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Sunday, July 26, 2009

saying goodbye in our way.

My three girls together: my sister, Little Curly Girl, and Little Helen.


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.


Char July 26, 2009 at 7:12 PM  

beautiful memories - beautiful music - I'm glad you all honored and celebrated her life in your way

Bill Stankus July 26, 2009 at 8:04 PM  

We all have our time in the sun ....

Adam July 26, 2009 at 8:07 PM  

i sat in a pew, 3 months after my grandpa [best friend] passed away, I had to live with that sick feeling for 3 months before I could properly mourn.

Laugh I did, cry I certainly did.

I'm glad you got to say goodbye, and I am sure your mom appreciates you helping and being who ever it is she needed you to be.

hope all is well, and welcome back!

Brenda Susan July 26, 2009 at 8:18 PM  


Henry (@knowtango.com) July 26, 2009 at 9:09 PM  

Saying goodbye is hard. Great homage post, and remember the good times.

Yoli July 26, 2009 at 9:29 PM  

What a beautiful tribute. She would be so so proud. Sending you a hug my dear girl.

robin-bird July 26, 2009 at 9:49 PM  

i was glad to see you posted because i knew that meant you were home. this is more beautiful than you know. to share your injured heart in all it's fullness is a gift indeed. i love you sweetly.

Just Jules July 26, 2009 at 9:50 PM  

Our kids/family will never look with such admiration at our photos I fear. There is just something so magical about the old photos.

I always tell my children that it isn't the people that leave that are hurting it is the people left on Earth. We are sad- not them.

I love a funeral where the life is remembered the person. I hope people are in tears at my funeral, but only because they are laughing so hard. I have worked to hard at having some fun in this life to be thrown in the ground with wails and moans.

I am glad you got to go through the process. Each day will find you one step closer to remembering with a smile.

Thank you for sharing. I am happy to be included in something so intimate

An Open Heart July 26, 2009 at 10:07 PM  

What a beautiful tribute. I cared for my grandmother at the end of her life and I wanted to remember her alive and the Lady who was devilish, proud, funny and it helped that I had a place to tell stories about her and listen to others tell stories about her. The music we prepared for her celebration of life was what finally got me at the end of the day...one particular song hit me just the right way and I finally cried. I still hear her in my head, almost everyday....she's been gone almost two years...they never really leave us....

paris parfait July 27, 2009 at 2:48 AM  

Wonderful tribute to an amazing woman, your Little Helen. Big hugs. xo

glnroz July 27, 2009 at 5:51 AM  

Ohhh Ms Tango,, that was the greatest tribute that i believe I have ever seen. Myyy gooddnesss..
Thank you..

~K July 27, 2009 at 6:26 AM  

I loved it all Hon especially the music. You know how I am about music. What a bittersweet funeral. What a gift irt was to have someone like little Helen in your life.

Take Care

Jeanne July 27, 2009 at 6:54 AM  

I am very sorry for your loss.
Love and hugs and prayers

smith kaich jones July 27, 2009 at 6:57 AM  

Oh, Julie, this is heartbreaking & wonderful & sad & happy all at the same time, just like real life. Funerals are for the living, and nothing is more precious than the stories & laughter shared. And, oh. Little Curly Girl. When my niece's grandfather died (he was the only grandpa she had; my father had died a month before she was born), she was about 9. Old enough to get it. Old enough to start checking how many gray hairs the rest of us had, bothered by the sudden realization that one day we would leave her. At one point her mom asked me to take her into the lady's lounge & just sit with her for a while. After finding not too many gray hairs on my head, I told her stories, including the secret that my mother had been married once before, at 16, to a hotshot motorcycle guy, and we began to laugh & laugh. It's how the heart begins to heal. They are tiny, almost invisible stitches, but they are there nonetheless.


Relyn July 27, 2009 at 7:54 AM  

Oh, sweetheart. What a lovely, conquoring heart you have. I am so very glad that you found the earlier version of your grandma again. Hold on to that, hold on to her. I don't really need to tell you that, do I? You already know it. You've already done it in the beautiful tribute you've created. Thank you for sharing your memories with us. Know that I'm (along with so many others) listening and interested when you're ready to share more. Know that I love you. Love, misses, and a hug that doesn't let go until you do. ~ Relyn

Anonymous July 27, 2009 at 9:16 AM  

Beautiful photos & a beautiful song.

Baglady July 27, 2009 at 1:08 PM  

Beautiful, thank you for sharing.

I can't say for sure but I bet she'd be proud of you.

sherry lee July 27, 2009 at 2:30 PM  

Funerals are for the living but they are also for the deceased...a last farewell of laughter, tears and respect. A joyous time for us to remember and to seek comfort from others who love us, others who want to share in our memories and our thoughts.

As for the music? Me too. When my mother passed away 12 years ago there was no possibility of us playing sombre music. For years whenever she'd hear "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch" she'd sing and dance along and tell us "remember to play that at my funeral." My sister and I did her one better...we played all motown and it made everyone smile..and cry. When my sister died 2 years later, I played all of her favourite songs and I could hear people singing and tapping along. Now THAT filled me with happiness and I know she would have been over the moon. ♥

Marilyn Miller July 27, 2009 at 3:19 PM  

What a touching tribute to Little Helen. The pictures brought back memories of my mom and brought a few tears to my eyes. What wonderful memories your family can share.

Brad July 27, 2009 at 3:30 PM  

What a super nice tribute and story. And I love the family photos from long ago...

margie July 28, 2009 at 4:30 AM  

beautifully said. little helen is proud of you.

Brook July 28, 2009 at 8:28 AM  

Our daughter's funeral(how bizarre to call it that)was a strange and tragic and beautiful thing. How a little girl only 3 could be remembered and mourned by hundreds is a testament to her short but radiant life. The music, the stories, the laughter and the tears all helped us through what was and still is the most tragic event of my life. I am glad that you have found a path to peace and acceptance, each step colored with the joy you have in your memories.

Ron and Lou Ann July 28, 2009 at 8:33 AM  

Dear Julie Michelle,
thanks so much for this heartfelt tribute to Little Helen. I loved the music, it reminds me of my dad and mom and I love the pictures of LCG...who seems to be Little Helen all over again, if you don't mind my saying so.... God bless you and your family during this time. My prayers are with you all and with Little Helen on her Journey.....


Mari July 28, 2009 at 11:23 AM  

I am so sorry about your grandma. She was obviously greatly loved, which is lovely. You brought back some childish memories again, what little girl doesn't want to be dipped?!

Anonymous July 28, 2009 at 5:42 PM  

Such a beautiful post. It seems to really do her justice. I am sorry for your loss. I am especially sorry for buzzing through your posts dropping little comments without realizing. Especially in email, when you said you needed the laughs. I'll be keeping you in my thoughts, I know you're hurting

Leslie July 29, 2009 at 5:23 AM  

What a lovely way of remembering and celebrating a special woman's life. I'm glad you were able to laugh amid the tears. Blessings to you!

Bee July 29, 2009 at 10:17 AM  

You write about your grandmother so sweetly, and I love the pictures (and soundtrack)you've included. I remember my grandmother singing that song.

I know exactly what you mean about death somehow re-establishing the essence of a person. My grandfather had Alzheimer's for years, and gradually seemed to disappear -- both mentally and physically. After his funeral, our extended family ate BBQ at his favorite place and traded stories about him -- and in a strange way, it felt like he was restored to us.

Christina July 31, 2009 at 6:07 PM  

Little Helen would be proud. : )

dutchbaby August 11, 2009 at 6:24 AM  

Dear Julie,
This is such a beautiful tribute to your grandma, and her progeny. Your love for her exudes through your blog and I am so sorry that you now have to say good bye. It is so true that funerals are for the living. I know you will cherish her memory. xoxoxo

SE'LAH... August 12, 2009 at 6:18 PM  

What a touching post! Sending a big HUG your way. Oh sweet Helen.