The end of our Jamaica trip meant the beginning of an incredibly tense overnight drive to Virginia for Grandmother's funeral. We knew that time was against us, and that we needed to get on the road ASAP in order to make it to Virginia by 11am on Tuesday. It was an estimated 10.5 hour drive, and Virginia is an hour ahead of Missouri. So if our flight landed at 11:04pm and we didn't get on the road until 12am, we wouldn't make the funeral in time. Panic!
We landed in St. Louis on Monday night, May 11. Thank the Lord that our flight was 30 minutes early! Customs took a while, and a suitcase jammed the baggage carousel. I was trying not to implode from the anxiety I was having about getting our drive started, and did very well thankyouverymuch.
We got our bags and ran out of the airport and met Poppy and Katie. Poppy had driven our minivan, which Grandma had loaded it with everything we needed for our drive. We were on Interstate 70 at 11:36pm. Katie was buzzing about seeing us again, and we were happy to see her too. But I also had dread in my gut from the drive ahead of us. Finally we settled down and Katie fell asleep around midnight. I couldn't sleep at first, then finally crashed at 12:30am. Dan woke me at 1:30am and said he couldn't go any farther. We stopped for gas and a potty break, then I drove from 1:50am until about 6am. It. Was. DIFFICULT. I spent the first hour in silence, just praying and talking over my anxieties with God. I laid everything in His hands, and knew that we would make it to the funeral in time if He and I worked as a team.
After the first hour, I put one earbud in and listened to my iPod. I wiggled as quietly as I could to the music, and lip-synced the words. I hit a wall around 4am and told myself if I could just make it 30 more minutes, I'd be alright and Dan would have enough sleep to drive. Once I hit 4:30, the first wisps of sunlight were dawning, and the hope of seeing the sunrise kept me awake with no problem. I got my second wind after the sun rose and made it until we had to refuel after 6am (7am Eastern time now).
We grabbed fast food breakfast, switched drivers and I nestled in to sleep. Katie was awake by now, after only 5.5 hours of sleep. Ouch! As I was finally drifting off to sleep, she announced that she had to THROW UP. Luckily I am a person who takes barf bags from planes to keep in the car, and I had one for her to use. She did her business while I held the bag, then put it at my feet until we stopped again. No, I wasn't going to stop and waste our precious minutes on dumping barf!
Dan hit rush hour traffic in West Virginia and some road closures, but I got another hour of sleep and then gave up. About 50 miles outside of Lexington, I climbed in the back and pulled out our funeral clothes. I got Katie dressed and then myself, and we stopped at a gas station in Lexington so Dan could change. I drove the last few miles to VMI, where Grandmother's funeral was being held at JM Hall.
We pulled up right in front of the church at 10:57am. (!!!) My sister saw us and threw her arms up in the air in joy, and we hopped out of the car and hugged everyone. Dan ran off with the other pallbearers, and we lined up to begin the procession into the church. Can you believe it?! And NOW you know why I say it was in God's hands. He saw us safely through, and we made it when - by all accounts - we shouldn't have.
The funeral was solemn and full of Grandmother's favorite Scripture and hymns. My voice cracked on "How Great Thou Art" because it was a favorite of Mom's too. We left the church and went to Stonewall Jackson Cemetery for the graveside service. I think I was still somewhat jacked up on adrenaline from our road trip, and hadn't fully comprehended everything yet. But it finally came crashing down on me when we sat at the graveside and the preacher spoke about grief and how God comforts us like a mother comforts her child. I choked on that because of the realization that I have no grandmother, mother, father or brother anymore.
Even in the midst of my grief over my immediate family, I always felt comforted by the fact that I wasn't "last in line" because my Grandmother was still alive. But sitting at the graveside and knowing that isn't true anymore hit me like a ton of bricks. When the preacher finished, my uncles pulled roses out of the casket spray and handed them to the ladies. They said Grandmother wanted that. My sister asked for two extra to put on Dad and Jackson's graves.
And my heart seized up. Oh my God. My dad and brother are here too, in the ground. In the midst of all the turmoil and focus on Grandmother at the graveside, it had slipped my mind that Dad and Jackson were buried there too. I asked Katie to come with me and we would put flowers on their graves, which were right above Grandmother's. That's when my tears overflowed and I couldn't see and I started into the "sup-sups." (That's what my aunt used to call the ugly cry.) I was trying to gain control when an uncle told me they were going to open the casket for me and my cousin to see Grandmother. (We had missed the visitation.) Oh, I wasn't prepared for that.
They opened the casket and I saw her. I cringed at first because it wasn't her. I turned away but my sister guided me back over. I started really crying and had to turn away again because I was embarrassed that people could see me. I realized Katie was watching it all too, and it was upsetting her. At this point, I couldn't do much to console her, so Dan held her and then came to me when my cousin comforted Katie. After a few moments, it was time to close the casket so I went to Grandmother one last time. I kissed my fingers and placed them on her cheek and told her I love her. Sometime around then the bagpipes started playing Amazing Grace and it choked me up again. "Too much, too much!" I kept thinking to myself. The casket was closed and it was over.
We left the cemetery and went back to VMI for the reception. After that, we checked in to our hotel and I showered while Dan took a nap. Katie and I rode with my sister to Grandmother's house, where the family gathered for the evening. I entered the house and had another big meltdown as I walked through the rooms, mourning the life that used to fill the house. It reminded me of saying goodbye to my childhood home, which brought up lots of deep emotions. And I could still see Dad dancing in the den, doing this silly Charlie Chaplin routine. I remembered that Frank, Grandmother's third husband (and the one I considered my grandfather), had died in their bedroom. And I saw mementos from my brother. It took me about 20 minutes to regain my composure before I could join the family upstairs. Yes, I know I was tired from the trip and physically exhausted. Those were contributing factors. But all the grief I avoided thinking about in Jamaica was catching up with me too. It was rough.
The silver lining is this: I was with my family (a motley but fun bunch) and got to catch up on their lives, toast to Grandmother, and listen to some hilarious stories and family lore. I told one or two too. I could almost feel Dad's presence in the room, and all those who are no longer with us. Grief is painful, but I've found comfort in my family in times like these.
The night ended and it took us a good 15 minutes to hug each other goodbye.
The next morning, we had breakfast with my sister and nieces and then went to visit the cemetery one last time. When I visit Dad, I always tuck a golden coin into the ground around his grave. I didn't have a chance to find my usual golden coin before the trip, so we had to use a Jamaican coin instead. It had gold banding around a silver center, so I figured it was sufficient. I showed it to Katie and she helped me bury it.
We got in the car and began our 11 hour trip back to Missouri. It was another long drive, but so wonderful to see Jackson again. I could tell he missed us. He kept coming up to us and saying, "Guess what? I missed you."
Home sweet home.
P.S. By the way, I'm not trying to bore the heck out of the 3 blog readers I have. I know I've posted two very long descriptions of my life lately and it might be tedious reading. However, this blog is a way for me to chronicle everything in our family's life. Thanks for sticking with me through all the details!