Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dispatch from Texas - Granny's Funeral

I traveled earlier to Houston to help one of my aunts tweak the wake and funeral programs for my granny's funeral this weekend. I had thought I'd also collect some of granny's belongings to take back to New York with me, but I couldn't walk into her bedroom. I haven't found the strength to step inside the room where she died.

The best intentions sometimes fall short when in the midst of things; when faced with what we planned from hundreds of miles away, we clam up or alter plans.

The last time I was in Houston was for another funeral, my aunt who succumbed to cancer. I know that death is a part of life. I'd say that while reading online newspapers of tragic events near and far, or the local news. It's not until death takes a loved one from your reach that the philosophizing and emotional distance is no longer enough to shield you from the grief. The television or computer monitor is a buffer from the pain others undoubtedly feel as they're distraught on camera or video.

My two flights to Houston were fraught with wind turbulence. The aircraft felt like a crop duster or toy plane as it bobbed and weaved at various altitudes in attempt to find calm air. I clawed the armrest, sure that the airplane would spiral to the ground. It wasn't as if I wished for death, but a thought occurred to me that I wouldn't have to walk into granny's house without her sitting on the sofa, phone pressed into her lap waiting for a call. I wouldn't have had to put on a suit and polish my shoes this Friday evening before the wake at the family church. I wouldn't have had to stand in front of the congregation and reminiscence about Granny Gums without collapsing to the floor, making a spectacle of myself.

I erased images of an angry mythological Greek god or goddess standing in front of the plane gently blowing against the craft for amusement. I remember praying to God to calm the wind and allow the plane safe passage into Houston. I was en route to eulogize my Granny, and nothing would prevent that from taking place. My cousin Carl picked me up from the airport. We didn't fall apart in the airport when we saw each other, and I don't know that I thought we would. There's usually drama in our family, so we occupied our travel time poring over various relatives' hiccups and disasters.

There's a marked absence in Granny's house, one that was once filled with nine daughters, two sons, and countless other neighborhood children.
Each bedroom was a protective chamber for its slumbering inhabitants. The kitchen where the girls and women in the family sat alongside the stove to get their hair pressed with a straightening comb has changed and now doesn't feel as warm or vibrant. The living room, or meeting room as it seemed to me, where everyone filtered through like a revolving door, is now void of Granny's voice.

Carl and I have been scanning pictures since Monday night. We Were The Williamses. We Were The Party Family! There are so many pictures in various photo albums of us hosting birthday parties, at banquets, at house parties, or picnics. My family was large back then, and even larger now that we're into our fifth generation. One of the biggest tragedies of Granny's death is that she was the glue that held this family together. Now that she'll no longer be physically on earth, I think everyone will scatter to the four winds. Each one of us will leave the funeral and accompanying family dinner changed -- reflective, remorseful, or regretful.

Death comes to us all, but we're never prepared even if it's preceded by a prolonged illness. Death comes to us all, and we're left to think about things left unsaid or undone. Flipping through the various photo albums, I know that granny lived a full and rewarding life. Rarely was she without a brilliant smile, head tilted to one side, with her signature poise radiating from the picture.

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