Saying Goodbye

The nice thing about the weekend was getting together with family I hadn’t seen in many years, and other people that Grandma knew, including the parish priest. The digital camera I have carried the past two and a half years, around the world, after six thousand captured images, I finally decided was dead, shortly before I’d heard of Grandma’s new situation.

She was to be buried in the cemetary next to Grandpa. So she had a proper funeral, at the church, in the chapel. Her body had been prepared and looked like a dressed up version of the lady I had visited just a few weeks before, who was reluctant to eat, and seemed keen on sleeping as much as possible, dreaming her way out of the end of the long life she had led. She was ready to go when I’d seen her last, and now she was gone.

She wore a blue dress with white dots in a pattern that gave a sense of motion to her chest: an eery, unintended illusion that she was breathing. After the family visited the body, I returned, alone. I touched her soft white hair, which I’ve always done, and kissed her forehead. She tasted like makeup, and was cold to my lips. Then I knew, despite the artistry to the contrary, that I was kissing the cold skull of a corpse. She was definately gone, and that reassured me.

There is a belief that the body is prepared for the afterlife, and that you might give it gifts to better prepare the person for their next life. I decided that if my camera and my grandmother had died about the same time, that the one went with the other. Perhaps Grandma could use a new hobby in the next life.

There is another belief that when you take a picture of someone, you capture a piece of their soul. Many people are uncomfortable at the thought that pieces of their soul might be floating around the planet, lost on photographic prints, so it is polite to ask before taking a picture of someone. I gave her a few pictures I had printed from my camera, mostly of myself. If I am to lose a few pieces of my soul, I’d just as soon they were buried six feet under the ground in Rapid River, in a box with the bones of my Grandmother.

I do not hold either of these beliefs, but I am willing to share in them. It makes me feel connected and that is what you want when you gather to lament the departure of a loved one.

We also shared stories. There once was a guy who was overly fond of complaining about things. He was a nuisance. He complained that his coffee was too cold, so Gertrude warmed it in the oven and brought it back to him. He grabbed the newly-heated coffee and burned his hand. He did not complain so much after that.

When she was last shuttled home from the hospital, the care-giver asked her if she knew her first name, to determine her lucidity. “They call me Trudy.”

After that, the care-giver addressed her as Trudy, which struck others as strange, because they had only ever known her as Gertrude and Mrs. Howard. They inquired and Grandma explained, “I just wanted to make the ambulance girl happy. The Lord knows my name.”

I stuck around with Dad and Gwen and Uncle Bill and the Conroys on Saturday morning, and we carried the coffin through a chilly breeze to a stand over the hole in which it would be lowered, to rest thereafter next to Grandpa. We shivered as the priest read a few passages from the Bible, and headed back to Grandma’s house, where Uncle Bill will continue to live. We all went our seperate ways South in the next couple of hours, when the sun came out and shone warmly on a summer Saturday, as it has so many times before.

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