It seems that I, along with many of my friends and loved ones, have been in a perpetual state of mourning these past few years. Many of us have had to painfully witness our parents and grandparents weather the withering ravages of age. It seems as if an unyielding rash of funerals have happened of late. I've come to learn, as most of us do, that when it comes to family funerals, your own mourning ends up on hold while you are supposed to stand firm for all of the mourners that stream through. I would find strength of a sort from the many well-wishes that would come about during the visitations and funerals, but all of the controlled resolve would, in my case, often result in some outburst of emotion that would manifest at some wickedly inappropriate time and place. It is the nature of grief, I suppose, to be unpredictable. God help me if mourning instead becomes a natural state for me. This post wasn't meant as a treatise on grief, but as more of a dedication to Keith's Grandpa Joe. As I am so far behind on the blog, I have attended two more funerals since Joe's passing, so this ritual of grief is foremost in my mind.
Grandpa Joe was Keith's father's father and was one genuinely nice man. I didn't see him much over the years; it was primarily at the holidays when he and his wife would join us for the annual Christmas Eve dinner at Ken and Helen's. He was always very kind and soft-spoken and every year, he seemed to get more frail. This past Christmas, his frailties were unnervingly familiar...watching him struggle evoked memories of the last year of my Dad's life. Sadly, the word came that Grandpa Joe left this good Earth and we headed for Jeff City to be with Keith's Dad during that ever-difficult time.
During the course of the viewing and service, there were, as there were with my family's and so many others, emotional outbursts and tough moments, to be sure. Losing a loved one twists us up and sometimes lead us to twisted actions as we wade through the torment of grief, but those tough times can also lead to healing moments. We watched with rapt interest the digital photo display at the viewing that revealed all of the many moments of Joe's colorful life. He was a cowboy who always had horses and the photo that really got our attention was him standing on the back of one of his horses. Gathered at the funeral the next day, we solemnly watched Ken and his siblings surround Grandma Esther as she said her tearful farewell to her husband of 68 years. At the following burial service, a quiet prayer was spoken on a beautiful sunny day before it all concluded with a song for Joe: Walter Brennan's melancholy ode Old Rivers.
As the song told its sad tale, not a word was spoken and all of those previous outbursts simply faded away as family clung to each other in tearful grief. It seemed to be a crystalline moment of healing blended with deep sorrow. After the burial, the family attended a reception at the church and then later met at Joe's farm to end the day together. Here, tears were replaced by weary laughter and good food, such as the amazing Cajun chips from Lutz's Famous BBQ. Some of the heartiest laughter came from visiting Joe's last two remaining horses who seemed to really, REALLY enjoy Keith's iced tea. Still seemed sad to see them, knowing Joe was gone. Finally, we all went on home.. The next day, we took Keith's Mom to lunch for Mother's Day to local fave Arris's Cafe. I had written about the downtown pizzeria before, but this was the spanking new cafe and the food was delicious and the decor quite impressive. It was good to have one last meal with family that celebrated life after so many sad days before we headed back to KC.
Rest in peace, Grandpa Joe. Hope it was a beautiful sunset you rode off into. The following video is of the Walter Brennan song played at Joe's burial.