If you are reading this, then you probably have an inkling that I am a writer. I enjoy doing it. I write something almost every day and when I am not writing, I am thinking of new things to write. Words have long come easy to me; I am lucky that way. Still, despite a passion that I can feel with every tap of a key in the pursuit of etching another word into the white void before me, I have doubts. Recently, I overcame a few of them.
Since you are reading this, I highly doubt that you are related to me or have ever met me. Those people closest to me don’t often read what I write. Even my mother, the family member I am closest to, never sees the tangled masses of sentences I send out to strangers on an almost daily basis.
When I began my Murf Versus 27 project detailing intimate moments about my personal life in regards to gaming, a few people voiced concern or their own hang-ups about being so open online. For as long as I can remember, the only privacy I hoped to obtain was from my family. I can be more honest here than I can be with them. Here, I am not bound by saying the write words, but typing them in my own time. Their interpretation seems far more malleable that way and rarely do they incur some immediate response.
As you might imagine, my family doesn’t really know me and I hardly know them. That’s the price I have paid, willingly and for other reasons I doubt I will disclose. They know that I majored in English in college, but I have never told them why. They know I am smart, but conversations rarely ascend beyond the weather. They make even have an idea that I enjoy writing, but they won’t why or about what or how often or where.
Last May, my grandmother died and I chose the occasion to loosen up about one of my greatest passions. I decided to come clean about something I deeply love. I decided to reveal that I am, in my own view, a writer.
It started when we were at the mortuary discussing the details needed for her death certificate. We were presented with a draft of her obituary for the local paper. It was simple and direct, just like my grandmother was in every conversation we ever shared; only, a particular set of commas struck me as being troublesome.
The sentence followed a formula similar to this:
Name Name Name, of Location, died on Month Day, Year, at Place Of Death.
I understand that commas are necessary to isolate nonessential phrases in a sentence, but I also know most grammar rules are made up by prescriptivists. To me, the look and the flow of a sentence are more important than arbitrary rules. Seeing an opening with so many brief pauses felt like running out of air. That’s hardly the sentiment I want expressed when someone has so recently passed.
I was shocked when I spoke up, but I argued in front of all my family that the commas around the location part of the sentence should be removed. While seemingly nonessential, I felt the location of her residence was equally important to her name and should be considered a title loosely akin to something like ‘Sir Robin of Locksley’. My grandmother had lived in the same place all her life: she was as much a part of her environment as the environment was a part of her.
I said this entire spiel aloud to everyone present. I said it without doubting my place to say it or my knowledge of the subject. The author of the obituary, a man whose job is to pump them out as quickly as possible, argued against me, but something magical happened. My cousin chimed in to agree with me and others followed her lead. In the end, the commas were removed because I spoke up.
When it came to choosing what would be on the handout for the graveside service, I remained silent. I had no interested in the tired, overused poems or scriptures in the example book. No one else was especially impressed either. I had my opportunity, but instead I went silent and started jotting down my own idea. We ended up with a standard verse, but I decided to share my idea with my mother afterward. She loved it and immediately wanted me to read it at the service.
I have no experience with eulogies, but I understand the metaphysical concepts that offer comfort to others. I spent years at college studying religion and philosophy, anthropology and sociology. I also spent much of my youth in and out of Christianity, while attending a private school where ardent followers frequently testified. I didn’t want to write something that had to be interpreted as religious, but I wanted to share a philosophy that had guided my grandmother throughout her life, one that she frequently shared.
I didn’t read it. My nerves denied me that much freedom. Instead, my second eldest cousin read it for me. He added his own flourish toward the end and changed the meaning of one sentence, but he was otherwise grateful to read what I had written. Honestly, his delivery was far better than what I would have done because he barely made it through without breaking down. I likely would have delivered an over-the-top mock sermon, half in jest, which would have been unfortunate. We got that at the opening of the service from a Primitive Baptist minister.
Or I would’ve read it dryly, but accurately. That’s the more likely scenario.
The continents did not shift afterward, but a few members of my family complimented my writing. There was no embarrassment either. I felt suddenly and instantly more connected with all of those people I had shared opposing sides of a wall with for most of my life. I felt more like myself, despite being surrounded by those who never made feel comfortable about being me.
It felt good to write something spiritual, despite my atheist leanings. I left it vague because, to me, religion and spirituality are blank spaces which an individual fills in with their own experiences and ideals. Heaven is an abstraction and a tool, a means to describe the otherwise indescribable, and to assign to the chaos of reality a place in which we may reference for comfort or community. I never want to overwrite anyone else’s self-discovered worldview with my own because few things run as deep or as personal as how each person sees the world from their unique vantage point.
In closing, here’s the piece that I wrote and that was read at my grandmother’s funeral:
When we leave, we take with us nothing but we leave behind so much. We leave behind our best days and our best moments. We leave behind our family and our friends. We especially leave behind those bad days, the pains we have suffered, and all the ills that ever troubled us.
Life is fragile and finite. It is limited and brief. The journey seems long until you come to its end and then it seems far too short.
To all those still journeying, today is not a day to grieve or to mourn. It is not a day to question our place on this earth or our destination tomorrow. Today is a day to remember, to hold in our minds someone so dear to our hearts, and to be reminded how rare a person can truly be.
My grandmother understood that an end will always follow a beginning, but she also believed in a truth larger than us all. One day, we will all meet again.