Wednesday night, I had to deliver a speech at my grandfather's funeral. On Wednesday, the gods did not bless me as I was bumped from my flight and forced to take the next flight, putting me in Central Ohio about a quarter past 5. Not a big deal, right? Well, the service was to begin at 6PM. Once my plane touched down, I grabbed my luggage, dragged it into a handicapped stall in the ladies restroom, changed into my black suit and hoofed it to the curb in my open-toe black heels. Note #1: it was 20 degrees. Note #2: I do not wear heels all that often and dragging luggage to the passenger pick-up was an adventure in itself (imagine a Steve Martin skit). Note #3: IT WAS 20 DEGREES! Yep, you read it right folks: open-toed heels. I swear, they don't make closed-toe heels in Florida. There's just no need!
Ok, so my brother's godparents swiftly sweep me off the curb and jet off to the funeral home. I arrive 5 minutes prior to the beginning of the service and I hadn't been able to print off my speech because I thought I was to speak on THURSDAY. I mean, that's how my brother's funeral was and no offense, that's really my only frame of reference.
Yeah, so here I am, walking up the podium, laptop in tow, to deliver my speech from my laptop. Needless to say, I felt like a giant dork. GIANT. Dorkasaurus.
After a few requests, I decided to post the speech on my blog. So here it is. I began the speech explaining why I had my laptop up there with me.
"...Regardless, I apologize – but as we all know too well, sometimes, life happens.
Last Thursday, I was actually preparing to embark on a charter bus to south county, Sarasota, for a volleyball match when I received the phone call that Grandpa had passed away. The assistant coach actually saw me leave the room and she said nothing. She knew. 2 of her brothers passed away within 3 months of each other. She has experience with “life happens”.
So when I asked to speak today, I have to admit, I was more than a little reluctant. I unfortunately have experience with this sort of thing, and I truly understand the statement “life happens”. I thought about what I could possibly say that would make this situation better, and would make everything ok. Unfortunately, I don’t think I am capable of doing that.
So instead, I would like to discuss the word that we as a society tend to use quite frequently in numerous situations, but doesn’t really describe death very well… Loss.
According to the dictionary, LOST has at least 8 different definitions. One of the definitions states, “to no longer possess”. I want you to think about how many minutes have you might have lost looking for missing car keys, sunglasses or the family dog?
This same word can be used to describe the Buckeyes not winning the National Championship two times in a row or when we finally have to go to the optometrist because we can no longer read the small print menus in dimly lit restaurants. It can even be used to describe when we are unable to find our way while on vacation and end up getting pizza for dinner because we just cannot locate that fabulous Italian restaurant our best friend just couldn’t stop talking about.
Has anyone ever told you a joke and you just didn’t get it? Or how about when you have called the cable company and they are trying to walk you through how to set up your brand new HD flat screen television, complete with surround sound speakers, DVR and a universal remote and you feel like the person on the other end is speaking Swahili?
Lost in battle. A lost cause. Lost in translation. All of these scenarios (and I am sure they are more than just these) are so frustrating that it can drive you to lose your mind.
To no longer posses. When we talk about losing someone we love, we no longer have them here with us, in this place, in this dimension or this time. But I feel that there has got to be a better verb out there to describe someone passing away.
When I have told my students that we lost my brother, on more than one occasion I have gotten the response, “Did you find him?” or “Where did you lose him?” “My mom lost me at the mall once…”
I can’t help but have a picture flash in my mind when I think about losing Grandpa. My family, complete with pajamas, hair rollers, slippers, robes and flashlights, are searching through a neighborhood in the dark, calling out his name. “Bill!” or “Grandpa!” or even “If you come home, we’ll feed you pancakes!” as if being motivated by food might just make him emerge from the bushes. Ok, so I can’t explain why my image is set in an episode of Wonder Years, but it still makes me smile to myself.
When people close to us pass away, our reactions always involve sadness, anger and regret. Why is that? When we cry, we cry for ourselves. We cry because they’re gone. We cry because we’ve lost them. We cry because we no longer posses them in our lives. But what have we really lost?
Let’s try to look at this from another angle – what have we gained? What DO we posses? From grandpa, I gained an unimaginable amount of laughter, kisses, moments and memories. My brother and I absolutely adored going over to the Buckingham’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas because that meant great food, cousins to play with, and relatives who just seemed to fill the entire house with laughter and love. I may no longer have grandpa to give me a big bear hug when I walk into his front door any more, but if I close my eyes and take a deep breath, I can still smell his aftershave and feel his coarse 5 o’clock shadow against my cheek.
Now, here is a brief science lesson: We are made of atoms. We tend to take our atoms for granted because we are pretty much unaware that they are there. Granted, they don’t even know that they are there either. These atoms were made at the beginning of time. No new atoms are created; they are just recycled throughout the ages. You and me and everyone here is composed of the same atoms that were once stars, dinosaurs and even George Washington. It’s kind of a cool connection we all have with each other. Atoms adhere to a single, overarching impulse to make you YOU. Isn’t it remarkable that a clump of inanimate, non-living pieces of matter can come together to make something living? I find that to be truly amazing. Life just happens and it will continue to happen, long after you and I have left this Earth. No one knows for sure how these atoms and molecules that put us together know how long they are supposed to be “us” before they quietly break down and go off to become other things. But there is some truth to what people say when they respond “He’ll be around” or “He’ll always be there when you need him.” Because literally, he is.
I guess what I am trying to articulate is that we may have lost Grandpa in the physical sense, but we still gained quite a bit. We shouldn’t be upset with what we don’t have, but rather, be happy with what we do. We posses an immense amount of memories and love between family members that would not have been possible if the atom’s that created Grandpa had never come together at the precise moment and the exact combination to create him. Death is a part of life, we can’t escape it and it just happens.
If we are to be sad, we should be upset with no longer being able to tease Grandpa about his stunning style and choice in fancy, schmancy, 70’s style retro suits. It’s ok though Grandpa, even though my own dad can’t fit into your red plaid Jimmy Crum (see right) pants any longer (thank God), Eric just might be able to squeeze into that green plaid sport coat (complete with butterfly collar) and matching brown bell bottoms you have.
And life will continue to happen."