Mad, Beautiful Ideas
Death and Family

Saturday, May 31, Virginia Waggoner, lifetime resident of Mattoon, IL, succumbed to her second bout of cancer. She was 86. Her son, my now father-in-law chose not to tell Catherine and I until June 2, so that Catherine could still be happy and enjoy the wedding. And so, less than 48 hours after exchanging vows, I was placing my new wife on a plane to return to her father’s homeland to attend the funeral.

It was an emotional time, as both death and marriage are wont to be. Catherine had wanted dearly for Virginia to be able to come to the wedding, and we were not aware to the extent at which her health had slipped, though cancer can often kill a person incredibly fast.

The funeral, I was told, was a nice ceremony, and a large amount of the Waggoner-clan, both those who’ve not left Illinois, and others traveled for the occasion. I’ve always found it interesting how death tends to bring together family members who often haven’t seen one another in decades.

I remember when my Grandfather died in 1996, his funeral had a large number of attendees that I have no memory of, but whom remembered me from when I was very, very young. However, it was never the memorial that stuck out in my mind, it was the time after the memorial, where quite a lot of us went to my grandmothers. The evening was interesting. We didn’t have a wake involving a lot of alcohol or anything, most of us were far to young for that, but everyone just sat around telling stories, laughing, bonding.

Being barely thirteen at the time, and never taking the time to get to know my grandfather as I should have, I had little to contribute. Still, it was the sense of family that I took away from that day that has struck me more meaningfully. I get the impression that Catherine’s experience of the last week was similar.

I come from a family where the default position on death is to joke about it. We did it at my Grandfather’s wake, for the ensuing eight years where his ashes spent much of their time in my Grandmother’s closet, and while I was not present at my Grandmother’s passing, I’ve no doubt that the family got together to celebrate her life through laughter.

Catherine and I have had terrible luck thus far with life events and Grandmothers. Mine passed within weeks of us getting to know one another, and hers passes just at the time of the wedding. Luckily, neither death was particularly tragic, as they were both older women in failing health, though it’s still strange to not have them around any longer.

One of the only regrets I have in my life, was not taking the time to get to know my grandfather better before his passing. I was young at the time, though that hardly feels like an excuse any longer. If you still have the opportunity, I encourage any of you to spend time with those people in your lives who simply feel like constant elements. They won’t last forever. And when they do pass, shed tears if you must, but don’t forget to laugh, at least a little.