When I went home for the holidays this year, I overheard my mom and uncle discussing arrangements for my grandmother's funeral, which struck me off-guard since my grandma's not dead. Actually, every year we think she's going to die, but she keeps plowing right on through like she's been kidding with us about this dementia situation.
So, at first, I wasn't even sure if I was hearing the conversation correctly. My mom and uncle seemed relatively blithe about the matter. They were laughing; telling each other stories; talking about whom they would invite; and where the event would be held. I almost thought they were planning a birthday party until I heard the word cremated.
"Courtney and Whitney don't have to come though," my mom said, referring to me and my cousin. "They live so far away, it's really not necessary. Or I guess we could fly them in."
There was a pause and they started laughing again, likely due to a pun on how I can't afford anything. When you're eavesdropping and get brought up in the conversation, it's difficult not to interject, but I refrained. I will most certainly be attending my grandmother-who-still-is-alive's funeral, however I would prefer if we could schedule it on a Saturday.
Of course, I understand why it's good to be prepared. In a way, it would probably be best if my grandmother did pass, as she really can't experience life anymore. Her mind has faded so much that she can't talk or walk, and while she used to complain about all her aches and pains, now she just sort of sits there basking in medications. It's sad to see her in such a state, though I will say she's not as cranky as she used to be.
I know my grandma's not completely gone, nonetheless, because she still remembers my granddad. They were married for 60 years, and while he died over a decade ago and she's forgotten nearly everyone else, she never forgets him. Sometimes she even thinks he's joining her for dinner.
In preparing for her funeral, my mom and uncle came across an old letter that my granddad wrote to my grandma's father when they were engaged. He was essentially requesting her hand-in-marriage, except he wasn't so much asking as he was informing them he was going to take it.
"My dear Mr. Kunde," my grandfather wrote, likely sitting behind a typewriter with a pipe drooping from his mouth. "[Edna and I] plan to be married the latter part of June, as we both believe we should take the fatal step as soon after school is out as possible... I know you are very much interested, and rightly so, in knowing just what sort of fellow has come along to take your only daughter. It would be out of order for me to expound at length on my many faults and meager virtues so you will have to size me up principally from Edna's observations."
Reading the letter, I determined my sense of self-deprecation must have come from my grandfather, yet his eloquence conversely escaped me. It was written in 1940, just before the rise of World War II and the Holocaust. Per Wikipedia, this was also the year McDonald's opened; Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Academy Award; and the Chicago Bears fucking killed the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the NFL championship. Also, Chuck Norris was born, and F. Scott Fitzgerald died.
My grandfather went on to describe his family history.
"I might say that my father, who died in '35, was a full-blooded German while my mother is of English extraction, and I believe this makes me half-German," he pointed out. "I hasten to add, however, that I hold no brief for Herr Hitler and do not subscribe to his doctrines and methods. I have no reason to be ashamed of my parents for they both had a keen sense of right and wrong, and I believe they did a fairly good job of passing on that knowledge to all their children."
This must be what it feels like to be Pakistani now. With the Nazis and Bolsheviks on fire, the mid-20th century was one of those rare times in history when white people actually had to be nervous about being white. You could practically get deported if your name ended in a 'v,' and you drank a lot of vodka.
Nevertheless, even though my granddad was apprehensive about his perceived attachment to the world's most reviled citizen, as a prominent banker in a conservative town, he wasn't hesitant to get in a few political digs.
He continued, "From what Edna tells me, you evidently give politics considerable thought. While I do not set myself up as a political adviser, I do believe someone should point out to you the folly of a third term."
In other words, Franklin Roosevelt sucks. It was a bold move considering his future in-laws disfavored the GOP, but apparently my granddad would have rather stirred the family tides than admit the New Deal was effective.
After I read the letter, my Mom showed me the eulogy she and my uncle had drafted. Turns out, my granddad took my grandma to a football game for their first date, and incidentally, my parents also went to a football game on their honeymoon. If a guy takes me to see the 49ers then, I'm just going to say 'I do,' on the spot; if it's a playoff game, he doesn't even need a ring.
The eulogy also describes my grandma's ability to carry on conversations, which used to be her biggest asset. She loved to gossip, but was also generally well read and engaging. My granddad gave her the pet name, "The Voice of America," and often joked to her, "Just because you're talking doesn't mean I'm listening."
This is how I feel most men approach verbal exchange, and while I find it aggravating, I appreciate my grandfather's honesty.
Before I left, my mom had me look through a stack of old family photos that had been dug up to see if there were any I wanted. I found a picture of my grandparents on a date to the "Dale Carnegie Class," which is a leadership course you can still enroll in today. My grandma is decked in a black lace party dress and my granddad looks like Buddy Holly with a cigar in his hand. It's pretty much the coolest photo ever.
What I realized in all this is that I wish we planned funerals more often -- it's totally underrated. Plus, it gives you plenty of time to get all the details right. In fact, I intend to be actively involved in orchestrating my own memorial. I already know I want my friend Liz to give the eulogy because she'll be funny, efficient, and she'll definitely start crying so that everyone will realize what a hole my death has left in the world. I would like my friend Kate to pick out the music because she'll know I want Tupac during the service; my brother can manage the RSVP list and gift bags; and my friend Chrystal should handle catering because she is a professional chef and will make it look like I lived a lavish, bigwig existence.
I have to go out in style.
As for my grandma, whenever she does pass, she will likely be too busy chit-chatting up in Heaven to notice her memorial, but I'm sure she'll approve. Most importantly, I'm glad to know more about her life so that it will be the lasting memory I have when she's gone.