Saturday, January 05, 2008

In the Middle

I am currently in the middle of the process of saying goodbye to Nana. It actually started in 2006 when they took her drivers license away. She was 98. Because she'd started into mild congestive heart failure with afibrillation she had to take medication that could potentially cause her to pass out.

She was an excellent driver.

Shortly before Christmas she got the renewal in the mail and my stepfather had to break it to her that she wasn't ever going to drive again. Over the last two years there had been a series of these kinds of epiphanies that she'd had to accept. In some ways the death of her independence is sadder than her actual death which, all things considered, was just about perfect.

I love the idea of laying down to rest and just not waking up. This could be due to the fact that I have, and have had most of my life, terrible insomnia.

Yesterday was Nana's entombment. She and my grandfather who died 19 years ago, now lay side by side in a wall at what used to be the Sunnyside Mausoleum and Mortuary. It's now Forest Lawn which is like the Walmart of funeral homes, but I digress. When my grandfather dropped dead of a heart attack at 80 we were all in shock and we did what Nana wanted so there was a service in the chapel and we didn't actually watch his installation.

Because Nana was never religious we decided to forgo the service in the chapel by some man who didn't know her for a celebration which will be held at her house tomorrow at 2pm. I will be bringing a bottle of Scotch for a toast in her honor. Yesterday the family gathered to witness her entombment.

And now I have one more thing on the list of things I never need to to again.

When we arrived we wandered around this rather amazing place looking for someone who could tell us where she was exactly. The building was constructed in 1928 and it's rather gothic looking, filled with marble and stone walls and curlicued iron gates in the arched doorways of the private crypts. Some people were in niches, their resting places decked out with amazing tile work like a medieval knight or an egyptian king.

In the center of the building is a Foucault's pendulum which slides back and forth keeping time for people who no longer really care. The building was so cold I could feel it through the soles of my shoes, because why waste money heating what is basically a giant cold storage? No one in there notices how cold it is except for visitors and I can't imagine hanging out too long in this place except maybe in the summer time when it's scalding outside.

As we wandered around I noticed that the majority of the residents had been born prior to the civil war and it occurred to me that back in the day this form of eternal rest was probably not only socially acceptable, but also something that people of status did because it's really quite fancy. Now, to me, it just seems really creepy.

A nice man in what looked to be a caretakers uniform directed us to the funeral director, Roland who escorted us to the second floor, down a north hallway from the pendulum and there I saw a blue casket made of steel with silver accents - Nana would have fully approved because blue was her favorite color - which was against the wall just below what appeared to be a blue window curtain over her spot. The marble front which contained my grandfather's name and dates was resting on an easel type thing. It was a nice presentation. I was terrified that when they took the blue curtain down I would see my grandfather's casket.

I watched too much Dark Shadows growing up, where caskets are just rolled into crypts so that the vampires can get out. In reality they seal the casket into with a concrete cover using mortar, something that we were about to witness.

There were folding chairs set up in this hallway for us to sit in so we did. As we sat there staring at the blue box that contained Nana's remains I had no feeling that she was in there. It felt empty to me. They needed some extra guys for the lifting so we waited and we got a little weepy, and then as my family is inclined to do we started joking and then we started laughing.

This was appropriate because Nana was a laugher. She would laugh so hard no sound would come out and she would cry. Then she'd send the rest of us off and we wouldn't be able to stop. So I consider what happened next sort of an homage to her ability to appreciate and laugh at life.

In order to get the casket up to the level of the crypt they brought out a cart with a hydraulic lift. It was painted gold like the kind of gold you see in church generally gilding the wings of angels. It looked nice and kind of matched the occasion except for the big plastic bucket and yellow jug and rubber gloves, like those you'd see on a cleaning cart. These were removed and the casket was placed on the lift which rose to the level of the space so it could be slid in like a fancy filing drawer.

I'm not sure, but I don't think many people choose to watch the entombment because the guys seemed a little nervous, chattering sotto voce to each other in Spanish. As we watched her go into the wall my aunt and I started to cry. I was crying because it's kind of traumatic for me to think about my little Nana in a wall. I think Sue was crying because her mother is dead. But then she said, through her tears, if Daddy could talk he'd be saying, "It took you long enough."

We all started laughing because that is totally something he would say. As the guy put on the rubber gloves and started mixing the mortar with a trowel we sat and watched and tried to stay composed but then Bob said, "I feel like I'm at a Do-it-yourself seminar at Home Depot" and we got the giggles so bad we couldn't stop.

None of this made the job any easier for the guys that were trying to respectfully get the entombing done. We started telling Nana stories which included the fart stories (we're a gassy family) and now we were howling. Thank God no one else was in the building mourning their loved one because although we are very sad and missing Nana, the hilarity is part of how we grieve.

And laughing and crying are pretty much the same emotion.

Tomorrow we will gather with friends to celebrate her life and I will drink Scotch and lovingly remember what she always said about halfway through the cocktail hour..."I feel the way a woman should always feel."