Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Year's Eve was a Funeral

New Year's Eve was a funeral.  I don't mean a funeral like I was at a party and it was really dead.  I've been to those kind of parties though and they suck because you don't want to be there, but if you leave the host gets all offended because they know their party sucks and you leaving early just makes them feel worse.  It wasn't that kind of thing.  I mean I literally spent New Year's Eve giving the eulogy at a funeral.  It was my Uncle K's funeral.  He died just before Christmas and my poor aunt waited until New Year's Eve so that we could get through Christmas with our own families and deal with traveling and stuff after the holiday. Christmas was already kind of stressful (hence no Christmas post) because Big Man (the hubby) was out of town looking for work and it was tough to get through the season without him.  It felt weird and incomplete and we all felt kind of lost.

Then my aunt called to tell me Uncle K had died.  And she asked me to do the eulogy. I couldn't say no.  My Aunt K is almost my mom.  She took my sister and I into her home and helped raise us when we needed a safe place to live. She gave us the childhood we needed and had not been given the chance to have until then.  She treated us like her own children and loved us unconditionally.  How could I say no?  I wanted to, though.  Because eulogies are so personal and important and what you say when a person dies to commemorate their life may have a huge impact on the living who are listening to your words, trying to hear anything that might help them find peace or laughter or closure.  It's a lot of pressure to get that right.  To make sure you honor the dead and uplift the living.

How do I know it's pressure?  Because this is the third eulogy I have delivered.  The first one was for my Dad.  He was my dad and there was lots to say about who he was and how he impacted my life and there was never any thought about speaking at his funeral, it just seemed like it was my responsibility and I wanted the opportunity to honor him.  It was amazingly cathartic and I was so glad afterward that my sister and I chose to take on the responsibility, as tough as it was.

The second eulogy I delivered was for my grandmother.  My Aunt K had been her caretaker for several years and asked if I would talk about Grandma G.  My Grandma G was such a wonderful lady and she too did all she could while we were growing up to love us and help us through some very tough times.  I lived with her on two different occasions while I tried to find my path in life and spent many, many nights listening to stories about her life.  She was so tough and funny!  I loved going through all of her pictures and sharing stories about her life while we prepared for her service.  It gave me the opportunity to see her in all of her glory!

So Uncle K was the third.  An honestly, I wasn't in a real great place emotionally (what's new, right?), so when my aunt asked me to speak, I wondered why her kids didn't want to do it.  She went on to answer my question without me asking..."my kids aren't good at expressing themselves and sharing their emotions in public."  Ah. Well...I'm not sure I am either.  And honestly...who IS comfortable giving a eulogy?  Just because I like to talk a lot and don't mind doing it in front of people doesn't mean I have anything of value to say about a person who just died.  But...I would do anything for my aunt, so I said yes.

It was a tough eulogy to prepare.  I'd visited them throughout the years, but I hadn't lived with my aunt and uncle for 35 years. He was a truck driver, so even when I was living there as a girl he wasn't home a lot.  I had a few memories, but not enough for an entire talk!  So I started trying to interview his kids and brothers and sisters.  His kids couldn't seem to talk much.  Which is so opposite of how I process grief and sadness, so I was really struggling with how to talk about their dad without their input.  His younger brother, however,  painted an incredible story about a man I barely knew.  Apparently my uncle had a pretty tough childhood, which explains a lot about why he wasn't very talkative about his life.  I won't go into details, but it was tough and his dad made it tougher. His brother shared  a lot of things about mu uncle's life that even my uncle's kids didn't know about him.  What I really came away with was that Uncle K wasn't a talker. He was a doer.

He didn't tell his kids about driving trucks, he taught them how so they could make a living.  He didn't tell them how to fix cars.  He taught them so they could fix their own.  He didn't say he would be over sometime to help fix the house.  He just went and fixed the house. Almost every person I talked to shared an experience about how my uncle had helped them.  The picture that emerged as I wrote his eulogy was a huge lesson in judging people and assuming that we know people when we really don't.  Honestly, I always thought my uncle was kind of high maintenance, because I really only saw him at home, where he relied on my aunt a lot for his daily needs.  Turns out the person I thought I kind of knew was in actuality a much more giving, loving person that people realized.  He wasn't a touchy, feely, talky guy who walked around saying flattering things he didn't mean.  He served people.  He helped when he was needed.  He was present when he could be - Daddy Daughter events with granddaughters and nieces (me), time spent working on cars or in the shop with his boys or the neighbors, hiking, camping with the family and grandsons.  There weren't a lot of words.  He didn't talk about helping and loving and sharing feelings.  But there were actions.  He willingly gave of his time and talent when he was needed, from the time he was a young boy until his worn out body wouldn't work anymore.  And I think we all needed to know and understand that about a man that some of us thought was kind of quiet and detached, even grumpy at times. 

So I spent New Year's Eve talking about the life of someone who had just died, while pondering the beginning of a new year in my own life. It was an irony that was not lost on me.  At 48 years old, after five years of struggling with our finances and life in general, I am more lost than ever about who I am and how to get my family where we need to be.  I have no life plan anymore.  Our plans have fallen apart.  Our back up plans fell apart.  We have to start over.  I have to start over and I am scared and worried and afraid to take even one more step forward because I cannot handle one more failure.  So I have been taking stock of my life.  And then I got asked to take stock of someone else's life and present the findings in a pleasant way that would honor the way they lived. Karma or blessing? Maybe some of both.

I was surprised at how emotional I was during the talk.  I thought I would be more composed.  I cried more than I wanted to.  Because I was blessed to get a glimpse of who my uncle really was and share that with people who needed to see him in the most positive light possible.  I got to see how someone who rarely got the best life has to offer accepted what he was given and tried to do something good with it.  And I suddenly felt very grateful for the example my uncle had been.  I'm great with the words of love and support, something my uncle didn't always verbalize, but not so great at actually showing up when I can be of service.  I don't want to be the person who offers help and lots of hugs and "I love yous", but never delivers the goods when push comes to shove.  And sometimes when I am asked to sacrifice my time or energy, I complain because it seems inconvenient or hard.  Uncle K never complained.  He just did what needed to be done.  And mostly...I don't want to die and have my kids not feel like they can talk about me at my funeral because they didn't know me well enough to have something to share. Or because they don't like to speak in public.  I want to tell them everyday how much I love and appreciate them and what a blessing they are to me and how incomplete my life would be without them.  I want to tell them how important it is to serve and love others and not judge.  I want to tell them how important it is to be happy and positive, even when it's hard to feel that way.  And then after I tell them, I want to show them.  

I hope one day they will look back and say, "Remember when we spent New Year's Eve at that funeral and mom had to speak?  Boy...Mom really got her crap together after that.  Life got so much better for our family in 2013."             


Stacey Weckstein said...

This is such a beautiful post and I do believe that life is going to be SO MUCH BETTER for your family in 2013. You truly are one of the most inspiring women I have met via blogging and I'm honored to have you in the Inspiring Moms Network.

Thank you for being YOU.


Koni said...

I love you Geri. You are an amazing woman. I am so grateful for the time we spent together in Spain!

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