Yesterday was my grandmother’s funeral,

7 April 2008

my mother’s mother. She was born in 1915. She was the only grandparent that I ever knew, but I had never been close to her. Most of my memories involved paying visits to my aunt’s home where she lived, where she was bedridden for the latter part of her life. Here is a very short list of things I knew about her: that she was a strict woman, tall and imposing; that she wisely chose my father for my mother, over other frivolous suitors; that later in life she loved watching tv documentaries on animals. Whenever presented with this or that grandchild, she would pronounce everyone pretty or handsome, depending on the occasion. She lived for thirty-one more years after the sudden death of her husband, never complained, and when they embalmed her body it was only her flesh that they pierced and drained and sliced, not her person. In Funeraria Paz they have a viewing room where you can watch the embalming process, which takes around 3-4 hours from the time they undress the body to the time they apply the final makeup. It’s a matter of curiosity to me, but it is something that should never be watched by someone who has lost her mother. Or someone whom they loved so much and watched over so closely. You have to keep reminding yourself that whatever animated that flesh is now gone, and gone where exactly, no one knows. (When Marvel dies in the Dark Knight, Diana asks him where he will go. He answers, “Where’s a wish go? Where’s a dream go when you wake up and you can’t remember it? Nowhere.” But then, he was a creature of magic. And what are we?)

During her five-day wake we made her paper money and gold nuggets, paper mansions and cars and all sorts of finery. All the aunts and uncles and cousins and their children came to help. They burned everything at the funeral, even the flowers and her clothes and her blankets and towels. Transformation by fire is the only way for the living to send trappings to the departed. Two weeks ago my grandmother lay at her hospital bed breathing through a tube; today she’s lying inside a marble vault next to the remains of her husband. Above ground, inside a mausoleum, on top of which we place food and drink and incense sticks, and where we used to play as children. Whenever we visited the cemetery I always knew that there were dead people inside the marble vaults, but perhaps it’s only more striking now. From now on, every time we visit the cemetery, only about 3 inches of marble will separate us from the cold flesh of my grandmother. But it’s only flesh, only flesh.

It occurred to me sometime while listening to the Buddhist chants and prayer bells, that I’ll probably find myself performing these rituals many times in my life. Being the youngest of a family of eight, there’s a strong chance I’ll repeat this, all of this, many more times, each time with a sadder heart than the last. My grandmother lived for nine months in the hospital before she died, teetering every other week between hope and recovery. When they finally realized there was nothing more they could do for her, they called in all the children and the grandchildren, and we all waited outside her ICU room. They had time to call in a priest and perform the last rites. After that, they put medicine in her tubes so her heart would keep pumping blood, so they could create just enough time for her children to wash her body, shampoo her hair and give her a fresh change of clothes before they finally let her go.


2 Responses to “Yesterday was my grandmother’s funeral,”

  1. bunsybuns said

    It’s a long life bunny, and she sure lived it through. One heck of a woman. That’s sure soul power.

  2. surfergirl said

    Im so sorry to hear this Boss. Your description and thoughts were so raw, and at the same time beautiful and sad.

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