Monday, 12 October 2009
So Bitter Yet Still Sweet
I'm in a reflective mood today.
Sitcoms and movies generally depict the Thanksgiving Holiday as a time when emotions rise to the top. Sometimes the characters air old grievances, only to discover the true meaning of family arising from the ashes of a burnt meal.
Sometimes family secrets slip out by accident, sparking loud debates. Sometimes the rigid patriarch fails to keep traditions intact, and slouches off to pout in a corner. The movie or show always seems to end with a group hug no matter how disfunctional the family.
In the past, our own Thanksgiving holidays have been, well, thankfully uneventful. We had small gatherings, saving the real party for Christmas. Our Thanksgiving is much earlier than the American holiday, so it sits apart from the Christmas launch.
As most of you remember, last Thanksgiving was the beginning of a month-long nightmare. A dear family member had a fight with his parents and ran away in a fit of temper. He didn't know that was his last day on Earth, and we didn't know for weeks afterward.
I wrote about the funeral while it was fresh in my mind, but didn't release the words to the public. I felt almost guilty for still having my children when my sister and brother in law lost one of theirs. I hope they don't mind if I tell you now.
The visitation on Thursday started an hour early for us, before the public. We arrived at the funeral home, running the gauntlet of a few photographers and news cameras.
When we joined the family in the reception room, they started a Power Point video with music, using photographs of Brandon from his birth to his teen years. We had contributed some of them, from countless birthday parties and family outings. When the music started (John Lennon's Beautiful Boy) and the pictures flashed on the screen, my breath caught in my throat. His smile was brilliant in each photo and his spirit shone out at us. Everyone was sobbing. I'm glad we were able to see the whole presentation in its glory before anyone else got to see it.
Later, we sat and watched hundreds file past us to offer their condolences to Brandon's family. Some offered us their hands and hearts as they passed us. An hour passed and the people kept coming.
Eventually, we felt it was time to go since it was going to be a very long day for the family. We joined the line to say our goodbyes, and my niece handed us Sharpie markers and invited us to inscribe a message to Brandon on the casket.
I wrote, "Binky (that was his nickname), keep your stick on the ice. Love, Aunty Sandy."
We left through the lobby and saw the line of well-wishers stretch through the room, continuing out the front door.
Thursday night I had a fitful sleep, my dreams scattered. Whenever I woke up, one of the songs from the memorial video played in my mind. The last dream was disturbing – a mudslide in which people attempted to avoid being swept away by jumping into caskets. Weird.
We got up early Friday morning and arrived on time at the Crisp home. Already the kitchen was full to the gills. Gordon, a family friend, was scheduled to read letters from the family to Brandon. He was apparently nervous, drinking Stella Artois for breakfast.
We sorted ourselves out and piled into three limos for the procession to the funeral home. The limo driver was nice. When every light turned green, I asked him if the limo was programmed to do that or was it just a coincidence. He laughed and said he had a magic button.
We arrived at the funeral home and gathered again. We met Sgt. Dave Goodbrand, the detective in charge of the search for Brandon. The pain was clear in his eyes, and he looked exhausted. He'd been under some scrutiny in the media and I really felt sorry for him. We each shook his hand and thanked him for all his help.
After about a half hour, the Director gave instructions to the pallbearers (my husband included) and we got back into the cars to go to the church. That was a difficult part. Everyone else was already inside waiting, and the press was assembled right beside the entrance. We waited for the casket and proceeded through yet another gauntlet.
It felt strange, having fifty-odd cameras trained at my face. I didn't look at the cameras, just kept my gaze trained at the doors.
We were right behind the family, and Brandon's twin sister finally unleashed her grief, sobbing uncontrollably as we walked into the church. My own kids clung to my arms as if they would never let go.
We waited in the alcove before proceeding into the main part of the church. Brandon's grandmother was right in front of me and I could see her head shaking as if she had an immense chill. I wrapped one arm around her. My other sister in law almost collapsed behind us. A family friend said, "A little help here?" and a church official quickly brought a chair.
Since we had joined the line right behind the Crisps, we were instructed to sit in the front row. During the service, Gordon read letters from the family to Brandon. The first was from his twin. She talked about his sense of humour and that she lost her other half. His older sister (my son's age), said that when they got into fights, they wouldn't last long because he always made her laugh in the end. She said he was guaranteed a space in the VIP section in Heaven.
His mom said there was a hole in everyone's hearts now that he was gone, and his dad thanked him for everything – being a kid, being funny, being loved, and for being a beautiful boy.
Father Frank's homily was emotional and comforting. He talked about the importance of community, and how these events could only bring families closer together. His voice broke a few times. It must be so hard for clergy to deliver such heartbreaking sermons.
One of the things he said stuck in my mind. "Be cautious around those who tell you they know why Brandon died. Seek out those who tell you why Brandon lived."
After Communion, we left with the lovely choir singing above us. Again, a gauntlet of photographers. When the limos filed out of the driveway, we noticed a lone policeman in the shade of a pine tree, saluting. His search dog sat beside him.
Along the way, police cars blocked off intersections to allow the procession through. Each officer stood beside his or her car, saluting us. Construction workers stood in a parking lot, their bright yellow hardhats held against their vests. A woman stood at a corner with her dog, and made the sign of the cross as we passed her.
The interment was equally emotional. Many mourners followed us to the cemetery and gathered around a canopy under which my husband and his fellow bearers put Brandon. We also added an urn containing the ashes of Brandon's grandfather, who had given him the nickname "Schmidt" because he was a strong little toddler.
After the interment, the limos dropped us off at an eatery close to the family's home. The owners laid out a great spread, and the place was stuffed with friends and family. We stayed for an hour or so, then figured it was a good time to go. It was really busy and we were soooo emotionally drained.
A year later, dear Binky is always in our hearts and dreams. He was and is a Beautiful Boy.
When I think of my family, my kids, my husband, I am truly thankful that we live and laugh together. I'm thankful that my kids talk out their grievances and hug them out afterward.
I'm truly thankful that we have such a beautiful planet, and each day on it is a joy for me. Fuzzy kittens, flowers and all that stuff.