I was going to write a blog about making your final arrangements — your funeral plans — when I remembered the most unusual thing I ever witnessed at a funeral. It happened at my grandmother’s graveside service.
Wanda was my mother’s mother. I called her Mem-maw. When my grandfather died in a car accident, she came to live with us. Wanda never learned to drive. She had never written a check. She was a very bashful person who preferred to fade into the background. The worst thing that could happen was for someone to take a picture of her. She didn’t like the way she looked. She was a gentle soul whose greatest interests were the well-being of her family, reading Star magazine, and watching The Nashville Network.
Wanda was a master at cooking, cleaning, laundry, living modestly, and all things domestic. She raised six children of her own, and then three of her grandchildren. Her children were devoted to her. When dementia struck and it was no longer safe for her to live without consistent supervision, she went to nursing care. In nursing care, as her dementia progressed, her personality changed. Words that had never crossed her lips – curse words and rude nicknames – now crossed them with regularity.
It was in this later stage of life that Wanda met Daniel. Daniel was a CNA at the nursing home, a man from Africa who spoke with a heavy accent. Wanda was not overly cooperative with the nursing staff, but Daniel became the Wanda-whisperer. When Daniel was her CNA, he fixed her hair and put make-up and jewelry on her. Her clothes were clean, and she was well cared for. She did not seem particularly fond of him, and yet, she began referring to him as her husband.
It was scandalous to some for Wanda to declare a dark brown African man as her husband.
At the graveside when Wanda died, a traditional Methodist service was performed. The mood was somber, and the family gathered was reserved. Only one person of color was there – the dark brown Daniel, Wanda’s “husband.” Some were uncomfortable at his presence. And then… as the service seemed to be ending, Daniel spoke. He spoke out loudly to get our attention. I wish I could remember the exact words he spoke. It was out of place to speak at a funeral in our family. It was especially shocking, however, to hear Daniel speaking with affection about the Wanda that he knew. The end-of-life Wanda who was not the quiet and sweet grandmother, but the demanding and rude old lady. Daniel spoke too long, but he spoke passionately.
As he spoke, Daniel referred to himself as her husband. I think I heard some gasps. Daniel did seem to be stealing the spotlight in an inappropriate way right there in the middle of my grandmother’s funeral. Still, it was very interesting. This person who never knew the kind and modest Mem-maw, who had never had a chance to eat her famous chocolate chip cookies, took time out of his life to come to her funeral, and to share that she was important to him.
Wanda’s funeral arrangements were made well in advance, but no one anticipated what would make her funeral so memorable.