Look at this photograph.
Randy, my friend of fifteen years, came over yesterday morning. I made coffee on my Kuerig. He brought danish.
His paternal grandmother passed of cancer and the memorial was Saturday. Dutiful grandson, he delivered the eulogy. He had emailed it to me last week to proofread.
Carol Frantz was born on November 14, 1931 in Newark to Earl and Carolyn. Shortly after her sister Ruth was born, the family moved to Hamilton Street in Rahway from West Orange. It was at this time that she met her future husband, Lee Chapin, whose family lived next door. She attended Franklin School and then Rahway High school, from which she graduated in 1950, being voted most artistic.
He and other family members were at her bedside during her last moments, saying prayers. The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm, chapter 23.
They bought a house on Midwood Drive where she lived until her death.
In the days following her death, Randy and his sister Sarah walked through that house, like they had their whole lives. Of course, it was all very different at the same time. They pored through boxes and drawers full of papers, letters and books. Carefully sealed away were family artifacts dating back to the Civil War.
“She kept everything,” Randy said while sipping some coffee from one of my Starbucks mugs. He said this with feigned annoyance. He’d put on that it was a hassle sorting through decades of family history, but finding stuff that could be used as props in a Ken Burns documentary or “Boardwalk Empire” is pretty cool.
At one point, Randy and Sarah put their feet up, right on the coffee table. This was a forbidden act, Grandma Chapin a remnant of that generation who believed children shouldn’t go plunking down on the good chairs in the sitting room, and most definitely should never put dirty shoes up on the furniture. So given the chance, they pushed aside the bowl of shiny wax fruit and snapped this.
When we speak of death, it has such a degree of finality to it. But I know, as do most of you, that this is not the case. This corporeal existence is far from the end. C.S. Lewis said it best. “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Our soul is eternal. Those of us who share the Christian faith know this. We are taught this at a young age. We are also taught not to mourn the dead but to rejoice at their exit from this temporal existence. It is not always that easy. Believe me, I know. I have stood at the grave sides of so many. I have mourned and kept vigil and said prayers and lit candles so many times. It never gets easier. Especially when it was someone you loved. When it was someone who loved you. When it was someone who helped raise you and taught you so many things. Someone who prayed for you. Someone who would have given their life for you. It never gets easier. We were with her when she was given her last communion. When the last prayers of absolution and peace were said for her. My father was there when she took her last breath. I take hope and solace in the fact that we will meet again in the life hereafter. We, as the body of Christ, are all a part of the communion of saints. This communion that encompasses those who are still here and those who have already gone ahead of us.
As Zoe munched on a fruit filled danish, smearing it on her cheeks and between her fingers, Randy listed the names of folks who came to the funeral, and most notably, those who didn’t bother to even call or text. I told him some of those same people never said a peep to me when Joscelyne died. “Death will show you a lot about people,” I said, glancing at my sticky-faced daughter.
I realized it was easier for me and Randy to do that- talk all around Grandma Chapin’s death- then talk about her actual loss. The rush of buying flowers and preparing for the funeral, the stuff in her house on Midwood, the people who have been supportive- or not.
It’s far more comfortable to stay on the periphery of death.
Randy spoke of his ailing grandfather, alone now. Next month would’ve been their 60th wedding anniversary. “I hope… I hope he goes soon… to be without her…”. His voice trailed off. Yes, it’s best to stay on the periphery.
My Grandmother kept everything. Family trees going back hundreds of years. Family letters from the Civil war. Pictures, books, locks of hair. Even my Great-grandmother’s baby shoes. She kept these so that future generations would remember. So that we would know who we are and from where we came. For this I am eternally grateful, and everything that you have left for us will be passed down to the next generation and the generations thereafter. Let this and the love that you gave freely all your life be your greatest legacy. Your greatest gifts to those who you have left behind, until we meet again in paradise.
“Oh, I brought you a prayer card,” Randy said, handing me a laminated sepia-toned photo of his gandmother, hair curled in a shiny 1950s era bob. “Weeping may endure for a night,” it reads, “but joy cometh in the morning.”
I smiled, and he smiled in return. Joy was coming in the mourning.
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