“Well, just at least try to be on time this morning,” my mother said. “You know how Gran hated it when people were late. We’ve got everything planned, finally. Trying to get that group to take anything seriously last night was nearly impossible. It always is. At least your Grandmother chose the readings and hymns she wanted. That makes it a little easier.”
I asked who was saying the Mass, mostly to make conversation. It’s not like I know a lot of priests. Surprisingly, she said it was old Father McNally. He’d been at that church since I was a kid. Kind of a nice guy, I guess. But you know how it’ll be. He’ll get up and start carrying on and on about what a great woman Gran was and what a diminished place the world will be now that she’s gone. It’s just so weird. Why is it that someone gets to be Saint for a Day just because they’ve died? I mean, she was such a sour, hateful woman. How can he say that she was kind and generous and full of faith? Well, I guess that last one was true, anyway. She always looked at me like she knew I was doomed to hell. But still, isn’t it a sin for a priest to tell a lie?
Mommo was going on about appropriate dress. For the two of us. I had to tell her, Mitch wouldn’t actually be there. We sort of broke up last night.
Dead silence. Deadly silence, actually. Then the sorrow. How could you do this to us. That just killed me. Here I was, feeling all raw and alone without Mitch beside me and she was mad because I’d messed up her plans. I mean it’s ridiculous. It’s not like they were close, ever. Just get one of the funeral home clods to do it. They look good in suits and probably like doing everything themselves. Mitch doesn’t even own a suit and always feels weird when he thinks people are looking at him. Kind of weird that he wants to be an actor. But Mum was really upset at the thought that we’d have to rope in a stranger to carry Gran on her Final Journey. This family thinks of things like that. Thinks it matters who carries a dead body to the grave.
Well it’s not like I exactly planned to end it the night before, but we’d started talking and by the time we’d finished, it was all over. And I don’t really know why. I mean, he’s the best friend I’ve ever had. Breaking up probably wasn’t a really sensible thing to do. But I looked around me at the funeral home that first night, and I realized that I don’t want to end up like Gran: old and bitter and miserable. Or like Aunt Marion: dutiful and lonely. And I certainly don’t want to end up like my cousin Jane: middle-aged before my time and popping out babies every couple of years. As a matter of fact, I just don’t want to end up. Whatever I do, I want to do. I want to live my life, not just have it happen to me. And even if I make terrible mistakes and make myself miserable, it will be because I did it and not because someone else did it to me.
I only really got engaged to Mitch because I’d been seeing him so long and everyone seemed to expect it, so I kind of expected it, too. And I would have drifted along, and married Mitch and had a few babies; he would have talked me into it eventually, and I’d have grown old and died, having just let life happen to me. Seeing Gran dead, and realizing that someday that would be me in that box at the front of the room really made me think.
Anyway, Eunice called it sound reasoning, last night when we were drinking tea. I tried to explain it to her as best I could and she nodded like she really understood. Like she thought I’d learned a really big, important lesson. Your life is your own, she said. It’s the only thing that’s really yours. Live it as you see fit.
Mitch, of course, thought it was a really stupid reason not to marry him. I was kind of surprised at how mad he was. It kind of bothers me. I don’t like not having him on my side. Eunice said that maybe, once I’ve figured out what I really want to do, Mitch and I can get back together again, if we both want to. I guess she and Uncle Bob break up all the time.
It was nice talking to Eunice last night. She sort of turned into a real person to me. And the way she talked about Bob, made him seem kind of real, too. Eunice said she was glad to get to know me better and hoped we’ll keep in touch after this.
It’s funny how something as insignificant as one old lady dying could cause us to become better friends. I almost wonder if maybe Gran didn’t have a hand in it. I can just picture her at The Pearly Gates, telling Saint Peter in that terribly authoritative way she had, to just wait a minute for the review of her life, young man. She had to get her family sorted out first. Which is kind of weird, when you think about it. I mean, can we do that? Once our earthly lives are done, are we allowed to go on caring for the ones we’ve left behind? I kind of doubt it happens that way. It makes a nice thought, though.