I’ll just jump right in the middle. My grandmother, who was born in 1930, hasn’t had a very good year the last year or so and we knew she didn’t have much longer. Physically she was always pretty healthy (no chronic diseases or anything) but having issues with dementia. Thursday, June 14, my dad called to say she was unresponsive and so my mom could hold the phone to my grandmother’s ear so I could talk to her. My cousin who lives out of town was able to do the same. I expected to get a phone call the next morning. As it was, I spent the whole weekend and into this week jumping every time the phone rang. Thankfully the telemarketers seemed to take the weekend off. Wednesday morning I took Katy to the day camp where she was volunteering, came home and was reading a book on the couch when the call came. They were still waiting on the funeral home to come so there was no other real news but I couldn’t stand it, threw a few things in a suitcase and got a flight out to Houston that evening.
My parents picked me up and we made the 2 1/2 hour drive to Victoria with the obligatory stop at Buc-ees, getting to Victoria just before midnight.
Thursday morning we were off and running. Both my grandparents had done their pre-arrangements back in 1997 three months before my granddad died unexpectedly. So I went with my mom and her sister, Shirley, and met my dad at the funeral home. Mother had wanted to meet with the funeral director Wednesday but she had to go out of town and wasn’t sure she’d be back. She was back by 3:30 but we still couldn’t see her until the next day. That was really frustrating. I can’t believe they only have one person who can plan a funeral. When Granddad died it was on Easter Sunday and the director met with the family that day. Well, we needed to have the funeral soon, I had to be back by Monday and so did my cousin, but we needed time to let people know.
We were going to do a visitation on Friday night and the service Saturday but this was Thursday and that was cutting it close. The director was telling us that usually families do the chapel or church service, the burial and then come back to the funeral home or church for a family meal. This wasn’t going to be a really big funeral. For one thing, Grandmother had outlived pretty much everyone she ever knew and there wasn’t much family coming in. Mother and Daddy had been to a funeral a couple of months ago where they had the visitation, a lunch, the service, and the burial all in the same day. We decided to do that. The funeral home has a caterer that they work with who could do sandwiches, finger foods, desserts and drinks. They also did all the paper goods and all the set-up and take down. So we decided on that. While a few other things were being gone over I went out in the lobby to call the preacher. It was the Rev. Tim Williams who had married Grandmother and her second husband, Warren, about 12 years ago. He’s semi-retired but the hospice chaplain had tracked him down and he had been out to the house about a week ago to visit with the family and pray for my Grandmother. He was available and happy to do it.
And there was the obituary. With my newspaper jobs I have written thousands of obituaries and I know what the process is. Although it has changed some with email. Instead of the funeral home submitting a filled-out form and newspaper writing it from that, the funeral home writes it, emails it and the obit clerk at the paper copies and pastes it. So my mother told the director I was going to write the obit and the director said to email it and she would format it for the paper. I thought she would give us a form to fill out.
So, mother and Shirley dropped me off at the house to work on the obit and they headed to the cemetery and florist. I typed and looked up clubs she was in and dates and how to spell names. Mother got home about 1:30 and went over it. It looked perfect, we emailed it to the funeral home. Followed immediately by a second email because I forgot the pallbearers. And a third email because Mother wanted to put Heath as an honorary pallbearer. But we got it looking great.
At 2 we were supposed to meet the minister at Grandmother’s house. Thanks to Hurricane Harvey last summer and heavy rains this summer, my parents have wet carpet in the living room so our house was out of the question.
The meeting with the minister was really neat. He started out by reassuring us that it was OK if we were feeling a little relieved. It had been a long haul. He asked us all about Grandmother, what she was like, what she liked to do. I mentioned that she was the old-timey Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher. She loved playing 42 (the State Domino Game of Texas) but wouldn’t touch cards. Mother and Shirley mentioned that we had every holiday dinner at her house and she put out a huge spread. She did, too. We all brought a side dish or dessert or something but she did most of the cooking and it was incredible. Finally mother said “everyone always described mother as ‘a fine Christian lady’ and I can’t think of anything better to be called”. Or words to that effect.
Planning the service was a little tricky. Granddad’s pre-plan was thoroughly filled out with his favorite songs and favorite Bible verses and there were no decisions to make, he knew what he wanted. Grandmother left all that blank. We knew she liked old-fashioned hymns so we decided on music. For verses, looking through her Bible didn’t help any. I finally suggested the 23rd Psalm. I don’t know why it was blank. I wonder if she wanted to go home and give it some thought and just never got back.
We got back to the house and there was an email from the funeral director saying she made the 3 p.m. deadline at the newspaper and our total was five hundred and something dollars. What? I guess she figured since my mom said I was writing it and it was long, we wanted a paid one. Well, we did want more than the standard, anyway, since my mom wanted the names of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren (usually it’s just a number) and a thank-you to the caregivers. Also, the biography part was so long because Grandmother did so much and was really an important person in Victoria for so many years. When she retired from the school district the paper did a big story on her. So it was a little sticker shock but it was (a) too late and (b) worth it.
Friday we spent 7 1/2 hours packing up Grandmother’s things from the house (leaving Warren’s things for his family). I looked at the obit online that morning and it looked really nice, although Heath noticed a typo in Victoria in the dateline but that was corrected pretty quickly. We didn’t have time to get to the convenience store for the print copy so we didn’t find out until the funeral director called a little later in the morning that Grandmother’s name was misspelled in the printed paper. While I wrote the body and it was perfect (except for leaving out the minister — whoops, I really could have used a form to go by) the director typed in Grandmother’s full name for the little headline and when she went to type Gloria Nell Weaver Knight Elder, which is a lot of words, she put Welder instead of Elder. She saw the misspelled Victoria and called about that but when she realized the name was wrong the clerk was gone and the paper was already at pre-press. The problem is the Welders are an old, large, prominent (rich!) family in Victoria and she probably just had that on her mind. I said there were probably 700 Welders in Victoria trying to figure out which relative died. Daddy added “and who gets the money”. So we were really upset about that and thinking the funeral home should do something, we paid a lot of money for that obit and I don’t know why she didn’t just copy and paste the name from the very first sentence.. But we had to get to work packing. Daddy had about four of his hired hands and my brother over to do the heavy work. The nurse came and cleaned out the pantry and fridge. She has six grandkids to feed this summer. I packed up tons of clothes. You never saw so many gorgeous clothes.
Well, since the visitation was not going to be on Friday I made dinner plans with my friends Meredith and DeDe from my days at the Advocate. We had a great time.
Saturday morning was the big day. We were supposed to be at the funeral home at 11 but Mother was champing at the bit so we got there about 10:30 and found out someone had already been by to sign the registry.
We spent some time in the chapel area. Found out right off the bat the florist made a mistake. Mother ordered two sprays on easels. One was supposed to say Mother and the other Grandmother. Well, they left the little stick-on letters off the ribbon. The flowers from Aunt Verble (Grandmother’s younger sister) had “sister” on the ribbons. We were a little disappointed but not a big deal. Mother asked if I wanted to go in for the part where you write the check. We found out by pre-paying back in ’97 it was $3,000 cheaper. But there was the still the catering. And the obit. Mother didn’t mention the obit and I didn’t bring it up. We were all upset Friday but Saturday it just didn’t seem like a big deal. I bought a couple of copies of the paper, I’ll just white out the W or something.
Shirley was in charge of decorations. Mother wanted to do framed photos and that was it but the director said we could make it personal. So Shirley brought some gardening and pug items. She also brought Grandmother’s recipe box (which Mother was sure to get back afterward!). The funeral director made copies of some of the recipes and put Grandmother’s picture on them for people to take as a keepsake. My mother’s cousin immediately said she wants that at her memorial.
People started coming around noon and there were a number of people who stayed for the whole two hours and then the service. We weren’t real sure how this was going to work but it was great. Actually, I kept thinking “what if you threw a funeral and no one came?” We had a little family come from out of town and we also had some of my Grandmother’s friends who are in their 80s and 90s and hadn’t seen each other for 25 years. So a lot of people really enjoyed having a chance to visit over lunch. Later on the funeral director said she was impressed at how well the visitation lunch worked out.
Joann Martin is 92 years old and still driving. She was one of Grandmother’s oldest friends. Grandmother campaigned for Mrs. Martin when she ran for city council and when she was elected, she appointed Grandmother to the parks and recreation committee. Mrs. Martin and her husband were the only people who ever came to visit us in Singapore. Grandmother would have but Granddad wouldn’t let her, he wasn’t entirely convinced World War II was over with.
Gary Moses is a local celebrity. He was a teacher for many years and knew my Grandmother that way. When my dad called to tell him about Grandmother he said she was one of the most influential people in his life. Besides teaching he does all kinds of things for the city. My mother said she thought there two Moses brothers, one who taught and one who was the marshal at parades and did ribbon cuttings and emceed pageants and everything else. Nope, just one very involved person. I was able to tell him a story involving Grandmother. A few years ago we were in Victoria and had been to an event the car club had been invited to. The next morning we talking at breakfast and Grandmother mentioned Gary Moses had been there and I said he’s at everything. Heath wanted to know who Gary Moses was. So I said “Grandmother, Heath wants to know who Gary Moses is” and she said “How do you explain Gary Moses?” When I told him that story he said “you can’t”. He just came by for a few minutes because as usual he was on his way to somewhere else.
Mr. East is from the car club and was a pallbearer. He said the first time he went to a car club event he met Warren who said he didn’t even know why he was alive and related his years in the Japanese POW camp and resulting health issues and how his wife had died eight years earlier. The next time Mr. East saw Warren at a club event, Warren was holding hands under the table with Grandmother. Things really changed for Warren when he met Grandmother. And for her, too.
Mrs. Reiser was friends with Grandmother from the time my mother was really little as their husbands worked together at Shell. She was the one who told Grandmother she should apply for a job as a telephone operator at the school district. Grandmother did and 35 years later she retired after working her way up to the executive secretary for three superintendents.
Aunt Verble is Grandmother’s younger sister and the only one of the four siblings still living.
I always said Suzy was the granddaughter Grandmother never had. Suzy grew up on the street my grandparents lived on and she and my cousin Evan were friends growing up. Movita and her husband, Gary, lived next door to my grandparents for years. I played with their twin daughters while growing up.
These are the granddaughters of Mary, who is a friend of my parents and a nurse who cared for Grandmother the entire last year. She also has two grandsons, one of whom has a crush on my mother, but they were with their other grandparents that day.
Patty Carol (in the black) is my mother’s first cousin, they are three months apart and grew up together. Joella (in the blue) is her daughter and Gracie (on the right) is her daughter.
Skylar and my mom with Diane and Evan in the background. Evan is Shirley’s son, I was 12 when he was born and learned all my baby-care skills helping out with him. As you can see, he survived it. Diane and Skylar are his wife and daughter.
Heath and Katy weren’t able to make it and while a few people asked about Heath, everyone asked about Katy including people I didn’t even know. Katy was in the slideshow, though.
The funeral started at 2 and it was really nice. Evan and Diane sang Amazing Grace with Evan playing guitar. We tried a congregational singing of How Great Thou Art and the computer fizzled out and the music cut off, along with the slide show. The minister did such a wonderful job. He got in what I said about Grandmother playing 42 but wouldn’t touch cards and everyone laughed in agreement. He talked about what Mother and Shirley said about the holiday spreads and said “you know it’s good when they call it a spread and not a dinner”. And he said she was “a fine Christian lady”.
Following the service we had the burial. This was up in the air. It had poured rain, several areas were flooded, and while the skies had cleared on Thursday the cemetery grounds were soggy. We weren’t sure it they’d be able to dig the hole. But the sun came out and the ground dried up. Mother had asked car club members to drive their old cars so we had several in the procession.
Pallbearers were my dad and brother and Shirley’s husband and two sons along with Gary East. Heath was an honorary pallbearer as he wasn’t able to make it.
Probably about 20 of us went out to the cemetery. The minister said when his grandfather, I believe, was buried he didn’t remember what was said but he remembered who was there. He read the 23rd Psalm and I don’t recall much else.
It was such a pretty casket.
And since there were old cars there, one had to break down right at the end. It seemed very fitting.