I’m in the guest bedroom of my paternal grandmother’s condo, sorting clothes for the girls to take to my maternal grandparents’ house while we hold vigil, when I hear my Grammy answer the call. “Ohh,” she says. “What time?” And I know. I take the phone and tell my dad we will be there within an hour.
Maggie is eating breakfast outside on the patio, alone with her thoughts in the sunshine. Tom is watching her quietly from the living room. She tips her face and the sun catches it, highlighting her golden wispy hair, and she smiles up at something I can’t see; the hand of the wind tips her chin to the light.
My grandfather has been gone for thirty minutes.
My Nana’s house is lousy with Apple products. Between the funeral home director and the assorted out-of-towners, there are at least a dozen iPads kicking around and a half-dozen more iPhones. I share the obituary I wrote and the director makes quick notes. Other decisions are made. The logistics of death are exhausting, even with his wishes known and plans in place. People come and go: hospice, the funeral home, various clergy. Plans are made and changed while babies are chased outside. At some point we choose an urn for my aunt, my grandfather’s sister, who had died two days prior. “Has that happened before?” we ask the director.
“Not brother and sister. Spouses, sure. Often we will see both spouses within six months.”
No, I think. Please. No.
The lilacs bloom in May, along with all the other flowers, and at some point I go out alone to collect various prescriptions and medications for relief and other errands. I set the radio and forget it as I repack to move from one relative’s home to another and get nasal spray and buy another pack of diapers and the song “100 Years” comes on the radio and that’s it. I forget about all of it and pull the rental car over next to a bush of lilacs and I cry and cry and cry, tears pouring off me like the rain gushing off the lilac buds outside.
“Are you okay? Your nose is pretty red,” my dad asks when I return.
“I just blew it,” I say. It’s the truth.
One of my aunts has a sibling in the graphic design and video business and the family has spent hours compiling a slideshow of photographs of my grandfather for the service. It plays without sound at the wake; any soundtrack would have been drowned out in the raucous affair. There is so much laughter and catching up with old friends and long-missed family. It’s exactly what a wake should be: a noisy, happy occasion remembering a life lived to its fullest. Later on I tuck the prayer card with his photo into my passport. I don’t really have firm beliefs, but it can’t hurt to have a former pilot watching out for us when we travel.
“I’m wearing flip flops to the service,” my Nana announces. We nod. If anyone can carry off sparkly FitFlops at her husband’s service, it’s her. She’s earned it. Tom and I sit apart from the family in case we need to escape with Moira if she cries. My pregnant cousin holds down the family supply of tissues, which we need when the slideshow starts. It is set to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” and that pleases me; it’s so pretty. I keep it together until I see a shot of my grandfather holding Maggie that I had never seen before, and again with a wedding shot from 1956: young love, everything before them. A love, and a life, in bloom.
August 29, 1937 – May 7, 2012. Repose en paix.