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Musings and Meanderings

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A memoir of a funeral
yes this is long

A beige car raced along the highway, driver lost in thought. The road seemed to go on forever, and overcast reflect the mood in the car, the reason they were on the road. Suddenly the sun showed its face through the clouds illuminating the man’s sleeping face. The phone rang. They had not made it in time, Jimmy was passing. Nearly breaking up, her voice asked him to say a prayer, and then the sun hid itself behind the clouds again, as if it knew.

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The voice on the phone was deep and sad, “Michael, Jimmy passed before we were able to make it out there.”

I stood there under the florescent lights and sighed, cellphone to my ear.

“It would mean a lot to everyone if you could come out.” The voicemail continued.

This had been a long time coming, though hope shines through the darkest days, there had been little question in my mind that this day was going to dawn, just not this soon.

Hardly 6 months older than I, felled by that dark disease, cancer.

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It’s easy to forget for a few hours surrounded by young people, that a childhood friend and loved one had passed too soon. The noise of the halls, the activity of the classroom, all so full of life. It’s one of my greatest gifts and curses, the ability to completely forget for an hour, a day, even longer.

Once home though, the thoughts crowd you out, make it hard to stay focused on what you are doing.

Of course the cell phone was nearly constantly going off. First my father, then my father, then my father again. “Yes I am doing the flight research now” I told him. “No I have not told Liza yet, she won’t get home for a couple of hours now.”

By the time she had gotten home, I still had not decided. I knew I should go, but I really don’t like funerals. I mean who does? Besides it would mean canceling taking a class I really liked. Rationalize, Rationalize Rationalize….

In the end it was my own body that decided for me. Watching the end of Ghost Whisperer, about a platoon of Iraqi’ soldiers who were survived by one hero, the anger I felt about the futile waste of lives every day in Iraq, and the sadness of loosing Jim welled up inside me and I nearly cried.

Ok yea I should go.

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Did I mention that I really like to sleep in on Sunday mornings?

What surprised me the most was the length of the line for security at 730am on a Sunday morning.. Doesn’t any one else prefer to sleep in on Sunday?? I opted for business casual, so I wouldn’t have to change on the way to the viewing.

The clever customer service award goes to the United attendant at the check-in, whom in a marvelously brave gesture allowed me to take my hanging bag up to the gate to discover it had to be checked… I wished I’d just decided to check the bag. Then I wouldn’t have had to scrounge for shampoo and mousse later…

Have I mentioned too that I do love airplane rides?

When we were young, we used to fly round trip San Jose to Orange County quite often, once a month, maybe twice for a period in our youth. Getting on an airplane meant seeing our sisters, our father and step mother, it usually meant fun, maybe a trip to Disneyland. Just as I anticipate the first snowfall, I am always excited to fly. Now as an adult it’s the opportunity to catch up on reading. I pulled the ace though by getting one of those emergency exit row seats… Lots of leg room.

I made my way to the gate in Chicago for the Indianapolis leg. Airports are big malls with food courts now a days. You can get anything you need, anytime. Except some decent take out food at a decent price.

Laurie and Anne joined me at the gate to Indy. We flew one of those 2x2 CanadaAir jets. As I looked out the window on our descent I noticed a large round track with a tall superstructure along the inside straightaway. The Brickyard!! The place of some of my earliest sports memories. I’d never seen a full aerial shot, the grounds are beautiful and there is a golf course just to the side.

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The beige car picked us up from the airport, driven by my Step Mom. As I looked out the window driving into Carmel, listening to the litany of issues, problems and interactions, I was glad to be for a time in the warm embrace of this side of the family. Each was dealing with this loss in their own way, Elias the planner, Dad the conciliator, Ollie the organizer. That all could cope in their own way in the full bosom of the family was what family is all about.

What little I saw of Carmel and Indianapolis was very beautiful, but not very distinctive. Like many newer city and suburban areas, there is a sameness to it that transcends location. Frankly I could have been anywhere. As we drove around the business and retail areas of Carmel later that impression was reinforced by others voicing the same opinion.

We dropped our stuff at the Residence Inn and headed over to the viewing. Jimmy was laid to rest in a beautiful casket that was open. I don’t have much experience with open casket; the first I ever saw was when my wife’s grandmother passed last year. This is always a sensitive subject, but I have never been sure if I am comfortable with this. One of my cousins and I did go up to the casket finally to pay our last respects to Jimmy. I could see that the last year had been very hard on him, but he was peaceful and as many commented, we could almost see his amazing smile in his face. The funeral home with the aid of his family had put together a wonderful retrospective of Jimmy’s life in pictures, from 60’s ear family photos, to the most recent pictures of him when he was involved in Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong organization. I am still wearing the yellow band we all took to wearing this weekend in support of this organization.

The hardest thing was not seeing Jim but seeing his father. This was understandably a very difficult time for him, and his health has been an issue for some time. We all sat with him for a bit, and tried to comfort him as much as we could. He is very lucky to have such an amazing wife for support, and I know in the end he will be able to celebrate Jim’s life, and be happy that Jeff is functional, and that Mary and Jay are healthy and happy.

My Father did a service for Jimmy there at the funeral home that was very moving. He related many stories about Jim’s life, his work, hobbies, and non profit organizations that he had supported. I for one learned much about my cousin’s life from this service. Finally when it was all done we retired to the Residence Inn for a small get together with food and drinks.

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When people look at the pictures from this small dinner and the reception that followed the funeral and gravesite services, I am asked if this was such a sad event, why so many people are smiling. The short answer is that people need gaiety during times of trial. But more importantly this is exactly what my cousin would have wanted. He had a keen sense of humor and was the type of person to say “Just get on with it, get past it, move on.” Of course we will in no way ever get past such an untimely passing, but it is in this spirit that the dinner was a happy one to the extent that it could be.

Have you traveled on business before? Well you know those bog standard meeting rooms, not the ones with the long tables in rows but the strategically placed round tables? This was the canvas that we painted our little get together.

Add some sheets for tablecloths, the “have liquor bar will travel” New Hampshire alcohol collection, and the hotel boombox. Liberally sprinkle in large amounts of cold cuts, cold chicken and other delights, stir briskly and you have a colorful party.

Although there had been some socializing at the funeral home, it was not until this get together that folks were able to relax a bit and forget for a while. As the room filled up people began to settle in and “tuck in”, as the English say, I sat near Jeff. As I had not had a chance to talk to him since his stroke, I had been looking forward to this more than anything else. We talked and talked as we ate and ate. That man for being so thin sure can demolish a plate of food. Emir and one of Jimmy and Ollie’s life long friends also sat with us, as did various others from time to time.

Next to our table Armand did what would best be called holding court. He was extremely entertaining with stories that were apparently uproariously funny, and between him and Anne they had that table breathless for most of the night. Jay’s family and Mary’s family arrived around the same time with Ollie and they settled out at various tables as well. I got a chance to speak with Jay for some time, and then he and his wife Theresa took care of their child and Mary and Matt’s kids at the pool for a bit.

The full party did not actually wind down until around 1200 or so when Kathy came back with Carol. Her presence meant that of 11 living children in my generation, only three were missing, my two brothers and younger sister. My bag checking fiasco put the final movement on the evening when I did a bit of path finding (it was not far) to one of these 24 hr markets and got some personal care items. I stayed up a bit to read then checked my mail and crashed on the pull out couch. Cecil, my roomie had already gone to bed in the bedroom, but only after trying to be too nice and take the pull out. I had to explain to him that I wanted to be able to check my email before bed, so he finally acquiesced and crashed in the bedroom a few hours before me.

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With a little grumbling about not sleeping in, both generations of family coalesced at the big open breakfast the Residence Inn serves. It was a good variety of standard fare both warm and cold. I had mostly protein, eggs, sausages etc, but also treated myself to some French toast as I figured that the day would be long and that the funeral reception at Matt’s brother’s house would be quite a bit down the road.

We all met at the funeral home once again and this time the local Priest did celebrate with a few words. Since I had commandeered the minivan for the trip to the market last night I became the designated driver and Nav user thanks to Mary and Matt offering up their vehicle for transport use. The Starbucks coffee a few of us went to go get when we arrived had been cooling in the car, and I had been drinking a cold water in its stead. I made the mistake of brining it into the viewing and was very strongly told to take it back outside by my Uncle. Ooops. Then of course I noticed some people from Ollie’s side of the family a bit later in the viewing with.. yes coffee from Starbucks. Apparently their Uncle’s didn’t get the memo…

Can I just mention here, that for people who do not drink “sissy soup”, those of us who only drink black coffee, Starbucks must be the most over rated coffee in the history of mankind. The best comparison I could make to my cup is battery acid. Simply horrid. Now those who have it “light and sweet” or whatever will surely beg to differ. But I just don’t like the aftertaste of milk and sugar in my mouth after a good cup.

At the appropriate time I went out to start the Minivan. Two of Carmel’s finest were there with their motorcycles and were explaining where to put the funeral flag and to put your lights and blinkers on. I programmed the Nav so I had some idea of where we were going, and then once loaded up we followed the funeral procession to the church.

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Having never been to a Roman Catholic funeral, nor for that matter having experienced much of Roman Catholicism at all, I was curious but cautious about the service beforehand and quite impressed afterwards. The young priest’s sermon which covered Jim’s life used the Saints in the stained glass windows as examples of different points of his life. My personal beliefs not withstanding I thought it was an excellent way of showing Jim’s life to one that followed his faith. I was proud of my cousin as I learned even more about his life during the service. The church itself was quite beautiful with a tile fresco of Jesus on the cross behind the altar, a huge etched glass scene above the entrance to the main part of the church, and also housed a private school. The one thing I did though was opt to sit alone back and to the side of the families. Here is where I can be the most uncomfortable sometimes with a loss of a friend or loved one and preferred to just sit alone. Once the funeral was over we followed the casket back outside and reassembled the procession to go on to the burial.

The cemetery that the family had chose for Jim’s last rest was really quite beautiful, and the sun was shining so bright and warm that we had a tent erected over the grave. This was the hardest part for all of us, but as my Father and the Roman Catholic Priest alternated speaking from their liturgy, I felt the final presence of my cousin around us. Although this is not within the Christian teachings, I am somewhat psychic, and it was a powerful presence. My heart went out most to his widow and to his father, who looked so lost and sad. I won’t speak much of this because it just is not seemingly to share private grief, but I did empathize with them by considering what a loss my son or wife would be to me, in order to try to understand better.

As the service ended, and even as the funeral home directors made some rather obvious statements to the family that the service was over, we all stayed around the casket and the grounds next to the tent. Mary’s girls each took some of the roses that Ollie was offering to everyone in remembrance and began to spread them around the other gravestones. Jimmy would have loved this, he being such an obviously giving person, as evidenced in his life and his charities. We finally broke up and went back to the vehicles to go over to Matt’s brother’s house for the reception. I programmed the Nav system to take us there, and promptly took a wrong turn. Technology only works when the human is competent.

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Words really don’t cover the beautiful house and the wonderful hosting that Geno and Cindy provided for all of us. Matt’s brother is a really nice giving person, and the food that was there was really amazing. The house itself was huge, and had ample space inside and out for the legions of family that descended upon them.

We did the obligatory group photos’ right before Jay and his family had to leave. To have all these people in one place was extremely rare for my side of the family. We are truly dispersed to the four winds, you name a continent or area of the US and we have someone from there. Left coast, Midwest, Right Coast, Middle East, Europe, etc etc.

I know I have not mentioned everyone individually that I saw this weekend but that would add even more paragraphs to this apparently long winded memoir. Just be assured if you are reading this and you were there, it was good to see you, even if the reason was so sad.

We traded emails and then started to drift off to homes or airports. Laurie, Anne and I went back together with Ted, driven by one of Ollie’s work friends Lilly. She and I had a very nice discussion along the way in the front seat. Once in the airport we realized we had arrived MUCH too early, and had nearly two hours to wait. If this is possible, the security lines at Indianapolis were shorter than Ive ever seen in Albany and that is saying something. Anne and I went shopping and I did get the obligatory snow globe for Alex and the equally obligatory refrigerator magnet and keychain. Laurie worked, and Anne surfed and I read, until all of a sudden we realized that their flight was supposed to leave in 15 and no call to board had come along. Indeed I ended up boarding before they did even though my flight time was 45 min later. I know they got home because I got an email but I don’t know the story.

I flew through DC on the way back and I was refused to pay outrageous prices for airport food again, so when I went shopping I found a little shop that sold political stuff, buttons and bumper stickers for all the various candidates. Having not made a firm decision on whose bumper sticker I want I passed on those and I felt that the buttons were probably not authentic. However I did see a lot of mugs that said Friends don’t let friends vote Democrat. Lots of them. At first I was taken aback that this was a right leaning shop, then I got to thinking. They probably started with equal numbers of mugs with for the Dems and Reps, so I figured that the Dem ones were much more popular. Sure enough I hunted around and found one that that said “Friends don’t let friends vote Republican” and bought it. (Sorry to all my Rep readers, but you all know where I stand).

The flight to Albany was all but empty and I got home around 11, to a couple pieces of warm pizza. A nice welcome home.

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I’d like to write a nice paragraph here, but I think I have pretty much said it all. Jimmy lived a good, but too short life. We will miss him.

Thank you for reading this
posted by Mike 9:09 PM

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The musings and meanderings of an overworked and underemployed mind