There are reasons why I do not take road trips with my family anymore. Of course that is above and beyond the fact that I don't live in Florida anymore.
Seven and a half hours. In a van. With my father. My mother. My sister. Myself. My two year old nephew. Of course I had very little sleep in my system when we left Jacksonville and could barely get to sleep in the back of the van as I was constantly being reminded that I was either laying on my father's suit jacket or on my sister's clothes. Neither of them, I assume, thought a hang up bag to protect said clothing would be in order here.
I guess what really got to me about this entire ordeal was the fact that I wasn't so much asked to attend the funeral as much as I was ORDERED to attend the funeral. My mother just naturally assumed that I would want to go to the funeral. If not that, then I had to attend for the sole fact that I was in Florida at the time, under her roof, and therefore obligated to do her bidding (which makes for an effective argument). Or...you could even say that it was a Southern thing. You have to keep up appearances...
My great uncle was not one of my favorite relatives. He was an alcoholic who, we estimate, drank a fifth of Scotch, bourbon, or vodka (or all three) a day at the very least. He was prejudiced and racist and loved making jokes at the expense of minorities. He would tell a racist joke and I would sit there with a pained expression of my face trying my best not to say something that would piss him off, my grandmother off, or even my own mother off. I think I looked more constipated than pained.
His death was very sudden. I had originally been told that he had less than a year which I found surprising given the amount of alcohol he drank and the number of cigarettes he smoked. When I talked to my grandmother earlier this week, she told me that he had gone from less than a year to just three days. In fact, when I spoke to her that was the third day. He lived one more day past that.
Regardless of how I felt at the time, going to the funeral wasn't so much to remember his life as much as it was to be there for my family members who were taking it rather hard. My aunt Phyllis was pretty much devastated by the entire thing. She looked incredibly shaky and as if she needed a Xanax or Prozac just to keep herself in check. My cousin Alison was a wreck as well. As they lived in South Carolina and had an easier opportunity to visit with my great-uncle, they were the hardest hit. I did my best to try to keep things positive by talking about tattoos and showing off the six year old piece of artwork on my left shoulder and joking with my cousins about heading up to the tattoo parlor within walking distance of my grandmother's house and getting something done in honor of Uncle Smiley.
I think that was my purpose in going to the funeral. I was the comic relief that was needed to break the tension (although my two year old nephew was doing a nice job himself). Some people hate death or even fear it. I look at death as a moment where we need to pause and reflect on where we are in life and the path we are on. Is this a path we need to change or something we want to change?
So here's to my Great-Uncle Smiley and the 73 years he lived on this earth. He taught me smile in the face of hatred and learn to love others. Kinda funny considering the man he was...