Before leaving for my silent retreat, I gave my mom the phone number of my spiritual director. I didn’t want updates or messages, but I wanted her to have it in case something happened. Specifically, I was thinking about my grandparents’ declining health. While I knew it was possible something would happen, I really thought things would be fine, that my precaution was simply preparing for the worst that wouldn’t actually happen.
A few days into the retreat, I returned from Mass to find a note outside my door. My mom had called and my grandpa was not doing well. I picked up the note, read it a couple times, and then sat on the couch and cried. My heart was aching, in part for myself but also for my mother. After lunch, I sat on the same couch and entered into one of my hours of prayer. Yet at each little noise, I envisioned the downstairs door opening and my spiritual director coming to tell me that my grandpa had died. Then I realized he would probably just wait until our scheduled time. But that didn’t make me stop listening for each sound, anticipating the door opening and steps on the stairs.
When he arrived, I asked if my mom had called. He said she had. For a moment, I was hopeful that she called to say things improved. He sat down, told me that my grandpa had died, and then looked at me. I, meanwhile, looked down. And he waited, patiently. Having already cried, I wanted to just move on and not revisit the tears. Yet at just a couple questions from him, I was starting to cry.
My grandpa’s death wasn’t tragic. He was in his 90s and had been waiting for death for a while. The last time I visited him, he joked that the only thing left to pick out were the pallbearers. The sense of humor is key to knowing my grandpa. Over the last few years, I had come to see a side of my grandpa that was new. He would open up about fears, he would talk about death, and he would get frequently misty-eyed.
I remained on retreat as long as I could, leaving early to go to my grandpa’s wake. Driving there, I assumed that I would begin to cry as soon as I saw my mom. Had she started to cry, I would have started, too, but she did not. After greeting a few of my aunts and uncles, I sat in the church with some relatives and my grandpa’s casket. I made it through that and the wake that evening without crying. The next day at the funeral, I was near tears only a couple times, but never succumbed.
The burial is where I wept. Prior to this, I wasn’t refusing to cry. I was grieving, I had cried, and I felt very much at peace with my grandpa’s death. While I didn’t see him all the time, I saw him fairly often and he had lived a good, long life. The sight of uniformed military personnel is enough to get me near tears. There is something so beautiful about the uniformed men, following commands, paying their respects to the deceased. The twenty-one gunshot salute for the World War II veteran was jarring and the crying infant seemed appropriate.
But then one of my uncles brought out a couple five-gallon buckets of dirt from the family farm. Each person was able to go over and scoop up some dirt, placing it on the casket. First the line wove past my grandma, as well as my grandpa’s siblings. Sobs were coming up before I even got to them. I couldn’t help but consider their sorrow–losing a husband of 65 years or a sibling. My grandma sat there, looking tough and frail all at once. My heart ached for her as I bent down, giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I was then shoveling a bit of earth, so dear to farmers, and pouring it on the casket.
I watched as the others filed through. My immediate family happened to be standing on the other side of the grave, but I was busy pulling myself back together. One of my uncles saw me and came over to me and gave me a side hug. Though we are not particularly close, we were united deeply in our grief. His hug was strong as his head leaned on mine, messing up my hair. We spoke briefly, but remained in that hug for a while. It was the familial bond that I was blessed to experience so ardently that day.