"Does it take a death to learn what life is worth?"
We're back from our journey to the Beaver Valley. It was an interesting time, with interesting experiences, and I'm not sure what happens next. A lot of things went through my mind and heart and I'm still processing a lot of it. Nothing bad, just deep thoughts. All told, I don't think I've ever been to a wake where there was more laughter and joking and happiness. And that is a good thing.
It was pouring rain, we were hydroplaning and trucks were just spraying us with road crap and water and it just got overwhelming. So we stopped for the night. A nice slow morning and breakfast, we knew we were not in a huge hurry to get out there and we took our time. We stopped at a waterfall in the Poconos and really enjoyed the sites. After the horrible rain the days prior, the waterfall was raging and it was well worth the stop.
The hotel was welcoming and comfortable. We had dinner with Doug's parents and settled in. A quick check of Facebook revealed that my friend Mark was looking to possibly get together with us at some point. We crashed out, and made arrangements to get together with Mark and the fam the following morning with the (seriously) only free time were going to have for the weekend.
We were more than happy to come by and check it out. We had a wonderful visit, filled with college discussion (ours and Jess' upcoming choices) and lots of lovin' from the dog.
We ran back to the hotel and got ready for visiting hours. A little stressed and slightly late. Doug's mom told us were were supposed to be there at 2:30 for the 3pm start, and we got in the car at 2:45. I felt bad, but no one said anything or noticed so ... okay. Visiting hours were painfully long. Five hours. I spent a good amount of time watching my niece and nephew, ages 7 and 4, and some other family kidlins who were obliviously not interested in spending time next to the coffin the visiting room.
One of the highlights for me was the time I spent chatting with Doug's great aunt Dove. She has been sick for several years, and here her sister goes before her, suddenly and unexpectedly. She told me she was shocked and knows that she won't be around much longer.
But she's sharp as a tack and loves to talk, doesn't have a hard time hearing even in a noisy room, and is very funny. I asked if Dove was her real name and she shook her head and made a face. "Doris. Which is horrible. Dove is so much nicer. They started calling me that when I was a baby, and it just stuck around."
So she's Dove.
She asked about our house, what the kids like to do, what I like to do. I've only met her once or twice since I discovered Doug in 1986... and she has a great memory of all kinds of things. She remembered one year when we came to the family reunion. The only year we've come to the family reunion. Geoff was 18 months old. "He's such a big gentleman now. Look at him," Dove said to me as we stood next to her sister's body.
"You need to come back more often. I need to get to know you better." She said that to me and it broke my heart. She meant it. She honestly liked talking to me about life and stuff, and we had a few good laughs, especially when I agreed with her not liking her name due to the fact I have a middle name I'm not at all fond of.
Visiting hours ended and we retired with pizza and Doug's sister and niece to our hotel room. Geoff swam for a while and Elyse watched him. We chatted until 11 or so and eventually got the room cleared out of guests and got to bed.
Morning came too soon. We managed to get ready on time and get over to the funeral home.
Dove told me that she didn't know if this was real or not, that sometimes she wakes up in the night and asks herself if the events of the day prior were a dream or reality, and she found herself doing that late at night after going to bed.
I told her I have the same problem sometimes and I was glad to know someone else does too. But this is real, and we held hands and just spent time.
The service for the funeral was very, very short. I felt like there was everything missing. It was held at the funeral home, not at a church, and the pastor was someone not connected to the family that I know of, which confused me. I'm including this photo that I took three years ago next week, it came to my mind as the pastor did his service.
There were 12 kids, 11 of which survived into adulthood (the first one died in infancy. A lot of people would not have 11 more kids after losing their first born, but this was the 1920s or so, and yeah, people did that...).
It was a place to talk, a place to gather, a place to wind down at the end of the day. So now, she's gone "home," and the pastor painted a picture of a sunny kitchen dining area with a big table, spread with good food and drink. Pappy and her son John who passed two years ago are first to greet her. Her mom and dad, and her brothers and sisters who had gone before her, each rise to greet her in love.
He said they were enjoying a good chat, and Mary walks into the room. They rise to greet her, hug her, kiss her and welcome her.
And that was where I lost it.
Imagining that sort of homecoming, that sort of welcome. Like coming home from college for Thanksgiving and a five hour trip took you twelve freaking hours. Walking in the door, finding your family around that table, talking politics or current events or reminiscing about things that had gone by and they rise to meet you... Or a soldier, returning from service with the duffel bag over his shoulder, stepping in and setting that burden down and getting that cup of coffee handed to him after all the hugs.
That sort of image of welcoming home just filled me with sadness and joy all at the same moment. I realized I won't be walking into her home ever again and getting that greeting from her. I wouldn't have anyway since she had moved into assisted living. But I have walked in on that kind of scene and been made welcome. Welcomed home. Welcomed as a part of her family.
The pastor kind of ruined it for me by taking this image a step further and imagining that the family parted and at the head of the table sat Jesus Himself, holding her baby brother that she never got to meet.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Jesus won't be welcoming saints who come into his kingdom of heaven but I don't know that he's hanging out at the farm house kitchen table holdin' babies. I think Jesus meets us at the door, gives us that big hug and points the way in to where the family is. He can't be at EVERYone's farm house kitchen table waiting for them, you know? And we can hang out with him individually or in groups... but that farm house kitchen table, that first moment and meeting? Not really sure he wants in on that scene. What do you think?
This image stuck with me and it made me think of my photo of our kitchen, a place I'm sure she would love.
She is home, welcomed by those who wait. Pappy went not quite 10 years ago (I can't believe it has been that long) and was the first to hug and kiss her. She was so sad for so long after John's passing, and I know she is joyful to be reunited with him ... And whether or not Jesus was sitting there with a nice cuppa or not is not relevant. She's there. And they await the next one to join.
Not sure if it will be Dove or another one of the remaining five siblings, but someone will pass.
They will gather again and ask "is this real? Am I dreaming this?" like Dove did, holding my hand and looking at me with big, loving eyes.
Anyway. Tito, hand me a tissue. I'm crying again just thinking on it.
We had a family meal at a local restaurant, and went back to the hotel to chill. Geoff had a long swim, met three young brothers at the pool and all four of them together did cannonballs and cheered one another. It was totally Boy Time, and it was refreshing. He needed that after being so well behaved for so many hours.
After the other boys left, Geoff and I were swimming and he said "I'm kind of sad that the service was so short. I thought people would get up and share what they thought about Grandma."
I told him that I was also surprised. All told, the service was about 15 minutes long. I asked him to go ahead and tell me what he would have said if he had been given the opportunity to stand and eulogize her. I asked if he'd written her a poem or song yet. He said he hadn't. He told me that he would have said that he loved her, and that she was always so nice to him. I don't think he honestly could say anything more than that, he didn't get to spend a lot of time with her. Whenever we came out we'd visit, of course, but he didn't get to have a close relationship with her. But his assessment is spot on. She did love him, and she was always kind to him.
Saturday night we went out with Doug's parents to an Italian restaurant. Ate too much and slept well. The following day we went out to Ohio to see Doug's other grandmother for Mother's Day. I was worried about "abandoning" Doug's mom on Mother's Day but she was relieved to have some time alone to herself. She doesn't get along with her mother in law, so she didn't accompany us to Ohio.
Doug's dad took us to East Carmel to his Grandparents' gravesite. We then went to Grandma's new place at her assisted living home. She was in great spirits, and we got there an hour later than we'd anticipated and she said she was afraid we weren't going to come.
Now there, Middie. How would we not come to you?
Diane and J were there too with the kiddies and we had a lot of fun visiting. Doug's aunt came up from Virginia, and it was a regular Down Home family reunion. Missing only Doug's mom and Doug's cousin. So this photo is as complete a full Gary's bunch of the family photo as we're ever going to get.
It was a good long visit and the ride home was blocked by a car accident right outside Doug's uncle's house, two doors down from Doug's parents' house. We had to drive all over hell and Western Pennsylvania to get to the driveway of the house. And then, of course, we had to go find out all the details of the accident. So by the time we went out to dinner that night at it was about 9pm.
Geoff ended the visit to Western PA wonderfully with probably what has to be the funniest verbal mistake ever. He read from the menu out loud when ordering and said "Classic Black Anus Burger," instead of Angus Burger.
Damn if Doug and I didn't laugh ourselves into near heart failure. Geoff didn't flip out at his mistake and our laughter, but weathered it well. I don't think he thinks it is funny, but a year ago he would have flipped the table over in the restaurant screaming at all of us to stop laughing at him. And it is good ammo for us too, because he busted on me for making a verbal gaffe and Jess said "oh, so do YOU ever misspeak, Mr. Black Anus Burger??? Hmmm???" It will be used again and again on him I am sure.
We packed up Monday morning and headed home, getting back here with moments to spare to pick up the dogs. They were so happy to see us, and we them. It was good to be home.
I am thinking we may be back out there in the fall to visit University of Pittsburgh. It's on Jess' short list of schools, and so we may make another trip there. I'm hoping that we don't need to make one for another funeral soon. It does feel like we just go out there anymore for weddings and funerals. And that's sad. I want to see Dove again, just to chat and laugh and visit, at least one more time.