My paternal grandmother passed away last weekend, and yesterday was her funeral. These things, of course are never comfortable or easy, no matter what your relationship to the deceased. People came and went,paid their respects, and then the service got underway. I have to say that I immediately zone out whenever religious language enters the picture. It just bores me into a dazed-like state, especially in those situations, where the officiant is reciting canned words that have been used for (presumably) hundreds of other funerals.
So, fast forward to the part where he starts “speaking from the heart”, and all of the sudden I hear him say, “…and my last name is________, which is Polish, just like Olshewske…” and he continued on. Wait, what? Who is Polish? Olshewske? What? I started looking around, trying to make eye contact with someone, anyone, who just caught that. Nope. Everyone remained still and focused. So I decided in that moment that I missed some crucial precursor to that statement that would’ve made it all sensible, because let’s face it-he lost me at “Let us bow our heads.” It was anyone’s game at that point.
Later that afternoon, everyone gathered to eat. As I stood in line with my dad, waiting to grab some grub, I said, “Soo, what was that about? That Olshewske/Polish thing?” He looked at me, and said, “Yeah, I have no idea.” Me: “Is anyone in our family Polish? Was that Grandmas’ maiden name?” No to both questions. Then I *really* didn’t understand. What the hell was he talking about? The only conclusion I eventually came to was that maybe it was a multiple-gig day, and he was confusing his families. Either way, I feel like that is one of the times in life when one really might want to pay attention to detail.
Later that night it struck me that *I* wasn’t even sure of these pieces of family information. I was thinking about how earlier, I saw my grandmother’s life in pictures, and realized that this was a life I knew nothing about. My brothers, sister and I were never close to her, and so it went that we didn’t know much about the person that she was, nor did she about us. Surely, she was a somewhat contentious person throughout her life, but nonetheless, it felt sad, and…final. The finality that the potential for a relationship has passed, without me ever really knowing that part of where I come from, and without her ever knowing the extension of the life and family she created.
I think what was most difficult about it all was watching my father experience it. Not once during the service did he lift his head, and I wondered then about what he was thinking, if snippets of his life and memory of her were dancing across his mind, conjuring his senses. The sandpapery sound of her voice, the way her house smelled like home to him no matter where she moved to, the way she looked the last time was able to speak to her. Not knowing the way it feels to lose a parent, I can only imagine the things that your mind brings to the forefront. What I do know, though, is that no matter what she did in life, she produced my father. And to me, that’s a pretty respectable legacy.