Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Of funerals and bedtime

Papa’s funeral was yesterday.

It has been tiring and beautiful. And in the process of saying good-bye, my kids and I have been teaching each other some new definitions. For example, I’m teaching them:

  • Death: (n) sleep
  • Casket: (n) bed

My favorites they have taught me are:

  • Funeral: (n) party
  • Tribute in song with pantomime by great-granddaughters to honor deceased: (n) dance contest

The girls had spent the long weekend “helping” Daddy put together a bulletin and slide show for their great grandfather, and were downright excited about “Papa’s party.” (We called it a “celebration” of Papa’s life—why not a party?) They bathed without complaint, put on their church clothes, descended the mountain crammed in the back of the Accord without even scratching each others’ eyes out. In fact, despite skipping a nap, they shared a Chicken McNuggets 10-pack among the three of them, Brielle in the middle handing out nuggets as each twin managed her own container of dip on either side. (Unheard of.)

The service was what it needed to be—a loving review of a life well lived. And the kids offered grace notes throughout it. Technical difficulties stopped the sound from playing during the slide show. This left us in a silence I can only call deathly, a silence from which Melía rescued us with her narration, audible throughout the room: “Dat is my Papa. Dat is my Nana. Dat is my MOMMY!” Ashlyn ran outside, broke a vase and reminded us how grateful we are for friends to scoop her up and prevent her from plowing straight into traffic. Tears and farewells and poetry and hymn and eulogy honored the 90-year-old patriarch in a dignified fashion. Rachelle managed to get through her song, Goodbye for Now, only choking up on the last two lines, which in its own way was as beautiful as the rest of her singing.

All this was preamble to what would easily have been Papa’s favorite part: the “dance contest,” featuring contestants Brielle, Melía and Ashlyn. Following their aunt’s lead, the girls did motions to You Raise Me Up. In their cherubim-white dresses, they carved laugh-wrinkle canals to drain our tears. Each child lost interest in the performance at various times during the song, pausing to check under fingernails, pick nose, eye loved ones or otherwise drift off to left field. Yet each refrain of “You raise me up…” brought them back, lifting hands from floor to sky, high as their tiny arms could reach.

Hours later, as the restaurant hosting the wake was rolling up the fire hoses used to clean up after our kids, I tucked the girls into bed. Melía, ever the night owl, brought up the song again. “We raise Papa up, Daddy.”

“Yes, Melía, Jesus will raise Papa up, sweetheart. You did such a good job helping people remember that today.”

“We raise Papa up, Daddy.”

“Melía, when Jesus raises Papa up, he will be so happy to see you. He will dance with you and play with you and run with you and tickle you.”

“Yeah! YEAH! Yay! YAY!” Melía was bouncing on the bed now, energized, as always, by her parents’ snowballing exhaustion.

“That’ll be fun, huh, Melía?”

“Yeah, dat will be fun. Dat will be FUN!”

“I hope Jesus does that soon, Melía. I can’t wait.”

“Yeah, I townt wait. I townt wait.”

“Night-night, Melia.”

“Night-night, Daddy.”

Night-night Papa. We can’t wait…


blissful begonia said...

Our sincere condolences to your family. These two posts on loss seen through the filter of childhood innocence are very touching. Thank you for sharing. Blessings on all of you!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of your family's loss.

Interesting link to Selah's version of "You Raise Me Up." This was one of our motivators for coming to Mozambique, and is still a theme song. I love the idea of doing motions with it, and hadn't thought of its applicability to a funeral situation before.