Not the usual May Day, on May 1st I buried my grandmother, Granma May.
It was an entirely different experience than the death of my father-in-law last October. Where my father-in-law died suddenly, tragically, virtually alone and with many years yet of energetic life ahead of him, my grandmother died quietly, surrounded by family, slowly enough for people to say goodbye, after 93 years of an extraordinary life. Grandma May's funeral was a celebration of a life well-lived, the good fortune of so many people to have known her for so long, so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
It ended up being a giant family reunion. It was the first time my brother and sister and I were in Philadelphia at the same time, and ten years since any of us had seen our cousins and aunts and uncles and second and third cousins. Now, instead of us being kids ourselves, most of my cousins have children old enough to want to sit at their own table. It was a beautiful weekend, despite the sadness.
This was an experience of what death should be, under perfect circumstances - the loss of a loved one, but not unexpected or surprising, not joyous but appropriate, not happy but acceptable. Death treated all of us justly here. Grandma was the last of her generation, and she had seen a great deal, and her body was suffering some of the indignations of old age. It didn't seem a bad time to go. There were no regrets, no wishes for otherwise. The occasion was just an acceptance, and a soft nurturing of blessedness for having had such a spunky grandma around for so long.
Just her style, Grandma May started to go in the middle of a party, a beer in her hand and surrounded by her buzzing family. And even in her preparations for death, she treated all of us so well: after the funeral everyone went to lunch at a fancy restaurant nearby and ate and drank and talked to our fill. I found out afterwards that Grandma had actually paid for the meal. She bought us all lunch at her own funeral. Now that's class.
Goodbye, Grandma. You've taught me several things over the years - how to appreciate tea, bet on a good horse, sneak a sip of beer, spoil pets and children, and how to go out with grace and style. You brought together so many people, loved so many people, lived through so much and worked so hard. Peace be upon you. Peace be upon us all.
Oh, and thanks. A lot.