I’m sure there were a lot of other thoughts that should have been running through my head at that moment. Thoughts that probably would have been a lot more appropriate. But that’s the thing about thoughts.
They don’t really like to be controlled.
“Don’t drop her. Oh god, please don’t drop her. Please, please, please. Just concentrate. And whatever you do, don’t trip Adam in front of you. He goes down, we all go down. He’s, like, seven-feet tall. Tiny steps. Baby steps. Careful. Don’t drop her. Just don’t drop her.”
There were eight of us. Five strapping young male grandchildren, two of us more solid-looking female grandchildren and one longtime family friend with the broad shoulders of a linebacker. I have no idea what they were thinking at that moment, but judging from the fact I was the only one who seemed confused by our instructions, it was probably something much more dignified.
“I’m worried,” I said to Peter the Linebacker right before.
“You’ll be fine. It’s fairly self-explanatory. We carry her in and then carry her back out,” he said.
“I know, I know. It’s just…I’ve never beared pall before,” I responded with a weak smile.
I knew it was a stupid thing to be worried about. I knew I should be thinking other, deeper thoughts, like how I had just lost one of my heroes. Or that being a pallbearer was actually a great honor. Or even trying to ease my fears by realizing that the seven others beside me wouldn’t let anything happen to the casket or the dignity of the moment should my feet suddenly forget the mechanics of walking forward.
But I couldn’t stop.
A similar thing happened when I first got the news that Grandma had cancer a month before. Of course there was the initial burst of sobbing while sitting cross-legged on my kitchen floor, but shortly after I remember thinking how dirty it looked underneath my stove. It was a place I had never thought to sweep before. The realization that things could happen in my own kitchen without my knowledge or consent was actually mildly shocking. Of all the hundreds of times I had stood in this kitchen, I had never seen it from this vantage point. And then I remember thinking I should really clean it. And then thinking of logistically what would be the best way to go about it since the stove was so low to the ground. And then thinking “Grandma is dying.”
It happened again when we got the news she had died. My mom and brother were inconsolable and I just kind of stood there (oddly enough, in another kitchen) thinking how I didn’t bring clothes for a funeral with me. And then just where the hell was I going to be able to buy appropriate clothes in this small town. And then that it would probably have to be Wal-Mart. And then how much I hated Wal-Mart. And why it was always so crowded. And loud. And then “Grandma is dead.”
It was like my brain wasn’t able to process all this horrifying news and so it dealt with it in small bursts, in-between mundane thoughts of dirty floors and evil corporations that make cheap and poorly tailored clothes and whether or not a casket would fly open should it fall because some idiot forgot how to walk.
So while I was carrying my Grandma to her final resting place, it was just easier to focus on the actual task at hand (or not royally screwing up the actual task at hand) than it was to realize that I was carrying a woman in death who had carried me, both literally and figuratively, throughout my entire life. Or that she had also carried eight children, 16 other grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren despite having the body frame of really, really slim hobbit. Or that when things got really bad toward the end, those same children (and their spouses) and grandchildren (and their spouses) and great-grandchildren were all clamoring to help carry her to the bathroom because she was too weak to walk herself.
Or that the last time I saw her and it took all her remaining strength just to lightly rest her hand in mine, she looked down at one point and said “Oh my, I must be squeezing your hand something awful. I’m so sorry.”
I can think about this now. I am thinking about this now. In-between thoughts of “despite its cheesiness, the show ‘Victorious’ on Nickelodeon is actually quite good.”
Because that’s the thing about thoughts. Sometimes they can’t be controlled because they know our hearts need a break from breaking.