I never thought I'd laugh as often as I cried. But I did laugh. We all did.
We laughed a lot. We told stories. We still burst into tears at different times, depending on the person, but it wasn't all crying all the time.
When my mom and I went to the funeral home to iron out the details for the service, we couldn't help abhorring the depressing Muzak playing throughout the dim blandness. We resolved to bring our own tunes, music that Little Helen liked. We brought Harry James, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw.
Before the service, Little Curly Girl wanted to dance. So I picked her up and put her on my hip, and we danced to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood."
LCG giggled as we danced and whispered in my ear: "Dip me." She likes to be dipped.
"Which way, front or back?" I asked. We dipped both ways.
Little Curly Girl went up to the coffin a few times, sometimes with her mom and once with me. She said to me, "I want to see her inside." I told her we can't do that but that Grammy's resting in there. LCG looks at me all serious and says, "I'm pretty sad that Grammy died." Nods her head. "I'm pretty sad," she repeats solemnly.
I said, "I understand. I'm pretty sad, too."
During the service, the rabbi had all of us go around the room and say who we were and perhaps share a story or memory about Little Helen. I really did not think I could do it. I was one of the last people to have their turn, and everyone kept saying, "Well, I met Helen through..." to start their story.
When it was my turn to speak, still not sure what I would say, it came to me... I said, "I met Helen through my mom." And got a room full of laughter. So then I could tell my story, too.
I didn't realize how long it's been since I really could remember my grandma in her good and sweet humor, her chubbiness, her funny way and how I used to tease her. When someone's sick for a long time, you can only focus on what is immediately in front of you and it's hard to keep it happy. I was so glad to recover the lady that I loved so well, through our shared stories, through our shared laughter last week.
A friend said to me, funerals are for the living. I didn't really understand what he meant until now, but it's true. That togetherness is what makes the loss and sadness bearable. It doesn't make it go away but it makes you realize that you will go on, and that others care.
One of my favorite songs is Kitty Kallen singing "It's Been a Long, Long Time." It just about killed me when I heard it played at the service, but when I got home today, I realized I wanted to play it here in this post. I found some old photos of Little Helen, ones that I had forgotten I had, photos of when she was young and voluptuous and lovely and newly married, and perhaps she danced to or sang this song.
Of course I cried my eyes out just putting these photos to music, but it also felt so right and sweet that I'm glad I did. And it is such a perfect song.