September 17, 2011

A Funeral and A Birthday

The weekend featured a funeral on Saturday, followed by a birthday party on Sunday. Thankfully, I didn't mix the two up because that would have been really awkward. Although, I suppose breaking into a rendition of "Happy funeral to you!" would have had some comedic value.

Anyway, on Saturday I said goodbye to one of my two remaining grandmas. The last time I saw her in person was five years ago to mark her 80th birthday. Correspondence after that consisted of the annual Christmas letter, a call to tell her I was getting married and a call to tell her my wife was pregnant. I don't remember if I called to tell her about my wife being pregnant with twins, but I don't think I did. In fact, I know I didn't, because she had fallen around that time and had to enter a nursing home, so I didn't have her new number.

So, it's safe to say I wasn't particularly close to Grandma, but it's still a shard to the heart to know she's gone. Grandparents always seem eternal right up until the point they're not.

The funeral required a sojourn West across Minnesota, in what can accurately be called one of the more boring two hour drives in the entire state. I dutifully printed out Google map directions, which apparently didn't take into account the fact a large swath of the road I needed to travel upon is currently shovel-readied out of existence.

So, I found myself in the town of St. Clair, which was nowhere near where I needed to be. I ended up consulting with the small town equivalent of Google maps: a convenience store clerk who jotted down some quick instructions to get me back on my desired path. For about five minutes I had no less than five locals poreing over the Google map directions I had printed out, trying to figure out where I erred.

"That's why I don't trust those guys," said one, as if Google exists solely as a roomful of eggheads with slide rules and pocket protectors.

I got back on the road and finally arrived at my destination, a lonely yet grand Lutheran church parked in the middle of absolutely nowhere--cornfields as far as the eye can see in every direction. I attended my grandfather's funeral at the exact same church over a decade ago. I'll probably never see the church again, which is sort of sad in its own way.

As I said, I wasn't particularly close to my grandma, but I found myself tearing up during the service, because I read Finn's name in the obituary list of family members who preceded Grandma in death, so suddenly the funeral selfishly became another service to him, in my mind. The pain of his loss just keeps popping up in the dangdest of places. Goldfish crackers have a mascot named "Finn," for example, and the latest "Cars" movie has a character named "Finn" voiced by Michael Caine.

After the committal service, I noticed a grave one or two steps down from Grandma's that features a "Troy" who only lived two days in 1968. I hate to admit I spent too much time around that grave, but I did. And I didn't want to leave. I'm telling you, the grief just follows me everywhere and slaps me in the face right when I think I've finally gotten it under control. I just miss Finn and see him everywhere. Not having him here wounds me in terrible ways I don't understand.

As a writer, I want to explain it, but it's not easy trying to explain the worst pain in my life. I'll write something, read it, and realize I'm inadequate to the task. And then I'll try again, and reach the same conclusion. And suddenly I realize that's the definition of insanity.

Anyway, the funeral thus completed, the fellowship lunch in the church basement dutifully ingested and the obligatory small talk with people I mostly didn't know or vaguely remember concluded, I was back on the road home.

On the return journey, however, I was on high alert for whatever it was that tripped me up earlier that landed me in St. Clair. When I hit Waseca, I was confronted with a phalanx of "Detour" signs, and thus the mystery was solved. No such detour signs guided me on the way to the funeral, thank you very much.

As I approached the detour, I saw a billboard that decreed "Discover Waseca," and thanks to the detour I had absolutely no choice in the matter. The detour took me through the heart of the town which, additionally, was holding a town celebration that required the closing of several streets. So, I had to embark on a detour within a detour, which is just what you want to do after a funeral and over three hours of driving.

But, I got through the commute and was home at 3:30 p.m., which was just in time to get back in the van and go purchase items for my boy's second birthday the next day. By that evening, I was so sick of driving I found myself standing on the front stoop, frowning at the minivan. You know you've reached a driving tipping point when you break out the minivan frown.

I switched mental gears on Sunday and set myself to ensuring Aiden had the best birthday EVER! Which sounds like a tall order until you realize he only has one other birthday against which to compare it, and he probably doesn't even remember that one, so I could have handed him a cookie and it would have been the best birthday EVER!

But, no, we have to deliver more than a cookie and a smile on one's second birthday, so we put on a "Toy Story" themed party, and he was so excited upon seeing the decorated porch that he declared "OH, WOW!" and his whole body started to practically tremble like a jostled bottle of nitroglycerin on the verge of exploding. So, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Did I say it was a "Toy Story" themed party? Oh, it was a "Toy Story" themed extravaganza! We had the "Toy Story" trilogy playing on a small television, with "Toy Story" gift boxes, and a "Toy Story" cake. And then, as if that wasn't enough "Toy Story," it turned out people had bought "Toy Story" gifts, so Aiden ended up "Toy Story" toys, including a "Toy Story" railroad track and a "Toy Story" garbage truck that opens into a waste management facility a la "Toy Story 3."

Man, I am so freakin' tired of "Toy Story."

At some point, I think Aiden made the connection that the decorations and toys and people were all about HIM and this concept of a "birthday." Honestly, it was almost like a little flame flickered in his eyes and he. . . JUST KNEW. It was one of those moments I've heard other parents talk about and never really understood. But, the pure joy and excitement he experienced as he ran back and forth, screaming with pleasure about everything and everything, was as near to perfect as you can get.

Of course, eventually, the nap grumblies kicked in, so it was time for the guests to leave and the festivities to come to a close. I try to imagine what went through his two-year-old mind, what with the morning being dedicated to him, and then waking up from his afternoon nap to discover everything was back to normal. It must be like one of those dreams where you find a bunch of money or treasure and you're all giddy until you realize you're beginning to wake up, and you don't want the dream to end.

You never want the dream to end.

Posted by Ryan at September 17, 2011 10:01 PM | TrackBack

would like to believe it's part of your preparation for being able to comfort the otherwise inconsolable.

Posted by: Douglas Bass at September 19, 2011 03:13 PM

The paragraph about Troy's grave hits some pretty strong chords. It may not be a perfect explanation, but it's effective.

Posted by: Keith at September 26, 2011 11:36 AM
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