My wife attended the funeral of her aunt yesterday, who died after a prolonged illness. I wasn’t able to attend, but I got a report that the funeral was uplifting and beautiful, marked more by joy in remembrance of a life well lived than sadness at her loss. The degenerative disease she suffered from had made the past several years part of a long, painful goodbye, and by the time she finally passed, it allowed the family to recall her life in its entirety, and not just the agonizing difficulties surrounding its end.
This led me to reminisce about the funerals of my own grandparents, all four of whom lived into their nineties. Three out of four of them passed away within two months of each other, beginning in October of 1993. My paternal grandmother followed about a year later at the age of 95. For the most part, each of them enjoyed good health throughout most of their lives, but getting out of this world wasn’t particularly easy for them.
Case in point: My maternal grandfather had a remarkable case of Parkinson’s Disease, causing one doctor to remark that he had never seen a similar case, because people usually died before the condition advanced that far. Throughout his career, he was a prominent Salt Lake attorney and a leader in the LDS Church, but at the end of his life, it became harder and harder for him just to get up out of his chair. He was taciturn by nature in the best of health, so when Parkinson’s robbed him of his faculties, he virtually stopped speaking altogether. Every now and then, you looked at his stiff, moribund frame and had to wonder if there was any part of him left.
It was delightful and bittersweet when he showed flashes of wit that let you know he was still in there.
On one occasion, he was trying to dress himself, a slow and tedious process for a man forced to move at a snail’s pace. His body and his wardrobe weren’t cooperating, yet his face remained placid and expressionless, until, after several failed attempts to make progress, a single, monotone word, barely audible, escaped from his lips.
“Dammit,” he said.
Keep in mind that this may very well have been the first profanity ever to issue forth from this man in his entire lifetime. He was a patient, kind, soft-spoken man, virtually incapable of anger, the most Christlike man I’ve ever met. He was a lifelong Latter-day Saint and a leader in the church on almost every level. My mother insists that she never had heard him swear at any point previous. (My father once said the same thing about his father, too, prompting my other Grandpa to say, “Now that’s a damn shame.”)
Needless to say, everyone in the room was aghast, especially my maternal grandmother, who had, shall we say, a rather well-developed sense of propriety. Never at a loss for words herself, she did what she could to cover for her husband’s faux pas with this excuse:
“It’s not really swearing unless you say ‘dammit to hell,’” she explained.
Silence fell. Nobody breathed a word until, after a lengthy pause, my grandfather spoke yet again.
“Dammit to hell,” he said.
Everyone burst out laughing, and Grandpa cracked as broad a smile as he was capable of producing there at the end.
Nobody told this story at his funeral.