My grandfather passed away on October 20, 1998 at the ripe old age of 91 years. He lived a long life, and with the possible exception of the last three years, it was a happy one. The following is my attempt to tie together a lot of different events into a story. Once again, as with many of my stories of late, my daughter plays a pivotal role.
Michael J. Marchi
October 26, 1998
My grandfather was never quite the same after his wife, Rose died in 1995. My
grandmother was a saint of a woman, and we all have felt her presence
around us in the three years since she left us:
He grew depressed, and stopped eating regularily. Then a little over a year ago, after a downturn in his health and mobility following some surgery, we placed him into a Medicare facility. This wasn't an easy decision for any of us, least of all, Grandpa. Our hope was the constant care, physical therapy and social interactions within the facility might turn him around. Unfortunately, he continued to slide further into depression.
My mother called me on Saturday afternoon, telling me that Grandpa was experiencing a variety of
complications and we might consider coming up the following weekend to see him. We agreed.
Grandpa started improving on Sunday afternoon. He was able to recognize
people again, and the morphine was helping keep the pain at bay, so he was
comfortable. My mom was showing him pictures of the family. He seemed to
fixate on the pictures of Christine - declaring her "cute" and wishing he
could see her. My mom let him know that we would be coming (with
Christine) that weekend. This seemed to cheer him up.
On Monday he seemed to be holding his own. He watched as my father paced
nervously back and forth in the room, wearing a path from the door to the
foot of the bed. Grandpa looked at him and asked "What are you so worried
about?" My father replied, "Dad, if our positions were reversed, you'd be
worried too." My mother decided to take the initiative. She decided it
was time for them to go home for the evening, and made my father hug
grandpa before they left. They left the room and my mom turned back toward
the bed. "Dad?" she asked quietly.
My family opted for a short visitation period, followed immediately by the
funeral mass. This all occurred in the church my grandparents attended in
Michigan. Visitation began at around 10:30am, and ended when mass began
around 1:00pm. There were not many people present, the few brothers and
sisters who survived him, his children and some of the cousins. What few
friends still lived came by to express their condolences. I entered the
church with Becky and Christine. I hung back toward the rear of the
church, using Christine as an excuse to avoid going right up to the front
by introducing her to the family members who had not seen her, yet. Becky
is not good with funerals, so was struggling the entire time to keep from
crying and remembering her own grandfather's death from her childhood. At
last, I approached the front of the church, holding my daughter in my arms
and trying not to look directly at the casket yet. As relieved as I was
that his suffering was over, I knew there were unshed tears waiting in the
wings. I did what I could to hold them at bay. My mother, father and
uncle stood at the head of the church, the strain behind my mother's eyes
evidence that the smile on her face was forced. Christine called out a
happy "Grandma!" and I put her down so she could give my mom a much needed
hug. Mom scooped her up and held her close. Satisfied that Christine was
taken care of, I glanced at Becky. She didn't look like she wanted to
approach the casket just yet, so I put my hand on her arm and told her it
was okay to hang back. I started to approach the casket alone, but didn't
stay that way long. "'stine too." my daughter said. Then "Grandma.
Down." My mother obliged her and I turned back to see Christine following
along behind me.
When the service finally began, the casket was closed and we were all asked to sit down. As we started to settle in, and quiet Christine down, the funeral director came to us and presented Christine with the rose from the casket. I guess they don't get to keep the flowers. Christine was quite taken with the gift...much to our chagrin. 75% of her (quite) vocal commentary during the 45 minute service had the word flower in it. Keeping her quiet was not an option. Her favorite trick was poking us in the face with the stem, and ordering us to "Smell flower." If nothing else it kept our minds off the service, and our gazes away from the draped casket which sat next to us.
After communion, my mother (knowing that the actual funeral rights were about to begin) came back and took Christine with her, up into the balcony overlooking the church. She still spoke in excited tones that reverberated through the church, but they were a little more distant. At last the prayers ended, and the pall-bearers began to push the casket down the aisle, following the priest. At about the halfway point, we were all turned backwards, watching the progress when from on high up in the balcony, Christine's voice rang out, "Good-bye Grandpa." More than half of the attendees, were moved to tears by those two little words, including Becky who lost the battle to regain control over her own memories.
The innocence of children is a welcome thing at funerals. Certainly, Christine's closing comment helped release some of the stress that many of us were fighting to keep bottled up. It also gave us something to talk about at the luncheon following the service. I'm glad she was there.
On a final note, the order of events and evidence we've seen has caused me to rethink my position on Christine's origin. Becky and I now feel that Grandma brought Christine to us - her final gift. As for the presence we have felt over the years, I don't have a clue. My uncle reports that he senses no trace of either of his parents in their house. He suggests that they are off on their second honeymoon together. I find that thought very comforting.
"Good-bye, Grandpa", Copyright © 1998 by Michael J. Marchi