A Funeral Story

My brother and I spent the better part of a day traveling to and from our Uncle Bob’s funeral on Monday. We began in the pre-dawn winter darkness of Wooster, Ohio, traveled to St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Livonia, Michigan and found our way back to Wooster as the pale sun fell into its pink then blue place below the snow.

Along the way, dressed in funeral attire, we talked about family (memories of Uncle Bob, of our own Dad who died in 2009, growing up and its accompanying angst and adventure), politics (the economy, the 2012 election, John “tan” Boehner, Barack Obama and the tragedy in Tucson), music (John Lennon, The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, Gerry Rafferty to name a few) and movies (Monty Python and The Holy Grail, The Big Lebowski, High Fidelity and Elf). It was an eight-hour ride.

While The Beatles were playing, I asked my brother where he was when John Lennon was shot. My brother is a huge Beatles fan. In fact, the first album he ever gave me was The Magical Mystery Tour. His answer, “at college,” reminded me of our 12-year age difference, which nowadays seems a much smaller expanse of time. He told me that he came home just days after Lennon was killed, and the news coverage was exhaustive, much like it’s been since the Tucson tragedy. My brother said that Dad, tired of the constant coverage, said in frustration, “He’s just a man.”

John Lennon and his son Sean.

My brother said nothing back – but that moment was one of alienation and misunderstanding. My brother grieving his hero, a musical, social and political voice of his generation, unable to share any of it with Dad. And Dad, viewing Lennon as an aimless artist, hippie, troublemaker – who he didn’t even respect as a musician.

I sat with that for a moment when my brother finished. And I told him that I recently read an interview with Yoko Ono in which she spoke with pride about John being “the first man to push a baby carriage…no one did it before John.” I told Steve that whether or not that was true, it was amazing to think the effect one man could have had on a generation of fathers – a collective unconscious agreement to perhaps take a more hands-on role than their fathers had.

Interestingly, our own Dad was very hands-on with us when were babies. Not surprisingly, when we were old enough to voice our own opinions on the world, our relationships got more complicated.

I wonder if my Dad ever came around to John Lennon – understanding what a tragedy his death was, not just for his fans, but for his wife, his sons. And our culture. Did Dad respond that way because of his own fear of death? You’re walking through your life and suddenly, you’re gunned down in front of your home? Or one day, your mind simply stops working the way it once did. Was his quick anger simply his confirmation that we are all, always, vulnerable?

Now, at Uncle Bob’s funeral. A chance to honor the last of 11 children, a man full of life, a storyteller who often spoke of himself in the third person, a devoted husband, dad, grandpa, uncle, friend. A doer of good – in his church, in soup kitchens, with children less fortunate, with friends and family. A stubborn, funny, crystal blue-eyed character.

Aunt Georgia & Uncle Bob

The minister said it out loud: “We are perishable. What has happened here will happen to us all.”

I looked out the window to the churchyard, where Uncle Bob spent hours cleaning up, tending the lawn and flowers. It was snow-covered now: a large birdfeeder hanging from a leafless branch.

The minister continued, “The pain is over for Bob…and he will live on forever through God.”

I didn’t feel convinced.

But a covey of doves flew into the churchyard and began eating from the feeder. That was something.

A mutual friend of Uncle Bob and Aunt Georgia’s delivered the eulogy. It was laugh out loud funny at times; poignant in others, as all good tributes should be.

Afterward, we gathered with cousins and church folk for a luncheon. I joked with my brother, taking bets on whether or not ham would be served. (It is the Midwest, after all.)

There was ham. And chicken. Pasta. Potatoes.

And literally, a table of desserts.

Everyone wins with that kind of grief buffet.

When I hugged Aunt Georgia goodbye, I felt her physical strength through her heavy wool coat, though I knew her heart was aching. She had spent 62 years with Uncle Bob and today, for the first time in 62 years, she would go home alone.

What she has, what we all have, is memory, the way in which her life is different and richer because of the moments contained within it.

Josh, Becca & Grandpa/Uncle Bob

It’s not for me to say if Uncle Bob is somewhere laughing now with his 10 siblings, parents, even with my Dad.


I have an armload of memories. I have every present moment. I have a snowy car ride with my brother. And it is more than enough.

Snowy evening in Charleston

This Jersey girl spent Friday night watching it snow, YES, snow in Charleston. The first accumulative snow the Holy City has seen since 1989. I watched what began as cold rain turn into sleet. I sat outside listening to the sleet as it ricocheted lightly off of windows, cars and trees, waiting. When the sleet began changing into snow, I sat motionless, wondering how long it could last.

When it became clear that the snow meant business, I walked inside and spent the evening on the couch in front of my picture window. For hours I watched the snow in wonder and disbelief. Watching snow cover palm fronds is quite a sight to see.

I’ve been away from New Jersey winters long enough to forget the absolute hush that comes over the world when it snows. Though I’m not sure how long the quiet lasted, I know it’s a memory now burned in my brain, like the smell of my Dad’s bread baking.

The silence finally broke to sounds of joy: shrieks of delight and amazement from neighbors young and old, loud laughter and shouts from friends gathering great handfuls of snow for snowball fights.

As I looked to the streetlights to see the snow, I remembered dozens of nights from my childhood where I strained to see snowflakes in a beam of light, promising the universe whatever it wanted as long as I could have a snow day. PLEASE!

Funny how two inches of Southern snow can take a girl all the way back home.