Ashes to Ashes

I have not been able to write for a few days.  Between the Sea World trip, which I still plan to comment on, and the events of last evening, I have simply not had the time. 

I think I have a curse.  I have not had a lot of opportunities for a real vacation in my life.  I went hunting and fishing a lot when I was a kid, but as far as the planned family trip goes, I can only think of two of these when I was growing up and two since I have been married.

The curse is that every time I leave town for any length of time, someone in my family dies.  When we went to Colorado as a child, one of my uncles passed away, and we were forced to cut the trip short.  I have been deployed in my job twice, and both times a member of my wife’s family has passed, her grandmother and grandfather.

Friday, after we arrived in San Antonio, as we were getting ready for bed, my mom informed us that she had just received a call from a cousin saying that one of my uncles has died suddenly.

This, surprisingly, did not destroy our trip to Sea World.  Because of the circumstances of his death (he suffered a heart attack on the job alone, and was discovered some time later), an autopsy was ordered by the ME, and due to the holiday weekend, any services were pushed back accordingly.

We enjoyed out trip, and returned on Sunday evening as planned.  This was nice, because it gave us Monday (Memorial Day) off to recuperate from the trip.  On Monday afternoon, I was enjoying a most unusual afternoon nap.  I had just gotten the baby to go to sleep, and had begun to doze myself when the phone rang.  It was my sister.  She had called to relay a request that my cousins had made to her.  They were wondering if I would speak at the funeral.  My uncle was not a church-going guy, and they did not want to call in a minister who did not know him.  As a result, they wanted me to deliver the actual message, not just the eulogy, at the memorial service.

I am the oldest of the responsible cousins in the family, and as such, the honor/responsibility fell on me.  My cousin, the deceased daughter, is due to have her first child in August, so all things considered, there is really no way I could say, ‘no.’ So, I said yes.

The best news was that I had a whole day and a half to prepare.  I began calling my relatives attempting to get comments and stories about my uncle to use in the message, and as I predicted, this crowd that has had so much trouble expressing their emotions over the years, gave me very little assistance.  I was on my own. 

I found several online helps that were very useful, and I decided to make the message a tribute to the former generation of our family, specifically focusing on my uncle as I went.  I wrote until I had about 10 minutes worth of material.  I really did not want it to be any longer than that anyway.

My employer gave me the day off to prepare for the message, which I found helpful.  I have not spoken in public for over a decade, and I was pretty scared.  I do better when I actually write out the words that I am going to say, but I also have a reading disability, so it helps me a lot if I am familiar with the text I have prepared almost to the point of memorization.  This was the plan, however, my day off to prepare, combined itself with several other issues: coming back from the trip and needing to replenish stocks, picking up a title for my old vehicle and settlement check from the insurance agency, and preparing for an operation that my wife is having on Friday (the in-laws are comings for this).  All of this conspired to allow me to exit the house having read the speech twice and practiced it out loud only once.  On top of that, we left the house 30 minutes later that we had planned to.

Rather than freaking me out more, I think all of the commotion actually kept me from being able to become too nervous.  We walked into the funeral home, and I spent the rest of the time before we started greeting relatives I had not seen in a while, and discussing the particulars of the service with the director.  As it turned out, there was no scheduled music, no preliminaries, and no other speakers.  I was just me, and it was my show, so to speak. 

I was slightly nervous, but I had more of a feeling of resignation.  This also helped because there was nothing I could do about it.  I started the service, and read the speech with a surprising lack of ‘ums’, ‘you knows’ and ‘anyways.’  In the end, it turned out better than I expected.  Everyone liked it a lot, or they were simply gracious enough to say they did.

As I came to the end, I opened the floor up for anyone who wanted to speak, but only the crickets had any interest.  This did not bother me either, as I expected no less.  I closed with a short prayer, and dismissed the assembly.  It all left me with a sense of confidence and accomplishment that was nice.


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