Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Road Trip, Part 12: Is this a wake or a party?

After getting my godsister successfully married off, my dad and I drove back to Arkansas the next morning. The newlyweds were having a BBQ that day but we had a wake to attend. We stopped in Memphis along the way to pick up my brother, who had flown in from Minneapolis for the services.

The juxtaposition of emotions was nauseating. One day I was witnessing the happiest day of a loved one’s life and the very next day I was attending my grandfather’s wake. It seemed only right that tornadoes were chasing us. The whirlwind of emotions swirling inside both my father and I were manifesting themselves in the atmosphere, it seemed.

Arriving in Newport, AR in the pouring rain, we checked into a hotel. My grandfather’s house was filled with family pouring in from the Midwest for the services, so, staying there wasn’t an option. By the time we got checked in and dried off from the rain, we only had time to change clothes before heading off to meet with the rest of the family at the funeral home.

I’ve been to quite a few wakes in my lifetime but I’ve never seen anything like this one. It was like a mix between a class reunion and a funeral. The chapel was filled to capacity with family from Minneapolis, St. Louis and Arkansas. My father’s friends from Memphis also came. There were a lot of family and friends from Newport and they were very excited to see the visitors.

I sat in the pew next to the casket in awe of the atmosphere. One of our distant cousins was literally taking pictures with folks! There was lots of laughing and smiling going on in the back of the room and you could tell the grieving family in the front were just as thrown off by it as I was.

Even in this atmosphere, a few of my family members were crying themselves into fits. All the shaking and chest heaving going on in the front row, I was sure someone was going to pass smooth out while their cousins laughed and chatted in the background. To add to the chaos, there was a gospel CD playing in the background that kept skipping. I kept side-eyeing the CD player and thinking, “Would I be wrong to go turn this thing off?”

I didn’t. I just sat there holding whatever family member’s hand that came to sit next to me and cry. While it felt good to have so much family in the same place, it hurt to see everyone in so much pain.

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