Friday, February 22, 2008

Grandpa Larry's Funeral

I have many subjects floating through my head today. Let's see how many I can get to before I give up and hit bed.

Grandpa Larry's Funeral
Last Thursday, I flew up to New Hampshire. My sis-in-law and her hubby met me and took me to their house to unwind. I adore them. She's a nurse and he's a fireman/EMT, among other things. But I think of them mostly as The Nurse and The FireGuy.

On Friday, we made the 3 hr drive up to Vermont to attend Larry's viewing. He was cremated so there was, thankfully, no casket. Just his ashes, some flowers and a ton of pictures. My mother-in-law was there and doing amazingly well. Larry's brother and sister-in-law were up from Boston. Future ex was there. And then we got there.

Paying respects is never a cake walk to begin with. I walked in wondering just exactly how I was being included or excluded. I was very afraid of those possibilities. I should have known better. Future ex can be a real moron but this event transcends the day to day idiocies. He was gracious and very much like his former self I used to love a lot. My mother-in-law included me in the family pictures and the obit. That last bit floored me. I loved it. It meant so much to me. I was secretly thrilled to see that I was in so many of the pictures up on the mounted collage. The whole extended in-law family was just glad I was there and welcomed me thusly. They rock, those people.

We all went out to a family dinner during a break in the viewing. The Nurse, The FireGuy and I were all included. It wasn't even a question. I love that. The Nurse, while being future ex's sister, is not Larry's daughter. But he always tried to include her and her family in his life. So my mother-in-law introduced her to everyone as her step-daughter. I thought that was really sweet and very cool.

The funeral was Saturday afternoon. The Nurse, The FireGuy and I all decided that Larry would have wanted us to go into Montpelier early and generate the economy. So we did. Apparently, Larry wanted me to buy a really cool silver ring, a cute black short-sleeved baby-doll top and a killer sleeveless multi-colored top that could be a dress for a more daring girl. I was happy to oblige the imaginary posthumous wishes of my father-in-law. Oh yes, he also wanted us to have Ben & Jerry's ice cream but it was just crazy cold and we couldn't bring ourselves to do it.

The funeral was amazing. It was held in the church that I believe they had many of their AA meetings in. It was almost full. I have to tell you that this fact showed just how little I knew my in-laws. I knew they had their friends around town. I knew they knew most everyone. But I hadn't understood the strong bonds they had forged. And the HUGE impact they have had on that town. At the funeral, the family was allowed to step up to a microphone and say a few words. Mother-in-law did, future ex did, Boston Uncle did as did all his kids. And then I did. I may be stepping back a bit into the shadows of being an "ex". But not quietly.

I didn't say half the things I intended. I was able to say how Larry and I had pushed each other's buttons. How he had been a giant pain in my ass (yes, in those a church - but anyone who knew him laughed). And how I had returned the favor. I also mentioned his incredible generosity. How, at one time, he had been my confidant and best friend. And how, in the end, we had one last conversation (timed by God's own hand) to set things right between us. I ended up crying through most of my statement. Yah. That not-pretty crying while I talk thing. Nice. I'm sure it would have made Larry laugh.

But it wasn't so much the family statements that impressed me. After we finished, the pastor opened it up to anyone. And they came. Old timers. A 20-something kid. It spanned the whole age line. Person after person got up and just floored me. They talked about this caring, sensitive, empathetic, gentle bear. Many were AA folks - fellow addicts taking each day at a time. But many had been inspired by someone like Larry getting sober. And that was huge. Larry was a hard-core drinker. An ugly drunk. He got sober after his doctor told him he'd die if he kept it up. One guy said he heard about Larry getting sober and he thought, well, if Larry can do it, I can. Then he went on to say he'd been sober for 25 yrs and Larry had saved his life. Almost every single story had us all cracking up at one point or another. Larry was a character and a very funny guy, amongst all of his other traits.

We heard stories about how this man I thought of as a giant ball of grump would visit someone every day in their store to make sure they were ok. If someone was down, he was there. If someone was worried, lonely, hurting, whatever - Larry was there. I couldn't really reconcile the stories I was hearing with my own personal experiences. But then again...I kind of could.

So it made me think about this: a prophet is never accepted in his own home town. We were his family. We were too close to the baggage, the history, the pain, the ugly. Unfortunately, for some of us, that defined what we knew of Larry, with nicer bits filling the gaps. But to the outsiders in Larry's life, he was able to transcend his uglier start and fulfill his potential as a loving nurturing person. It's tragic that sometimes it's your own family that just can't allow you to move up and over your mistakes.

That funeral was a gift from God. To me, anyway. I was forced to look at Larry in a whole new light. I've been spending many moments since asking God to take away any resentment I had toward the man. To help me to truly and wholly forgive him for the hurts I may perceive he did me. It's a hard thing. I imagine I may have to work a while on this one.

I talked to future ex about this today. He agreed. Funerals trigger that selective memory. As they should. What good does it do anyone to stand around bitching about the dearly departed? We all collectively celebrated the goodness Larry did in his life. And really, celebrated his victory over that dark addiction. But future ex and I are wondering how it will hit the people that felt hurt by Larry. When the selective memory fades and the hurts are still there - how will they wrestle them down? I know I won't wrestle them. I'll keep turning them over to God and asking for forgiveness for my unforgiveness. I'm not sure how future ex will deal with them.

Anyway. Larry was much more amazing than I ever knew. That actually makes me sad. That I missed out on that. It wasn't all my fault. I get that. He really was a pill to me and future ex for years. Even sober, lots of people still screw up with their own families. But I'm just glad to know that he was able to be such an amazing man. And to help so many people. What a gift - to have walked his hell and retain a soft heart for addicts. I personally have very little patience for them. For many reasons. Which is why I'm glad people like Larry and mother-in-law exist. To smack me upside my judgmental head and remind me that addicts deserve love and patience just like any other idiot (include me in that last lot).

It was both nice and annoying to watch future ex get so much support and love from everyone. Any person deserves that kind of unconditional love when they lose a significant loved one. Especially a parent. But the part of me that still struggles against hating him...that part of me rankled at his special treatment. The bitch in me wanted to scream at them all, "What are you coddling this idiot for?! Do you know what he's DONE?!!!!" Fortunately for me, I was raised a smidge better than that. And I pray a lot. I think God will be working on my anger for quite a while yet.

Bottom line: Larry's funeral was truly the way it should be done. With lots of love and lots of laughter.

That's about it. That's all I can write at the moment.


Sarakastic said...

this made me cry & feel grateful for someone I never knew

ellesappelle said...

Funerals... I know with my Mum's, it made the initial grieving so much more positive, being able to work towards something and say what was important and so on. They're great. But I agree, after you do all these speeches and find out all these things about people you thought you knew so well, you start wondering - why didn't I ever say this while they were still alive? This year my dad has a big milestone birthday coming up, and so my siblings and I are going to throw him a BIG party so we can do that for him now. Without sounding like he's on death's door.