Funeral

February 2, 2024. 4pm. A text message from my sister. “Grandma just passed away.”

Two days after her 95th birthday.

She stopped leaving the house or accepting visitors a long time ago, so I hadn’t seen her in over a decade. I did just talk to her on Christmas day, nearly yelling into the phone and her still unable to hear most of what I said. But it was nice to hear her voice. Tiny. Strained. Sad. But still her.

That was just a few days before she stopped answering her phone and my dad found her unresponsive.

He took her to the hospital and she never returned to the home she had kept since 1955.

The funeral was the following weekend.

My son and I left for Milwaukee a little earlier than we needed to that morning. A man who lost his life on the Titanic was buried in the same cemetery, so I figured I should take the opportunity to get some pictures and video of his grave to share the story on Wisconsin Frights on the anniversary of the sinking.

My grandfather was buried there in 2006. Incidentally, the man whose reckless driving caused the death of my maternal great-grandfather in 1954 is interred nearby.

Captain Edward Gifford Crosby was a Great Lakes shipping magnate from Milwaukee who was traveling on the Titanic with his wife and daughter on its single, ill-fated voyage. Awakened by a “thump” when the ship struck the iceberg, Crosby sent his family off on the first lifeboat to depart the ship, and stayed behind to help others.

His body was later pulled from the freezing Atlantic among the 337 recovered dead.

Crosby was cremated at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee and interred in the newly built Fairview Mausoleum.

When the mausoleum was condemned in 1996, Crosby and his family were moved to Graceland Cemetery and marked with a gravestone engraved with an image of the Titanic.

We arrived at the cemetery early and spent about 20 minutes searching for Crosby in the Fairview section. Most stones were clearly visible, but a handful were too overgrown or swallowed by the earth to read. A few were submerged beneath water from the melting snow of Wisconsin’s record breaking temperatures.

We didn’t find his grave, only a memorial by a tree dedicated to the Crosby family from the Titanic Historical Society.

My grandmother’s funeral was short. She outlived most of her friends and family, so there were only a few of us. And her life, her entire 95 years, was summarized by the officiant in a brief “record of her life” of just a few key moments: She was born, she played in an accordion band, she had one son, two grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and then she died.

We watched her casket descend into the ground atop my grandfather’s, and then it was over.

Afterward, we went to her house. I was grateful for that. I hadn’t been there in a quite some time. But, for the first time in my life, I was there and she wasn’t. And she wasn’t going to be ever again.

That’s when the weight of it really began to settle into my bones.

95 years of life culminating in a 15-minute funeral with eight attendees and a small, empty home of neatly organized and labeled closets and decades-old family photos under years of dust. A typed list of family birthdays and anniversaries. Her electric organ. The hat my grandfather had always worn, in a closet, placed neatly in the center of an otherwise empty shelf. (Right where he left it?) An empty house suspended in time, haunted by the lost specters of my earliest and fondest childhood memories.

The back patio where we’d swing on the porch swing and I’d draw pictures and tell Grandma stories.

The small patch of concrete where I sat on my first bike the day my grandparents bought it for me. I was maybe five or six.

The living room where my grandfather gave me my first guitar when I turned 12. An old nameless acoustic. He showed me some chords that his aged hands couldn’t play anymore.

A few years later, he and my dad took me to a nearby music store to buy my first electric guitar and a practice amp. We brought it back to the house to play.

Years of birthdays and holidays. Mint chocolate cakes and chocolate sodas.

That emptiness, I’ve learned, never goes away. Every loss leaves a hole and that part of us goes with them into the earth. I’ve lost a lot of family and friends in recent years. But you eventually find distractions from that icy hollow abyss. Eventually.

That feeling has since permeating each day. What’s the point of anything–the struggle, the fleeting moments of happiness, the grueling acts of creation to bring new things into the world–if we go out in pain and sadness and desperately pleading for the end. I’ve been a ghost myself, just passing through the days since the funeral. Maybe earlier. In and out. Sometimes fading out entirely.

Certain necessities don’t go away, however, so you have to keep moving.

I had a Wisconsin Frights newsletter to send, and I didn’t want to. I stared at a blank screen for days until I found a way in. It wasn’t what the newsletter was supposed to be, but I said the only thing I had to say at the moment. Just an abbreviated version of this, really. Still the only thing I have to say, I guess.

I made a few edits before hitting send, though, to scale back on the intensity of my existential crisis.

I’ve been slowly fading back in since then.

Because we have to keep moving.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep. – Robert Frost