Facebook reminded me this morning that five years ago today was my grandmother’s funeral, just as on Saturday morning it reminded me that she passed away a hemidecade ago.
I knew this was coming; a few weeks ago Facebook showed me pictures from Shore Leave 2011 (including John de Lancie and an experiment in making Irish Carbombs at the bar in the Hunt Valley Inn with the limited drinkware available), and she passed away about two weeks after that.
I wrote some remarks to deliver at the service. The delivery… did not go well.
Those who were there saw it unfold. Those who were not… well, I’ve never talked about it.
The anguish and pain born of years of close proximity to my grandmother’s decline uncorked and came pouring out in a high-pitched whine and an outpouring of tears that I tried to choke back and failed as I stood at the podium. A sister said to me later that she had no idea what to do at the moment, that she wanted to “rescue” me. There was no place to “rescue” me to, though. It had to come out, and the torrent of sound and fury was probably a truer account of my feelings than any of the anodyne remarks I’d written.
Though there is something to be said for marmalade.
Back at the house that afternoon, a blisteringly hot day as I recall, my dad said something to me in the kitchen, an anecdote about a World War I veteran, that I’ll try to paraphrase.
He’d seen my reaction before. When he was younger, in college, I think, he attended a talk with a veteran of the Battle of Jutland. (For those not historically inclined, Jutland was the only major naval battle of World War I, fought between Britain and Germany. Britain technically “won” the battle in that the Germans retreated back to port and didn’t seriously challenge the Royal Navy again, but both sides took tremendous — and on Britain’s side, obscene — losses in the battle.) And this veteran had, in the course of talking about the experience, broken down in much the same way I had as, in talking about what he’d seen, the memories came flooding back and the things that he had pushed aside — the sounds, the smells, the fire and the carnage, the screams, the explosions and the silence — became present and overwhelming for him again. There are things that no one should ever have to witness, there are traumas that no one should ever have to carry, and the weight of those things are sometimes too much for the soul to bear. These things don’t have to involve wars or cruelty or death. Pain takes many forms. He understood.
You’d have thought I’d have worked through the emotions by then. My grandmother had been dying for a long time. Her mind died long before her body expired. But life is complicated, and the feelings we have and carry about that life are complex. Five years after her body went into the ground, there are some feelings from that time that are still unresolved — and may always be unresolved. I wonder at times if there were a better way.