I felt very blessed to be able to find an affordable plane ticket from Amsterdam to Minneapolis — leaving on only the second day after the ash cloud started to clear out over Europe — so that I could attend my grandmother’s funeral in North Dakota. But I had no idea just how incredible the level of blessing would be. It was beautiful to be able to remember my grandmother’s life, together with so many other family members and friends. It was powerful to be able to hug my grandfather, hold his hand at the funeral, and speak words of support, love, and encouragement to him in the face of his catastrophic loss (he loved Grandma so very much). But perhaps what surprised me the most turned out how wonderful it was to have our whole family together — even if it had to be for Grandma’s funeral.
Our family is so spread out — not just to three different cities in Ohio, but to Texas and the Netherlands as well — that it’s a special occasion whenever we can all be in the same place. But because of the last-minute circumstances of coming for Grandma’s funeral, there was the extra dynamic of it being just our family (me and the five other people with whom I grew up), with no spouses and no children. I shared a hotel room with my brothers. We drove together in cars again. We ate meals together. And we got to interact with each other while simultaneously getting to see several relatives that we (or at least I) hadn’t seen for decades. As weird as it sounds to say it, we really had a lot of fun at Grandma’s funeral.
Is it sacriligious to say it? Is it inappropriate to find such joy in such circumstances? I don’t know. All I can say is that we cried together, but we also got to laugh a lot together. We put the rest of our lives on hold this week to mourn a significant death, but this afforded us the opportunity to experience a different kind of liveliness together as a family. We came to see our grandmother laid to rest, but we also got to see the World’s Largest Buffalo.
[For what it’s worth: I would advise viewing the above photo collage at a larger size, here on the Flickr page, in order to get the full effect]
In particular, it was really special to spend some time together with my brothers and sister, in between the post-funeral family visitation and the late evening private family hang-out at Grandpa’s house. And yes, we got to do this in the context of Jamestown’s most celebrated landmark: the world’s largest buffalo (and its accompanying “Frontier Village”). We talked about serious stuff as we walked around together, processing Grandma’s death a bit; but we also spent a lot of time goofing off and taking fun pictures of each other. I guess you could say that we got to celebrate Grandma’s legacy by simply being a family together that afternoon.
The sun set far too quickly on our time together as a family — but at least we got to watch it set together, on the prairie overlooking the James River valley, up beyond our grandparents’ house where we used to play together as children. I’m so glad that everything worked out for us all to be there for Grandma’s funeral.
[In case you might be interested in seeing more pictures from our family’s time together, a couple dozen of my favorite shots (taken almost entirely by my brother Jay and my sister Anna) are posted in the Family Pictures section of the website.]