No one was crying at my grandmother’s funeral. She was strict, frugal, picky and stubborn. Her death was a relief to many members of the family. According to my dad, she was a pain in the ass near the end of her life.
When it was time for people to read their eulogies, her neighbor talked about her beautiful garden. In some ways their speech was more sentimental than anyone else’s, and by all accounts it was the most flattering. Everyone, even the minister, joked about Gram’s not-so-sunny disposition.
The funeral felt more like a family reunion. After the service we all gathered in the living room and watched a slideshow of pictures from when Gram was younger. Whenever a picture of my uncle Bruce came on screen he would say things like, “What a beautiful baby boy?” or “Wow! Who’s that handsome young man?” My dad, aunt, and other uncle would scoff and remark on how they’d never seen an uglier child.
Afterwards, there was a ping pong tournament between all of my uncles and cousins, then a competition of who could do a plank the longest, and, finally, everyone gathered around the dining room table and talked about their prestigious, well-paying jobs and their recent investments in the stock market.
To an outsider it might have seemed like we were all narcissists and hated Gram. But while she wasn’t the most loving mother, sister, aunt or wife, she was still family. I think everyone was just afraid to show their emotions. Everything on my dad’s side of the family ends up being a contest of who’s the biggest, best, and strongest, though they’d never admit to it, and anyone who cried, or showed any measure of vulnerability, would have definitely been knocked out of the running. None of this was mean-spirited, it’s just how it is on my dad’s side of the family. The Burnses, or stu-Burnses as my mom likes to call them, all blonde, tall, and fair-skinned, have an extremely competitive nature, myself included to a lesser extent.
On my mom’s side of the family, the Fallons, it is the opposite. Once a year around Christmas time we all get together to play Bunco: a dice game that somehow incorporates throwing a small plush “Bunco baby”, often in the form of a toy elf or reindeer, from table to table. At the end of the game those with the most wins and losses, and those with the most and least amount of strikes, get first pick from a large pile of presents; most of which contain cheap chocolate truffles, Starbucks gift cards, or some type of silly trinket with no practical use like a magic eight ball or a glitter lamp. Even though Bunco is by definition a sort of competition, in the Fallon family everyone wins.
When they’re sad they cry, when they’re happy they laugh, and they never go through anything alone. At my great-grandma Arva’s funeral, everyone was crying. Or smiling and laughing. Or both. There must have been around a hundred people there, most of which I’d never seen before, who all loved my great-grandmother to some degree.
My mom spent hours working on the memorial slide show while my aunts arranged flowers and the food on the buffet table. So much work went towards one person who wasn’t even alive anymore. Not that my family should have not worked so hard on the funeral, it’s just that funerals make no sense to me; everyone says it’s to celebrate, honor, and help lay the deceased to rest, but the deceased are, well, deceased. They can’t watch their memorial video or eat the miniature quiches at the buffet table.
Photo Credit: Neil Thomas