It’s kinda funny – I talked through the entire funeral and viewing and emotional stuff with Jennifer and Susanna, and now don’t really feel the urge to write. But I guess I need to summarize.
Tuesday, we (Jennifer, Tom, Mama, Susanna, and I) left around 3pm. The van battery light came on as we were pulling out of the apt, but we continued driving because that’s what we do. The viewing started at 6, so we were running late – or right on time with minimal traffic. At about 5:30, we hit a snag – a wreck on the interstate brought traffic to a complete standstill. I called Daddy’s cell to let him know that we were stuck, and he sounded funny – like he was crying. I mentioned it and Mama said “oh, he probably is crying – they just had the private family viewing” – to which Jennifer and I replied “WHAT family viewing?!?” Apparently Daddy had asked her if we could leave in time to arrive for a 5:30 viewing, and she just didn’t think to mention it – she was so casual about it and when Jennifer and I freaked out, she still didn’t see what the big deal was – I mean, why would it be HER fault that she didn’t give us an opportunity to be there for ourselves and for Daddy?!?
So Jennifer and I are crying and Mama’s sitting there all indignant and offended and then the van breaks down. It just stops working, and we luckily are able to coast to the side of the interstate without getting flattened by a semi. I was angry, so very, very angry – at Mama for not telling us and acting like it doesn’t matter, at everything because sometimes it would be nice to have something just go right for freaking once.
So I called Bobby, and Mama called Triple A and they were a total waste of time – Bobby worked his TV magic and got the Columbia airport Enterprise guy to come rescue us – a boy named Garry actually locked his door, jumped in a rental van that had just been turned in, and came to pick us up. We flew like the wind back to the airport to sign paperwork, then I floored it – did 85-95 mph to the funeral home.
We walked in an hour and a half late, and was greeted by a funeral home worker who told us that the line started back there, and pointed to a line wrapping around the front rooms. We walked past him into the viewing room – our cousins, aunts, and uncles were standing in line as people filed by – our grandpa was lying there dead in his casket that Daddy picked out – and we were alone. Completely alone in a room full of people. Susanna dropped first – slipped out to the bathroom – Jennifer was next and I was last. We cried in the bathroom – trying to pull it together – and understanding that we needed to just suck it up and smile and shake hands. Mama came into the bathroom and told us that we needed to get back out there – no emotion, no comfort, just said that we weren’t acting “appropriately.” Like she’s any kind of judge of appropriate behavior. Sometimes I feel like the chemo has changed her into someone that I don’t even know. We glared at her with all the venom we could muster, and told her to leave. Then gathered ourselves, and went back into the room, where our husbands had inserted themselves into the family line and were saving a place for us – Bobby and Tom are really, truly great people sometimes.
So we shook hands and smiled and said “we’re Marty’s oldest/middle/youngest daughter” until 9pm. That line was followed by either “oh, Marty! – I haven’t seen him in years” or “Marty? – I didn’t know there was another son” to which I replied “yes, he’s the one that left.” Insert smile here. And out the corner of my eye, I could see Grandpa’s profile in the coffin, and I couldn’t look at him. It was surreal. Completely and utterly surreal.
When it was finally over, we told the abbreviated story of car trouble to all of our cousins and aunts and uncles. Finally it was just us and Aunt Gin and Daddy and Grandma. We watched and cried silently as Grandma, Aunt Gin, and Daddy said goodbye to their daddy and husband for the last time. But Grandma didn’t cry – and Jennifer, Susanna and I held it in because we felt that crying in front of her would be a sign of weakness.
We waited until they left and then it was me, Susanna, Jennifer, Bobby, Tom and Grandpa. And Susanna, Jennifer and I went to say goodbye to Grandpa, and it was completely perfect. We took his glasses out of his pocket and put them on him. We patted his hand and told him how proud we are to be his granddaughters, his legacy. We peeked into the casket to see his shoes that Daddy shined for him. We talked about how much alike he and Daddy are – how although Daddy didn’t get the name Lawrence, he did get the name Martin, and he’s lived up to it every day. That Daddy was more like him in some ways than any of his children.
It was Grandpa’s determination that made Daddy leave Bowman and never come back – that they really were mirror images, and now Daddy has passed that stubbornness, determination, and pure scrappiness on to us. The classy, Southern elegance that they exuded up until the very end – I felt so proud of both my grandmother and grandfather.
Once we said goodbye to Grandpa, we went back to Grandma’s house where we listened to Grandma, Aunt Gin and Daddy tell stories of years past. Like Grandpa teaching Uncle Hugh to drive when he was 11, and Grandpa trying to find a “good churchgoing man” for Aunt Gin to marry.
We finally crashed at Uncle Landy & Aunt Susan’s after 1am, then got up again at 8. Had breakfast and went to back to Grandma’s house, where the entire family convened to wait for limo to arrive. Very, very surreal. Grandma, the 4 kids, and spouses got into the limo, all the granddaughters got in Merrill’s car, and all grandsons & in-laws got in Gill’s car. Went to the church and pulled in behind the hurst – all grandsons got out and served as pallbearers. It was so unreal to think “my grandpa’s little frail body that is so familiar to me is in that box that they’re carrying up the stairs”…
We followed the coffin up the stairs and into the church – it was standing room only. The sermon was good – nothing was really too much, and both pastors actually knew Grandpa. Aunt Gin told some wonderful anecdotes that made us all chuckle and cry – Julius started sobbing during Amazing Grace – Susanna did an introduction to Uncle Hugh’s song and it was perfect. She represented Daddy perfectly – he was the only child that didn’t participate, but Susanna did him proud. She was composed, but choked up toward the end – it was the perfect balance of polish and real emotion. Uncle Hugh sang and “messed up his contact” – he got choked up, but why would he pretend to be fixing a contact?
Went to the cemetery, where they had a brief service and Uncle Landy spoke, then everyone filed past and spoke to Grandma. I slipped out of the second row to stand in the Weathers plot – I realized that I’ve never been to Grandy and Mama Gladys’ graves. Saw where Aunt Virginia was just buried last week, right in front of Grandpa. Aunt Elizabeth spoke to me – told me that she didn’t have her first child until age 32, and it was ok for me to wait – I don’t think I’ve ever realized how classy and spunky the Landrum family is. They are truly just as strong and perhaps stronger in a quieter way than the Weathers. As more and more people slowly filtered out, I felt a reluctance to leave. I wanted to see Grandpa one more time, I didn’t want to just drive away and leave him sitting there by himself.
Daddy stood in the driveway and looked out over the field behind Grandma’s house and said “An era is ending.”
So we spent a few more hours at Grandma’s, just visiting with her, talking in very general broad terms about how she wouldn’t change anything about the ceremony, and then left at 4:30ish and went back to the cemetery. There was a feeling finality… Grandpa’s spirit was gone – I had felt him during our little private time at the funeral home, at the funeral on some level, and even at the burial, I had a hard time being ok with leaving him. But when I went back, it felt complete – like it really was finished, and he had gone on. Maybe it was because I could no longer physically see the casket.
But even then, I had thoughts about the burial – the fact that his body is actually under then ground. That it looks exactly the same that it did yesterday, except now it’s under 6 feet of soil. I’ve never actually thought about “burial” – that along with each of those gravestones, lies a person’s remains in a casket that their wife or husband or child picked out. And they are wearing shoes that their son lovingly polished, a dress or tie that their daughter or wife selected, and maybe even had a small pad of paper and a pen tucked into their shirt pocket – just in case they want to write something in their “book.” A little book that’s strikingly similar to the pad that their son now carries and records every significant thought of his life….