Thanks for all the kind comments on the previous post. Sorry I didn't reply. My grandmother's passing occasioned a road trip, perhaps her last gift to me. She gave me many. When I was in Oklahoma I remembered one of them, which happened a long time ago. Long enough ago that the scene I am about to describe is probably an amalgam of several visits. But I think it's still true to life.
When I was a kid we used to drive to Oklahoma nearly every summer. We even flew once or twice. I remember my mother's cousin Cherie coming to pick us up at the airport in Tulsa once. I was probably about thirteen, and she was tall, thin and beautiful - the image of the perfect seventies liberated woman, or something. But the trip that I'm thinking of was a road trip. We usually took three days. We stopped at Monticello once. I remember french doors, and a toy cannon, and lots of gardens, and, to be honest, a bit of boredom. I'm not a big museum person, and even then I wasn't. But I didn't really regret the visit - I just could have left sooner. I think Signe and my mother enjoyed the extra time they spent.
We drove across the country in a VW squareback, until it finally died one year. That year we bought a VW microbus while we were in Oklahoma, which of course threw a rod in Ohio. The mechanic who fixed it for us let us stay with his family in Zanesville for the night, because we had nowhere to go and no money to go there with. I don't remember his name, but I remember that the place where his shop was was on a tree-lined street, with brick buildings that still had painted advertising from the fifties. That's about all I remember, unfortunately.
The squareback didn't have air conditioning, so the further south we got, the hotter it got. By the time we got to Claremore, it was really hot, even though by then it was late at night. Even so, Signe and I were asleep, so when we had arrived, we were groggy and stumbly and out of sorts. I remember that the whole family was there to welcome us, and so glad to see us. The sliding glass door opened, cold air-conditioned air spilled out, and we lurched into the paradise of my grandmother's home, and into the welcoming arms of about five or ten relatives. I don't remember who was there, but I think my mother's cousin Mike (one of Cherie's brothers) was there, and I know my grandfather, grandmother and Mary were there. Maybe my Aunt Florence as well, I'm not sure. At the time she was living in Tulsa, so that would have been unusual, but Mike being there was also unusual. I guess my Uncle Jimmy was probably there.
The thing that triggered this memory is a meditation that I now do sometimes. The practice of the Mahayana takes as its object every living being. And when you think about the living beings you see, human or animal, and you look at them without rose-colored glasses on, you realize that their lives are characterized by two things. The first is pain. We all have so much pain. And the second is a lack of comfort. A lack of the things we want. And you could say that much of our lives are spent avoiding pain, and trying to find comfort. And really we are powerless to do anything about all of this pain that we see, and nearly powerless to give any kind of comfort. But in this meditation, we imagine that we are not powerless. We take away the pain. We give comfort. It's a nice thing to imagine. And one of my favorite visualizations for giving comfort is to welcome one of these tired beings into my home, and give it a comfortable bed, in a room that smells homey and comfortable, with soft, cool pillows, and a warm blanket.
And what I realized the other day, while staying in Claremore, is that this visualization comes from that night when we arrived in Oklahoma in the middle of the night, and were welcomed, and I was tucked into a comfortable bed, with a nice quilt on it. I remember how cool the pillows were, and how comfortable the blankets were, and how tired I was, and how happy it made me feel to be taken care of like that.
The funeral was an open-casket funeral. The only one I've ever been to. I've heard people say that one of the reasons why they have funerals like this is so that people can look at what's left after a loved one dies and see that the loved one is no longer there. And that's how it was - my grandmother was no longer present in the body that was in the casket. It was like an abandoned cloak, lying there with nothing to animate it.
At the end of the ceremony, I realized that the beautiful white blanket that they'd laid my grandmother's body on was one of her quilts. I realized this because when they covered her, the top of the quilt was suddenly visible. And it reminded me of that time years before when she'd tucked me in bed after a hard journey.
I had this sudden vision of my grandmother looking at the quilt that was about to go into the ground with her body, and looking at me with a stern look on her face (she had a really great stern look - not the kind that scares you off, but the kind that makes you want to correct whatever mistake you made that triggered it). She wasn't the sort of person to waste a quilt like that. And she was very humble in her way, and I think would have tended to see it as a waste.
And so I explained to this image of my grandmother that had appeared in my mind that we all know that we can't give someone who has died any real comfort by wrapping the body they have left in a quilt. But that the reason we do it anyway is that we want
to do something, to repay her somehow, for the times she made us feel so welcome, and took such good care of us. And that wish is a good thing, a thing that deserves to be honored. And the only way we can honor it is by wrapping her in the quilt. And so we do.
So the stern look went away, and was replaced by a smile of understanding. Make of it what you will... :')