86. Photo Op

86. Photo Op

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Photo Op

Some family trees bear an enormous crop of nuts.

~Wayne H.

The funeral of my husband’s grandfather definitely takes the prize for the weirdest funeral I have ever attended. As a matter of fact, as we left the funeral my husband looked over at me and said, “If I hadn’t known you so long I would be mortified.”

Throughout the fifteen years we had been together I had never known my husband’s grandmother to be affectionate, or even care what any of her five grandchildren were doing, but when Grandpa Hank was sick I witnessed her true colors. As Grandpa Hank lay dying, she often was caught saying, “If he doesn’t die soon I may drive him off the pier.” I was horrified by her comment but chalked it up to a tired woman who had taken care of a very sick man for a long time. Not to mention that she was never nice to anyone—so why should she start now?

Once Grandpa Hank finally passed away, the funeral arrangements were made. The services were to take place at the Mormon Church they attended, and after the service we were to make the thirty-minute drive to the burial site and then back to the church for a potluck lunch put on by the members of the church.

Walking into the church we were handed a pamphlet outlining Grandpa Hank’s life, only Grandma didn’t want to spend the extra money on printing so Grandpa’s photo was completely black on the cheap Xeroxed copy. The flower arrangement that my mother-in-law had ordered on behalf of her kids from a local florist included a cheesy banner that incorrectly said “We Love You Gandpa” in glitter-covered letters. At this point my husband and I just started to laugh, as things were going from bad to worse. Once seated in the pew we saw the coffin sitting at the front of the room with an American flag draped over it. I had no idea Grandpa Hank had served in the military and it would have been a nice addition had Grandma spent the money they requested to iron the flag. The flag was completely wrinkled.

Again, we tried to stifle our laughter when the speaker began the eulogy. As he started speaking it was clear he had no idea who Grandpa Hank was. He went on and on about some random things that must have been listed on a sheet of paper until he came across the note that said Grandpa Hank was from Utah. He stopped mid-sentence and said, “Wow, who knew? I am from Utah too.” He then picked up with the rest of his reading, often stopping to comment on the fact that he was surprised at how much they had in common. As he finished, he picked up his guitar and began singing a song. None of us knew the song and it soon became clear neither did he! As he got to certain verses he just stopped mid-verse and hummed until he was able to pick back up with familiar words. We could not contain ourselves any longer. I made eye contact with my “normal” sister-in-law and within seconds there was not a dry eye in our row—we were working so hard to hold in the laughter that we were crying.

Finally, the indoor ceremony ended and the family was to caravan to the burial where my husband, his father, and his two brothers would act as pallbearers. We were together on the freeway, but when we arrived at the cemetery my husband’s older brother and his family were nowhere to be seen.

We waited and waited, worried that something had happened. We finally had to go on without them as Grandma had only budgeted a certain amount of time and money for this part of the ceremony. Because we were now missing one of the pallbearers, a random cemetery worker had to step in as the fourth pallbearer. A few words about Grandpa Hank were said and then to our horror… Grandma broke out her camera. She wanted us to sit on the coffin and take pictures! Each family member was instructed how to pose and she kept snapping. I felt like at any moment we would be on a Candid Camera episode where you find out it was all a really bad joke… but that was not to be. This was very real and although I tried to hide, the next thing I knew, I too was draped across Grandpa Hank’s coffin. I am not sure what her reasoning was for the photo shoot, whether it was to confirm that Grandpa Hank for sure was dead and wouldn’t be a bother to her anymore or to fill a page in her photo album of family memories.

Once the photo session ended, up pulled my husband’s brother… he had gotten hungry on the way and pulled off the freeway for some mini corndogs!

As the day ended and we were driving home recapping the events of the day, my husband asked that I never discuss this with anyone! It has been almost ten years now and I have finally been given permission to share it. As we arrived home to pay the babysitter she commented on how sad the services must have been due to how red our eyes were from crying… if she only knew.

~May D. Sonnenfeld

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