On the John: Death became her

On the John
Death became her
Originally completed October 26, 2009

No matter where it is, no matter who its for: cemeteries are weird.
No matter where it is, no matter who its for: cemeteries are weird.

The afternoon began at the cemetery, where my parents, my brother, my mom’s oldest friend and I held the dedication for my grandmother. She died in March 2008, but due to various circumstances, the dedication was put off.

In fact, I had forgotten all about it. She’d been gone a year and a half, Papa for seven, yet because they were practically immediate family, their lives are woven into ours in ways that cannot be altered by death.

My brother and I had relationships with both of them independent of our parents or even each other. In college, we phoned them regularly. Mike played golf with them. I watched sports with them. Mike shared drinks with them. (Papa’s Manhattan, Nana’s Dewars.) I shared bad food with them. (Fried chicken with Papa, hot dogs with Nana.)

Even from beyond, Nana’s voice turns up. When I am not working my hardest, (“You always did just enough for the B.”), or when my beard is ‘too long,’ (“You’ve got such a good looking face. Why do you want to hide it?”), or when the Cubs win a game in extra innings. (“Oh boy! Wasn’t that something?”)

And that is one of the three reasons I am opposed to cemeteries. I view them as wasteful uses of land. At their worst they are depressing – at their best, uncomfortable and bizarre. Who wants to “remember” their beloved by entering this bones-in-boxes motel?

And of course the final reason: preserving the remains represents a faulty view of the reality of life and death, be it in a coffin adorned in your Sunday best, or in an urn on the mantle or within a mausoleum.

“Where would you like us to go?” my father asks. This has been an ongoing discussion between the two of us, one that was rekindled as we stood over the head stone of Lois W. Pierce. “This is a place for remembrance.”

So why not install a place of remembrance where the now-dead actually lived? Nana and I spent many wonderful afternoons and evenings together during our 26 some shared years on Earth. We hung out as much as any 85-year-old grandmother and 26-year-old grandson probably ever did. But never in a cemetery.

Her remains are there now. And that’s what they are: remains. And I didn’t need them in some box to have her in my mind. She is with me every day, especially on football Sundays. Because if we weren’t watching the game together, she could always count on a phone call from me following Bears’ scores or at the half, while I could always count on a call from her following Bears’ mistakes or the final gun.

And boy, was there plenty in yesterday’s game that would have had our dear Nana talking. Like Cincinnati opening up a 31-nil lead, for instance. Or Carson Palmer throwing four touchdowns in the first half. Or Cedric Benson going all Cedric-Benson-at-Texas on us.

The game was such an immediately obvious disaster — (it began with a false start on Chris Williams, and I found myself instinctively not surprised) — that my dad and I spent much of the second half reminiscing about other Bears games we’d enjoyed more. We were moved by the game’s little challenges, like whether or not the Bears would score a touchdown (they did), and whether or not Benson would nab his 200 yards (he didn’t).

After the Bears regained possession down 35 with 31 seconds to go, they ran once more just for yucks, gaining one yard and allowing the clock to tick hopelessly away. As if on cue, the phone rang. Ha, I thought as I walked over to answer it. Just when Nana would always call…

…and yet when I got to the phone, the caller ID read MEMORIAL PARK CEMETERY. I couldn’t believe it!

“Hello?” I said slowly, skeptical that it was really her.

“Wasn’t that terrible?

“Holy cow!” I said. “You were watching?”

“Of course,” she said, as if I were crazy. “You know me.”

I laughed. Nana did not.

How could they do that?” she lamented. And then, before I could answer: “I mean, they let them go right down the field! Again and again!”

“It was pretty bad.”

“Oh Jack, you’re being nice. I’m six feet under and even I could see that the Bears were just no good today.”

“When you’re right, you’re right.”

“And what about that Cedric Benson? I don’t remember him playing like that when I was around.”

“You only saw him on the Bears. Apparently things get better when you leave Chicago.”

She groaned, totally exacerbated. She was not surprised so much as disappointed, like when she found out I’d gotten all C’s first semester of my sophomore year in high school. “I just don’t understand what they were doing out there. What is that Lovie Smith thinking?”

She huffed once more, shaking her head and flatly repeating herself: “What was he thinking?” That got me smiling: no matter what else might be keeping Nana busy, she is always a fan. It’s that Chicago blood that once pumped in her, I suppose.

We talked a bit longer about my life, and about how things were going with her, ultimately returning the conversation to the Bears. “Well, well,” she said, “there is always next week.”

“Always is. If I don’t talk to you until then, we’ll chat before kickoff?”

“Of course sweetie. You know where to find me.”

Copyright 2009, jm silverstein


2 Replies to “On the John: Death became her”

  1. I disagree with your position about cemeteries. I think you know my position by now. But I like the way you wrote the piece. Two editing points: [1] My significant other and I thought you should lose the name even though Nana is dead; [2] I think you should delete the three paragraphs that detail last Sunday’s game. No need for that. Your piece would be stronger going from “…while I could always count on a call from her following Bears’ mistakes or the final gun.” to “High Nana.” etc.

  2. I have to agree with Charlie about dropping the play by play. Although, I do like that the column is tied into the most previous bears game to give the sense of Nana being there with you during it. Is there a way combine the two?

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