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April Fools and Funeral Talks

April 1, 2009

I’m speaking at my grandma’s funeral on Friday. I feel the weight of this responsibility like nothing I’ve ever felt when speaking before. I love giving talks; I love that talk-writing zone when the research is done and the ideas flow and the Spirit helps me figure out how they fit together. I love delivering them, when after the nerves wear off and I start speaking slowly (instead of fast like I always do at first) there’s a stillness when I reach the talk’s center, and even the babies are quiet, for just a minute.

But this is like no talk I have ever given; it is shared with my cousin (thank heavens) and we have ten minutes to talk about my grandma, and it’s going to be hard to write and harder to deliver. I feel honored and humbled. I love lighter funeral talks, with funny stories and memories. That is what this is supposed to be. That’s what it will be. But I have all these tender memories in my head right now too: the last time my kids played at her park. She and Grandpa had a good day, health-wise, and they watched my kids scoot around and slide. Grandma laughed at them. And she brought out some pop-tarts and chocolate milk, because she was always, always the hostess, even at age ninety, even when her health was fragile. Grandma always turned the conversation back to me and my family, with genuine interest. Everything I wrote was brilliant. All the stories about my children were funny. And if one of my kids (who got shy sometimes) would run hug and kiss her without being prompted, it made her day.

For all the grandkids and great-grandkids she had, she never took them for granted; they did not run together. Each baby was a cause of joy. Her fridge was covered with great-grandkid pictures; she had a picture wall downstairs of all her children and grandchildren.

See, and now I’m meandering into vagueness, which is the curse of funeral talks: vague stories don’t work so well. It’s not helpful to say “we always went to Bear Lake every summer” or “we always had Christmas Eve as a family.” What works best is something concrete, specific, real, with details I can pin down, unique to me but which everyone identifies with. But what if I don’t recall one Bear Lake out of the many I went to? Or one Christmas Eve memory of her? All I know is that she was always there, and that constancy of tradition and love was bedrock and foundation and home to me and to all my cousins.

I’m going to sift through some papers, and beg emailed memories from cousins, and hope that in all of this my cousin and I can do her justice.

Tomorrow is April Fool’s Day, and my kids want me to do something silly. I hate minor holidays. They want fun stuff, and it makes me tired to think about it. And now I have this interesting juxtaposition: on a day when I feel grouchy about doing something clever for my kids, I am supposed to be writing a talk about my grandma, who delighted in doing clever things for her kids and grandkids.

But I need to remember that it’s not as hard as I make it out to be. I think that’s what she would tell me. The talk isn’t as hard as all that. Neither are the simple pranks. My son still remembers the silly pancakes I made last year.

Okay then. Here goes.

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