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April 27, 2005 - Wednesday, 1:14 p.m.
There is something about the prairie. Perhaps it just gets in the blood and doesn’t dissipate very quickly. Really the Springs sits right on the edge of the prairie. However, as you sit there you just look west and think about the mountains. I noticed it as we drove north. I-25 weaves along the edge. As you go through Wyoming it doesn’t look much different from North Dakota. Only if you can see the Rockies to the west, do you think about being in the ‘west’. To me, the ‘west’ was always the mountains. That prairie grass, it looks like soft velvet stretched along the gentle slopes of the land. It looks so soft. And yet, having walked out amongst it you know it is pretty coarse.
There are times in my life, when I wish I could just remember and record every detail. To be able to hold it and remember it in my mind. Often it is the first or last time I see something. I don’t want to ever forget how it looks, the smells, how I felt. However, it is so much to hold in my mind, it slips away.
We arrived in Minot by about 3 in the afternoon. I called Mom. She was at the Funeral home and suggested that if we wanted to come by that it would be a good time as she was mostly by herself. We’d thought about going to the hotel and cleaning up, but seeing as there wasn’t a crowd there we went by right away. Funeral homes are always quiet and it seems that people should be sitting about dabbing their eyes with a hanky and crying quietly. There is a solemn tone to it, subdued lighting. Quiet. We hugged Mom and she asked about our trip. Grandma was at the front of the room. She was in the dress she got to wear for her 100th birthday. It was lavender and sparkly. She looked good. Not even close to 101. As a woman who hated to see people at funerals that didn’t look ‘right’, she would have been happy. She looked natural, like she always did. The flowers were lovely and Mom showed them to us and we read the cards. She told us that Eastern Star would be having a service at 5 pm, and that it would be nice if we came back, well, whoever wanted to. We went over to the hotel and left Lynn’s two with my two boys, we changed our clothes and headed back over. The service was already in process when we arrived. Mother later told us that it had started early.
All four of Beverly’s kids were there, and most of Kathy and Laurie’s kids. The service was simple and short. We stayed and visited for a while. Soon it was just family, including Wayne, Arlene and Peggy. Kathy and Laurie’s kids stood up by the casket for a long time. Often standing and looking at Grandma. Peggy, Mom and I were the last to leave. Peggy stopped by the casket and said something to her Mother and we left.
Peggy has been struggling a lot with this. Later that evening she told us how awful it was when their dad died in 1959. She said that after that she said “I don’t EVER want to go through that again, I hope I die next!!” My mother gasped. She’d never heard Peggy mention that before. In 1959 Peggy was only 28 years old. My mother couldn’t imagine ANY 28 year old thinking that. I am not sure if Peggy is struggling because she doesn’t have strong beliefs about the afterlife or because she is grappling with what her purpose is now. Her husband is gone, and she has no children, so her Mother was the last person I think she felt ‘needed’ her.
It was windy. I guess in April that is to be expected. It was partly cloudy. Not rainy, just windy. There is something surreal about funerals. I’ve been to a few funerals in my life, most of the time the person doesn’t even look like I remember them. I want the person standing at the front of the service telling me about her life to be family, someone that loved her and knew her well. It was obvious that the minister actually knew Grandma, but still the service was like so many others. Once out at the graveside the wind was blowing and it was cold. The graveside service was short and the family quickly dispersed. I couldn’t just walk away. I just stood there. Unlike most Americans, I want to see the coffin put into the ground and covered with dirt. They don’t even let you see the hole in the ground. It’s all covered up and hidden. The family drifts back to their cars and leaves. The guys with the job of putting the coffin into the ground and covering it wait. They sit unobtrusively off in the distance and wait. I stood there thinking of how many times I’d come up to that spot with grandma. She’d mow and weed, talking softly to Vernon (her husband) and Marvin (her son). I thought about how she’d probably not been up there for years, and that she’d never go again. That she’d always been there now. I wanted to stay. We walked away and stopped some distance away and got out a prayer book and said a prayer for the departed. That is the spot I cried. Philip hugged me and I could feel that he was crying too. He was crying for me, I am sure. I wasn’t really crying for Grandma, but for the passage of time and the sure knowledge that one day it will be my own mother and that day I will surely weep. We had to leave. They just wait if you don’t. We went back to the church and had sandwiches and visited with family. Char came and told us that Bill said that the farm was open and that he’d love to have any of the family come by that wanted to see the house and walk around. We headed out, though I made them go back to the cemetery. The people covering the grave were still there. The coffin was out of site and they were raking the dirt and picking up stuff. I am sure we made them uncomfortable as we sat in the car and waited for them to finish. Once they moved away we got out of the car. They did a nice job. I stood and looked at the main head stone and then at Grandpa and Marvin’s stones. So eerie to think of Grandma under the dirt, the very same that we stood beside and looked at the funeral parlor, and knowing that right beside her is Vernon and beside him, Marvin, and throughout the graveyard numerous loved ones. My eyes teared up as I walked back to the car. Grandma so lovingly tended the graves of her parents and loved ones. I’m too far away to do it for her. It felt very sad to walk away from there.
It’s raining today. We are making great time. It’s 2:45 pm mountain time and we’ve just entered Wyoming from South Dakota. It feels like we are nearly home already, though we are hours away yet. It’s a little too warm to snow, though I did see some snow falling in Spearfish. Rain seems the appropriate weather for funerals and contemplating loss. The clouds are hanging low over the Black Hills and to the north as well. It reminds me of winter.
Philip and Curtis came with me to the funeral. Curtis and I went up to Castle Rock and joined Lynn, Ian and Jasmine. Dad left slightly before me with Maureen in my car. Camille and Megan came the following day with the Rickert’s. Dad and Maureen went on to Hillsboro to see Lois. She’s Dad’s sister who was diagnosed in the last few weeks with colon cancer that has spread to her liver. You don’t recover from liver cancer. Lois seems content to be at the end of her life and my father said that she’s doing okay. He and Maureen made it back to Minot for the funeral. I was surprised when I entered the church in Granville. Before us stood two white hair men… Blink!! It was John and Dale, two of Dad’s brothers. They’d driven up from the Fargo area for the funeral. We told them how happy we were to have them there. John smiled, “We are retired. That’s what we do. We go to funerals and have a free lunch.” We chuckled. That’s Dad’s family. Always a smile and something light to say. Dad’s family seems to take death in stride. Everyone is okay with Lois’s choice to approach the end of her life as she sees fit. They love her and are happy to see her in contentment, though sad to think of her passing.
It’s dark now, as we head south. Not night time dark, but weather dark. It’s still raining… possibly snow ahead of us. Mom stayed in Minot. Peggy is still there and I am sure Mom didn’t want to leave her there alone. Dad stayed with Mom. They may go back down to Hillsboro. I don’t expect them back before next week some time. They kept my car, and we are taking their van back to Colorado. Maureen is with the boys and me. Lynn, Ian and Jasmine are behind us with Camille and Megan. We ate lunch with them in Spearfish. Char and Donny are taking two days to get home so are even farther behind us.
We dropped Philip in Fort Collins, Maureen in Manitou Springs and pulled up to the house about 11 pm. Justin and Moon were waiting for us, asked about the trip and had hugs for me. I ate a little dinner and crawled into bed. Still tired today, but recovering.
It's good to be home.