Friday, July 13, 2007

Just Light Me On Fire

Today I read a very remarkable post about the death of someone’s grandmother. The Queen of Dysfunction is normally a funny read, but she can handle the serious stuff too. So for the Queen I offer this true story of dysfunction and my deepest sympathy. I hope things go better at your grandmother’s funeral than they did at mine.

The last time I saw my grandmother alive was at the adoption party we threw for my kids. She acted normal, but I didn’t think she looked that good. About 3 weeks later I got a call from my mother informing me that Nan had gallbladder cancer. She must have felt like shit that day at the party, but she didn’t complain a bit. She smiled and greeted people all day long. She loved to entertain and she was in her element.

I am going to “Reader’s Digest” the chain of events while Nan was in the hospital.
1. Cancer was inoperable.
2. Doctor said she could have 6 months of quality live. (She was 82)
3. Grandfather accepts the diagnosis. My mother does not.
4. My mother gets my incoherent grandmother to give her power of attorney.
5. Mother changes doctors without grandfather’s knowledge.
6. Big fight about how Nan will be taken care of.
7. Nan goes on dialysis.
8. More fighting, mom accuses grandfather of trying to kill Nan.
9. I keep calling to find out when I can come down and visit. I am told it would be best if I waited till she got home. She didn’t like to be seen in this condition.
10. Fighting continues aunts and uncles are now involved. Old accusations of abuse from grandfather and uncle are brought up.
11. Nan no longer can stand the bullshit going on around her. She demands to be taken off dialysis. She wants to go home.
12. I get a call from my mother at 9 pm, “If you want to see Nan she is home, but in a coma, she could be gone any time now.”
13. “WTF mom. I live 3 hours away. Why am I just hearing about his now?”
14. One hour later, Nan dies at her home in Laguna Beach while her children fight about shit that happened 45 years ago, in the same room where her body lays waiting for the mortician. I turn around and come back home.

Really, I’ve left out a lot of gory details, I would have preferred to skip it all together, but it was necessary to lay that nasty foundation so that I can get to the funny stuff! “How can things get funny after that episode of Jerry Springer?” you ask. Don’t forget, we still have a funeral to go to!

OK, at the time most of this stuff didn’t seem that funny. After the fact I laugh at most of it.

Nan died on Palm Sunday. She was Catholic and wanted a Catholic funeral. My mother and sister wanted the funeral ASAP because they could no longer stay in town. Finding an available Catholic priest so close to Easter was tough, but they did. Instead of taking the time to do things right, my grandfather had to slap together the funeral by Wednesday. Many of Nan’s friends that would have wanted to be there missed out because of such short notice.

When I arrived at the funeral home Nan was already on display. This was the first time I had ever seen a dead person. Very odd, very not the person I knew. Problem was Nan didn’t want an open casket. Gramps freaked when he showed up, and immediately had the casket closed.

Nan was very Irish, so she would have liked this, the priest’s name was Father Flanagan. I think Father Flanagan was pulled out the retirement home to perform this service. I think I could smell booze on his breath when I met him before the service, and I think he farted as he walked up to the podium. It was brutal having to watch him look at his note cards every time he had to say my grandmother’s name.

Two other people spoke at the funeral, my sister and my uncle. They hate each other.

My uncle was ripped when he got to the service. As he was slurring his way through the few things he had to say, his alarm went off on his wristwatch. He tried and tried, but couldn’t turn it off, so he waited, we all waited, for it to shut off. I heard some dude in the back whisper, “Time to wake up dumbass.” I’m having a hard time not laughing.

My sister was next up, what a bitch. She was the stick stirring the shit at the hospital. She said many nice things about Nan, and then she launched a scud at my grandfather, accusing him of cheating on her. A lot of people wanted a piece of her after the service.

I got to meet my aunt for the first time. She is my mother’s sister. She ran away from home as a teenager. Apparently ripped uncle was sexually abusing her. She was eventually put into a mental institution. That’s what they did to runaways back then. She ended up marrying a nurse that worked at this institution. Nan and Gramps didn’t speak to her for years, not because the man she married was older and was supposed to be her nurse. They disowned her because the man she married was black.

Family breakdown- Gramps was a widower before he married Nan. He had two sons from that first marriage. Nan was widowed twice before she married Gramps. She had one daughter from each marriage.

Now the funeral goes to the cemetery, where I get to meet some more family. My mother told me that I would be carrying the casket with a few of the men. As I approach the casket there were two men standing there I had never seen before. The first guy was wearing jeans and a nice dress shirt, looked normal. The second guy was a little different. He had a black hat with black fur around the brim and a big black feather on the side. His suit was black with black fur lapels. He also had a nice cane to go along with his ensemble. Did I mention they were black? Sherri whispers to me, “Who are those guys?” I reply, “I think they are my cousins!” They were.

Now this gets really weird. After the funeral I am talking to cousin Huggy Bear. Did I forget to tell you he brought two girls with him? He did. Anyways, I am having a really enjoyable conversation with him when he says, “ You know we have kind of met before.”
“Really, when was that?”
“When you worked at McDonald’s”
“I was a teenager when I worked at McDonald’s”
“I know, I was a teenager when you took my order.”
“And you knew who I was?”
“Yup, I knew all about you. Mom told me everything.”
“And you happened to be in town?”
“No, I drove 90 minutes to check you out.”
“ OK, I think I hear my wife calling me.”

We hung around a little longer, but that was pretty much the end of the weirdness. My mother and sister still don’t talk to my grandfather. Unmentioned uncle has died of liver cancer. Runaway aunt lost her nose to skin cancer a few months ago. Runaway aunt and abuser uncle seem to be friends now, and I haven’t seen stalker Huggy Bear around.

Did I mention I spend a lot of time with my wife’s side of the family?


Queen of Dysfunction said...

Oh. My. Word.

This is the best funeral story EVER. I really didn't think that a family could get weirder than mine, but congratulations! You guys take the cake.

It's a good thing you write so well and can share the love with the rest of us. ;)

Elizabeth said...

I thought my family's drama was all that and a bag of chips. Good Lord.

Leucantha` said...

By the way I am not going to let anyone in a certain side of my family read this lest they get ideas. ; )


Guinevere said...

Wow! Just when you thought it couldn't get worse! lol

I thought my dad's side of the family was bizarre. lol

VENTL8R said...


You can't make that kind of stuff up, it just defies all laws of physics! You could sell the rights to this as a script for a one act play, ya know.....

Malathionman said...

Ladies- Believe me when I tell you that that is the watered down version. I'm not even going to get into the drama around my father's death. Stuff like fighting over ashes, kidnapped dogs, and my sister threatening to kick my stepmother's ass.

Chris said...

Was your family the model for "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"? Watered down? Wow. But I laughed out loud at the Huggy Bear cousin stuff. Beautiful word picture.

Tammie Jean said...

Oh my... between this quick synopsis of your grandmother's funeral and your comment above about your father's death, I'm pretty sure you have the makings of one awesomely crazy book! Aren't families great?