Thursday, May 14, 2009

Family Matters

This past weekend we held a memorial service for my grandmother, who passed away two weekends ago. Practically the entire family from my mom's side of the tree flew in for the service. And while the week leading up was marked with the occasional bout of tears or blank stares while flipping through the mental memory bank, the weekend was mostly smiles and laughs from Friday through Sunday. 

Though the circumstance for the gathering was unfortunate, the weekend reinvigorated the importance of family. It's easy to take these people for granted, but their contributions to our lives are priceless. And therefore, not worth overlooking. 

So, with one less family member here with me, this weekend triggered some critical thinking on the value of family. In particular, it forced me to take a step back and reflect on the relationship I had with my grandmother.  Now, I'm not the type to get all mushy with my posts ... but occasionally it's necessary (if only for me, to help mend the wounds) ... 

I hadn't lost a family member in the last 10-15 years. So, when I knew my grandmother's time was coming, I almost didn't know how to feel. We hear all the time about military dying overseas, young children caught in crossfire, or celebrities passing away, but I forgot what it felt like for the loss to hit home. 

When my dad's name came up on the screen of my phone at 2:30pm on a Saturday, I knew what the call was about. I knew my parents had gone out to be with my grandparents, knowing she could go any time. Even when my dad broke the news, it hit me with a rather mild swell of emotion. In my head, I knew I should be hurting more, but I didn't. 

Until I spoke with my grandfather. 

When I heard his voice, I pictured grandpa and grandma together, sitting on the couch watching golf or grandma nagging my "selectively hard-of-hearing" grandpa or opening presents with them Christmas morning. They came in a pair. I knew nothing different. Picturing weekends with grandpa, but no grandma, was when I finally broke down. 

After some deliberation over the best location for a service (Palm Desert, Minnesota, etc.), my mom, her sister and my grandpa settled on somewhere local. My sister and cousins booked flights, and the service was a go for the following Saturday. My mom asked that all the grandkids (there's only 5 of us) say something at the service, whether it be a favorite memory or a reading. I'm not one for regurgitating other people's words, so I searched for something to speak on. 

I'm sure it was easier for my two cousins, who are both a bit older, and were fortunate to spend quite a bit more time with my grandma when she was younger and more active. My brother, sister and I had a bit more difficulty. Not that we didn't have any memories, but we were all hoping to come up with something of substance.

Most of the family had come into town the previous afternoon, and we'd spent that Friday evening having a few drinks, reminiscing, and taking over the dance floor at the American Legion in Newport Beach. I had time to catch up with my cousins and speak with my other grandmother. Fun was had by all, even my grandfather, who proceeded to show me up on the dance floor (not that it takes much, what with my typical white boy rhythm) despite a balky knee.

The morning of the service, I was still searching for the right words. We gathered for the service at a spot overlooking Newport Harbor, underneath a blanket of cloud cover. Family and friends started showing up, but the somber mood that typically accompanies a memorial apparently was lost in the weekend traffic. People embraced, smiled lovingly and laughed freely. Just as we were taking our seats,  call it divine intervention or simple coincidence, but the sun broke through. My mom would call it a "God thing." 

The service started in typical fashion (a prayer, tear-jerking song, a brief story of my grandma's life), and before I knew it, both my cousins had spoken and I was up. I didn't have an idea of what I wanted to say until I stepped to my feet. And then it just kind of spilled out. It wasn't necessarily meant to be humorous (but that tends to be my defense mechanism when speaking publicly), and wasn't nearly poetic, but I believe it communicated the void that will be left. It was going fine until I made eye contact with my grandfather during my last statement, "I'll miss my grandma." My voice gave out with the final syllable. 

That was the last tear shed on the weekend. The reception afterward was spent sharing stories, looking through old photos, catching up with everyone who attended and genuinely enjoying the time spent together. 

The day after the memorial was Mother's Day, which seemed appropriate. My grandmother always enjoyed having all of the family together. It didn't happen often since 2,000 miles  separated us, but when it did, it was as though we spent every weekend together. 

Everyone says this, but I feel fortunate to have known and had the grandma that I did. I'll forever remember watching sports together and bickering about Kobe Bryant (whom my grandma detested). And if this period in my life teaches me to value the time I have with my loved ones, I can only be that much more thankful for all she did for me.

Circa 1987.

Joan Maxine Seleen (1924 - 2009)

No comments: