“We need to fire all our cousins who didn’t check their parents’ phone before service started”
My sister’s witty remark got a chuckle out of me. I fight back my laughter as I watch one of my aunts frantically trying to silence her phone. For the second time.
Gentle nudges and incessant silent giggling ensue as one cousin, seated on the other end of the pew, exchanged looks with our uncle. He leans in and ever so quietly he asks:
“That’s not grandma callin’, is it?!”
I want to burst into laughter, but I already knew we had to be getting stares from the rest of the congregation already. Being the grieving family and all.
We received word on Wednesday morning that my grandma, the matriarch of my large family, had passed away. Saturday afternoon we were all gathered together to celebrate her life (aka attend her funeral). As I grew older, I found that the funeral experience for Black families is very unique; even more so for my family. Ten years ago, we went through the same process with my grandfather. His health was slowly deteriorating after a stroke, and by the time his life ended we were (for the most part) prepared for his death.
Celebration of Life
Oftentimes we may hear phrases like ‘celebration of life’ or ‘homegoing’ in reference to a funeral. Looking back on the death of my grandfather ten years ago, I remember my family making it a point to not just mourn him but to also celebrate him. The same went for my grandmother’s service this past weekend. I find that at funerals, the guests attending will feed off of the energy given by the family members. I have been to funerals where the family is completely and utterly tore out the frame (that’s Country Speak for “extremely distraught”). I’ve seen the distressing sobs and sorrowful cries, family members getting into arguments, and the overall somber atmosphere where it felt like cracking a smile would be downright sinful.
So fighting back laughter at my grandmother’s funeral may sound extremely insensitive to most, but is pretty normal for us. We didn’t want to be miserable, and we also knew that my grandmother didn’t want us to be miserable either. Her funeral was full of upbeat gospel songs presented by the choir, boisterous voices from the pulpit, and a packed church full of people who genuinely cared about her and our family. Tears were definitely shed as we took our seats and saw her pearly white casket sitting in the center of the altar. Our sadness wasn’t all-consuming, and maybe because so much crying had been done on the way to this moment that any wailing here would have felt unnecessary.
My grandmother grew ill sometime last year. There was a point in which she was recovering, but then not too long after her health began deteriorating once more. The doctors didn’t believe she would live longer than maybe two weeks, but she made it out for more than a year. The decline of her health led to her becoming highly dependent on her adult children — my Dad and his 8 brothers and sisters — on taking care of her as she did when they were children. She, of course, didn’t like this at all. I can’t imagine that type of life transition is at all easy. Yes, one of my aunts was already living with her and helping her on a regular basis, but this was the next level for her. Feeding herself, clothing herself, walking, talking — all of these things couldn’t be done without assistance and I knew it had to eat her up inside.
With that being said, it was definitely upsetting to see her leave us to be with the Lord. But how upset could we be about her passing when we witnessed what she was going through up until then?
When It Hits
I don’t believe mourning ever truly stops, rather, there are just ebbs and flows. Maybe you’re alright the day after, and the day after that, and the day after that. But then maybe you’ll be in the middle of doing something, just a mundane activity, and that reality hits you. There’s a standard protocol for our family, specifically those of us who live further away. If we come down to visit, the last thing we do before hitting the road to come back again is to go to my grandmother’s house and tell her bye. On Sunday morning I woke up realizing that I couldn’t do that. I sat up in bed pondering over this. I cried when my mom first called me to break the news, and then I cried at that moment understanding that the next time I go to my grandmother’s house she will not be there.
What’s crazy is that I visited my hometown earlier this month on a whim. There wasn’t a specific event or occasion, I just missed my family and wanted to see them. And during that visit, of course, I went to my grandmother’s house to see her and my aunts who had been primary caretakers for her. I remember going over to her room to see her before hitting the road as I always did. I walked over and sat on the side of the bed she was facing; she no longer had the capacity to turn herself over or move about freely. I let her know that I was on my way out, back to my own home. By this point, her health had reached a stage in which talking was very difficult. There were times where should couldn’t say anything at all, and when she did it was barely above a whisper. She looked at me as I stood there; her mouth moved, but sound wasn’t coming out. I truly felt for her at that moment. My grandmother never lost her senses; her body didn’t cooperate, but her mind was still pretty sharp. How frustrating it must have been for her to have something to say, but not even having the energy or power to say it. I just felt back into what I know she would have typically said at that moment:
“You leaving?……Alright….Do you know when you’re coming back?… Alright, take care”.
When It’s Fine
As I said before, mourning and grief ebbs and flows. I can tell that my family finds solace in the fact that when she went, she went peacefully. She wasn’t in pain, she didn’t struggle, or anything like that. My grandmother outlived her two oldest sons, uncles whom I had never had the chance to meet. She outlived her husband, who had passed away ten years prior. She saw some of her siblings pass away as well. Everything she wanted or needed, she had to depend on someone else to do it for her. She couldn’t speak how she wanted to or when she wanted to. In other words: She was ready to go.
My aunt who lived in the house with her brought up an interesting point that explained why she wasn’t as distraught as others expected her to be:
“I’m more happy for Mama than I am sad for myself”.
That was the mental shift for me. When I understood that piece, I didn’t feel as distraught or disheartened.
No one is ever going to ‘move on’ or ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one. But I think we can all learn to be at peace with it.