Saturday, June 28, 2008


So this past Thursday was my Grandma's Funeral. The text of my last post was basically the eulogy i wrote for her. I'll have to go back and make a few revisions, but that post was basically my working draft going into Thursday night. I wasn't sure I would be doing the eulogy at that time, but I had to head home prepared. My Dad has a tendency to ask me to do stuff like that at the very last possible second. I think he waits so long so that I don't have the opportunity to say "no" but it just makes it more difficult for to say something coherent with no time to prepare. There have been many speeches and readings and sayings of Grace before dinner that were just dumped in my lap over the years. I said my mom's eulogy at her funeral 10 years ago, and it went over well, so i knew I'd be at the top of the short list to say something for Grandma.

So I get home Wednesday afternoon and my Dad doesn't say anything about it. On our way to the funeral home for the wake my Dad does say, "oh, this is the reading you're doing tomorrow at the mass.." referring to a piece of paper that's laying on the seat in the back of the car. Instead of giving me the paper though, he takes it and shoves it in with a bunch of other papers. I ask him why he's hiding it away, when I could look at it on the ride over. He looks genuinely perplexed at my desire to read the paper beforehand, but gives it to me anyway. It's a reading from the book of Ecclesiastes. Of course i get a reading from a book who's name I can't pronounce. I can't read something from Luke or maybe Genesis? Corinthians even! No, i get Ecclesiastes. Now for the record I'm pretty sure it's pronounced ek-clee-zee-AST-ees, but in my head I always want to say ek-clee-zee-AST-uh-sees. I like adding that extra syllable. Anyway, nobody in my family can confirm for me the proper pronunciation.

At the wake, my sister asks me if my Dad asked me to the eulogy. I say no, not yet. We're just doing the readings. She's doing a reading, she asks? Yes, I say, didn't Dad tell you? Apparently not. Typical!

Now later that night, my other sister (who can't make it home from Michigan because she just had a new baby) calls and asks about the eulogy. I tell her he hasn't said anything. She thinks I should ask him about it. The thing is, I'm not really ready to volunteer myself for it. Having done it before, my experience with it is that it's not easy. Getting through my mom's eulogy left me wrecked for several weeks. That was a different circumstance than this, but it wasn't something i was gonna throw myself back into. I would serve if called, but i didn't want to bring it up on my own.

But my sister convinced me i should find out from my Dad what was going on. So i went and asked him, who's doing the eulogy. Oh, no one, he says. They don't do them anymore. My eyes narrow. They don't do them anymore? No apparently the church doesn't like the family to talk about their deceased relatives anymore in Church. They only give you a minute to say something, and my Dad didn't know if i could say something in a minute. I think this is ridiculous. What are they going to do? Stand by with a stopwatch, and when 60 seconds is up, cut my mic and drag me from the podium? Maybe the organist will start playing over me like an acceptance speech that goes to long at an awards show? With the gauntlet thrown down by the Church, I'm ready for the challenge. I tell my Dad i already wrote something and he excitedly says he'll tell the Church people I'm doing the eulogy. For serious, my Grandma lived 95 years, she doesn't get a two minute telling of her life in God's house as we say goodbye? It's totally offensive to me.

So we get to the funeral home in the morning before heading over to the Church, and the funeral director tells me basically the same thing: the Catholic church no longer wants people to speak at the church. We can say something at the funeral home or the cemetery. No effing thank you, sir. The funeral director says he'll go make a call and see if we can do it at the Church. While he's gone, someone makes the suggestion that I say the eulogy regardless of what the Church says. I honestly don't think it was my idea. It could've come from half a dozen people, we were all equally pissed about it. But at that point I decided I would read the eulogy when I got up to do my reading, if i wasn't going to have a proper place in the service. While the idea of sticking it to the church was a huge adrenaline-rush, i have to say that i was gonna do it because my family wanted me to, my Dad asked me to, and because I believe my Grandma deserved it. The fact that i was gonna be publicly rebellious against Church rules I don't believe in, was just gravy.

So we get into the limo and make our way to Church. Upon arriving, the funeral director very apologetically tells me I'm not allowed to give the eulogy because the priest didn't get it in writing the night before for review. I calmly tell him that it's fine and not to worry about it anymore, as I'm more resolute than ever to get up and give the speech. The family agrees, with the added bonus of my aunt saying "good for you, Owen! If it was me, I'd do the exact same thing!!" and she meant it, because she is awesome. Now initially I planned to just read my thing and sit down, but as my sister pointed out, it was a mass and i also had to do the actual reading. Fine, I'd do both.

So we go in, and the mass starts. The priest is one I've seen before, very very slow and monotone. No energy behind anything he says. About 3 minutes into the service I'm called up to read the first reading. The church helper lady directs me to the podium, and shows me a copy of the prayer, but i assure her I have my own copy. I take out the prayer and then i take out the eulogy, putting it on top. I adjust the mic and say "If you'll allow me just a minute..." and then launch into my eulogy. As I'm going through it, silent craziness erupts in the eyes of the church people. I keep going, I'm about a third of a page into it when the priest stands up. Holy crap, i think, as I keep reading. Is he going to physically try to stop me from reading. I momentarily lose my place and then keep going. The priest turns and leaves the altar area, and goes back into that little room place where they prepare. i used to know the real names for these places, but now i can't think of them. So I keep going. When I'm done, i do the actual reading, during which the priest returns and sits. I finish the reading, and book it back down to my seat. The rest of the service goes on without incident. Although when my sister got up to do the second reading the Church Helper Lady asked her "do you have something extra YOU'D like to say?" She assured her she did not.

So that happened. It was a little crazy. The priest and the funeral director didn't mention it at all after the service. A few family members were angry the priest got up and left, but honestly, I'm not. He has his job and his rules to follow, and quite possibly he couldn't be present if i was going to break the rules. He wasn't gonna stop me at that point, but his position made it impossible to witness it. That's my interpretation of what happened. But everyone agreed doing the eulogy was the right thing to do given the circumstances and that i handled it well. As my uncle said, it's this stuff that makes people leave the Church, because the services should be about the community and a funeral should be a reflection of who the person was. You take all that away, why even stop at the Church on the way to the cemetery? As another Aunt said, who cared what the Church thinks. We all follow our own Personal Catholicism. We're not big fans of arbitrary changes to the services the Church makes to distract from the fact they don't address actual changes that need to be made.

But I must say, that it did feel like I crossed some sort of line by breaking away from the course of the ceremony on what's essentially their home turf. It shouldn't be their home turf though! It shouldn't feel that way. it should be everyone's turf. It was the same place i stood 10 years ago saying goodbye to my mom, and it was fine to do it then, but now it suddenly wasn't? Makes no sense to me. But there we were, once again in that House of God, this time having a bit of a stand off in his presence as to how people ought to be remembered. The whole place didn't collapse in on us, so I guess we're all okay. Besides, the priest who did my mom's funeral service called her by the wrong name for half the service, so I feel like they owed us one this time around. I do regret deceiving the Funeral Director, who was a very nice guy, and tried his best, and I turned around and did exactly what i wanted to, after he told me i couldn't. I just don't want his Church friends to think he'd been complicit in my defiance.

So, in conclusion, Grandma Mae could very well be the last of the Panettieri's getting into Heaven. If God really cares about toeing the line, then I'd say my open defiance and my family's expressed support pretty much knocks us out of the running. But I don't really believe that. That's not part of my Personal Catholicism.

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