The sun is coming up as a write this. Out my window clouds tinged with orange striate a sky so lightly blue it is almost white. Today is beginning, at least here anyway.
Sixty-one years ago today my maternal grandfather’s life ended. There aren’t a lot of details in the family lore.
My mother’s older sister, who was in nursing school, got up to start her day. She went downstairs to put on the coffee and found him slumped over at the dining room table, a glass of baking soda and water nearby. He had, apparently, awakened in the middle of the night with what he probably thought was heartburn and what turned out to be a massive heart attack.
He was 47 years old.
Is it a tragedy that a man who was by all accounts a loving father, a good friend, and hard worker died so young? Maybe. Our definition of tragedy is both loose and a moving target. What’s most notable about my grandfather’s death is how is was handled.
My grandmother was an Italian Catholic. Like Irish Catholics in America, Italian Catholics can have a deep and suprising affinity for the church. And when you are Catholic there are certain rules about rites and rituals. One of them, for instance, is you can’t be a Mason. Why? Because the Masons have their own version of the last rites, which conflict with the official ones blessed by Rome.
But no where in the rules of being a good Catholic does it say a funeral must be held a within a certain number of days after death. In fact, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops makes no mention of when rites must be held.
The great tragedy of my grandfather’s unexpected passing wasn’t his death itself. It was how his funeral got handled.
I’m going to give my grandmother a tiny wee bit of pass for being a grieving widow with a sudden lack of income, two kids still to raise, and two kids almost out the door. And since family lore is, again, light on details, I’m not really sure who holds the blame.
The great tragedy of my grandfather’s death is my uncle spent his 13th birthday at his father’s funeral.