believe there were more than a few of those.  It was also close to impossible to drag her away from the Christmas parties at Dana and Kathy’s or any of the many Yarling gatherings.  She never wanted to be done visiting with you.

 

I tend to believe that the reason she lived so long is because she loved this family so much.  You kept doing interesting things and she didn’t want to miss out on any of it.  And you kept on giving her great-great nieces and nephews and she just had to be around to meet them.  She loved us all so very much and she was so very proud of this family.

 

 

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