Two years ago yesterday I was sitting in the, for the lack of a better word, lobby of a church in Hutchinson. The church was packed with all the lives that the mother of my best friend had touched in her all too short life. She touched so many people that we couldn’t all fit in the sanctuary of the church. That still amazes me to this day.
This was the first funeral I attended in my consciousness. I know I attended my great grandpa’s funeral, but I barely remember him no less do I remember his funeral. I had a good run. I made it through high school, freshly graduated from it, without much death touching me.
I looked it up today. Cherri’s funeral started at 11 A.M. on what was a Thursday two years ago. My life got a bigger shake in a little over 30 hours later.
I don’t remember what I did earlier in the day on June 22, 2012, but I remember everything vividly or not at all from 7:00 until I somehow fell asleep. I remember that this was the first day since graduation 20 days prior that I wasn’t with a different best friend who just happened to be a girl. I was just going to sit at home at watch the Twins game peacefully. I remember not knowing where my parents were, it was seven o’clock and Mom wasn’t even home. It was weird, but I didn’t worry too much.
I remember peeling myself off the couch around 7:10 when I had to get up to answer the ringing phone. I remember the TV displaying the ‘Scouting Report’ of Homer Bailey, the Cincinnati Reds pitcher the Twins were facing that night, when I answered the phone.
The voice on the other end of the line said he was a sheriff or officer or something of whatever county Richmond is in. Instantly, a million things run through your head. He asked me if I was Kurt, my dad, so I knew it wasn’t anything to do with my parents. He then said something to the tune of ‘Come quick. Your grandmother’s not doing well.’
I think the line went dead after that. Maybe I just blacked out with fear. I don’t know. The next thing I remember is shaking like I’ve never shaken before, praying to God that my dad would pick up his cellphone. He answered and had to receive one of the most surreal calls a guy can ever get. I said something like grandma’s not doing well and I had to *69 the house phone to get the number of the county official that had just called, so Dad could truly find out what was going on. He was trying to calm me down while I could barely repeat the phone number I heard.
By the time I got to town, Dad was gone. It’s about an hour drive to our cabin, where Grandma and Grandpa were, but I’m sure Dad was basically pulling into the driveway at the cabin when I got to Buffalo Lake, a ten minute drive. My family was flipping burgers at the bar for the Relay for Life team and looking back I can’t believe how great of a country song could come out of the story that a majority of our family found out that my grandma had passed away while they were at the bar.
Our family eventually ended up at Grandpa and Grandma’s house, all of us just sitting in the living room waiting for my dad and grandpa to arrive. I remember lying on the floor right next to Grandma’s chair like I did when I was little, so like six years prior or maybe even earlier that day. We sat there for a long time just talking and talking. The next thing I remember is Grandpa and Dad coming through the door. I had a direct view, too. Where I was on the floor had a front row seat to the front door.
My Grandpa was bawling. It’s the appropriate reaction when you lose your wife, but I can’t recall him ever crying like that before. I’ve seen him tear up a million times, he did every time I did something of any sort on a stage, but this was different. These weren’t happy tears of me being Happy the Hound Dog in a grade school Christmas play.
The family eventually departed into our three different branches and one of the brothers stayed to keep Grandpa company through the night. When I got home, I stayed up for hours and I did one thing. I grabbed my acoustic guitar and I played The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ probably 20 times in a row. I’d known it was a beautiful song, but it didn’t hit me until that night how beautiful and to point it was.
I can’t remember much after that. The next day I did the fuel run for the trucks which is a couple hour jaunt around the area filling the refer trailers of Kottke Trucking. I knew I couldn’t stand being alone with my thoughts so my best friend who just happened to be a girl went with me. All I remember from the day is that it took me a half-hour before we completed the run to tell my best friend who just happened to be a girl to put on her sunglasses to help her with the after effects of a solid Stewart Fest Friday night.
Days get twisted up from there. I had to go through a two-day orientation at the University of Minnesota in the next days. Three of us from our high school were carpooling to Minneapolis. One was my best friend who just lost his mother. That had to be a weird car ride for our other friend who hadn’t lost anyone to our knowledge in the last couple of weeks.
I don’t remember orientation. Virtually all I remember is sitting in Coffman Memorial Union calling my mom and asking how things were going on back home. Somewhere during this time I wrote what I read in front of our church during the funeral service. I wonder what those in my orientation group thought of me. I was dragging myself around and only three other people in the city of Minneapolis knew why.
I remember the family visitation at the funeral home. It was a day short of being a week after her death and I remember thinking that this was probably the longest I had gone without seeing her other than where her and Grandpa went south during the winter. I remember people crying. I remember the funeral home people being way too f**king nice. Just let me mourn for Christ’s sake.
We got out of the funeral home and went over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house again. We all out in the yard, me and my cousins were playing catch in the street because in small town’s life sometimes can resemble what you see in the movies. I remember my Uncle Kory asking me if I wanted a beer and saying, ‘After what we’ve been through, I think you can have one.’
The public visitation sucked. She’d been gone a week, it finally really started to set in that she was gone and I didn’t really want to deal with people. I stood there shaking the hands of people I didn’t know and didn’t care about. I gave hugs to the ones that I actually cared about. I remember trying to find any excuse to get out of the family handshake line. Eventually I did and snuck up to the balcony of our church. I looked down at this church I had spent countless hours in and I prayed. I truly prayed.
I will admit that I am not the most religious man in the world. I’m far from it. I could do a lot better, but in that moment I prayed. I had prayed before, but it never was anything ground breaking. This was hardcore praying.
Hours later I’m back in that same ol’ church. Grandma’s casket is in the back of the church and either mom or dad asked me if I wanted to see Grandma. I hadn’t cried since she died. In the back of that church I realized that I would never see her face again. I didn’t cry. I bawled.
Bawled is an understatement.
I had barely been to a funeral before. Now we were going to burry one of my best friends in the world. This lady and I had spent a lot of time together. I was ‘Buddy’. I was her ‘Buddy’.
We followed that casket into the sanctuary. The congregation sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and I just tried to stop crying. I remember reading whatever I wrote. I remember looking out at the sea of people in the room that’s designed to look like the bottom of a ship. I could have filled that ship up with my tears. I saw faces of loved ones and I powered on, I did what I could do to best memorialize this woman that had given me so much.
I remember getting complimented on my writing after the service. I said thanks, but felt guilty that this kind of thing came so naturally to me. If I know what I’m writing about it doesn’t take me anytime at all to get it to paper. I knew a whole lot about how much my grandma loved me and my family.
I remember watching that casket go in the ground. I remember how six feet looks a whole lot more daunting when you’re over six foot tall so to the bottom of that hole from the top of your head is a twelve foot drop. I remember the feeling of being stabbed in the chest as she was lowered. This was all two years ago.
Time is a weird thing. Some days it feels like it just happened yesterday. Some days it feels like it was a half a lifetime ago. All I know is that my grandma has witnessed a whole lot of life up in heaven instead of down here on earth.
I write this as I sit and play church services on the radio. Grandma was gone before I ever said my first words on the radio. I’m enrolled at the University of River Falls – Wisconsin. She left when I thought that the University of Minnesota was the best place for me to be. My cousin Kaitlyn has a car now. Grandma was driving her and my other cousins to swimming lessons not that long ago.
A few of us were at the cabin where she died yesterday. I stood there and couldn’t help, but think about her. There are flowers everywhere up there, basically an extension of her backyard in Buffalo Lake, but with a lakefront view.
As a family we’ve made a concerted effort to get to the cabin more often than we did before. I don’t think any of us have said why, but I think it’s because we know that’s where she would be if she was still here. She would be here messing with her flowers and making some weird kind of hot dish in the kitchen.
I’d give a lot to hear her say, ‘Hi, Buddy’ once again. I can still hear it perfectly in my mind. I really want to take one of those walks we’d take around Buffalo Lake. I want to talk to the woman that taught me how to ride a bike now that I’ve really grown up.
Two years ago, I was a teenage boy high on life, going off to college and just excited as hell that a girl would actually kiss me. Two years later, I’ve grown up a little bit. Two years from now, I’ll be graduated from college and doing God knows what…
I remember helping my grandma decorate the bar in Cedar Mills for my Uncle Kyle’s wedding reception. Right then I decided I wanted flowers out of my grandma’s garden at my wedding if I ever convinced a nice girl that I was worth dealing with on a daily basis. At the moment I thought Grandma’s flowers were the most beautiful things that I had ever seen. I was wrong.
The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen is the love that she gave us all. To Buffalo Lake to her flowers to her family. Her love… that’s true beauty.