jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Going Home for the Funeral

I need to go home. There’s another funeral, and you always go to the funeral. In fact, funerals have become the only time I go home now, and it has become the last time I see people.

I last saw my cousin at my brother Butchie’s funeral, and I last saw my uncle at my cousin’s funeral, and so now I go home to celebrate the life of my uncle. And each person I see who helped me become myself, I will hug them and look directly into their eyes and tell them how much I love them, remind them of something they did for me as a child that mattered to me, that changed me.

So they know.

In case this is the last time I see them.

Groeber brothers  1951

Groeber brothers
Uncle, Father, Uncle
1951

This is a big one, the passing of the last of the three Groeber brothers. All the Groeber cousins will be at this one. We’re coming in from California and Florida and Massachusetts and Missouri. We are far-flung people, we children of these three brothers.

They are survived by two wives, eight of their nine children (of which I am one), seven of their eight son-and-daughter-in-laws, and all of their fifteen combined grandchildren.

image

I found a t-shirt from our 1994 family reunion. Called the Beach to the Shore in 94 by my uncle, it was the first and last time all the cousins, any of their spouses, four of the grandchildren and two of those three original brothers all came together down the New Jersey shore.

There should be a Bruce Springsteen song about this. Screen doors slamming, girls walking the NJ boardwalk or pulling beach chairs across the boulevard, the smell of Coppertone and fried dough and salt air, stealing these moments with people who look strangely like me, same curved second toe, same sad right eye that slopes down a little more than the other. Lots of blonde hair, fair skin, widow’s peeks, freckles. An unbelievable amount of teachers among us cousins. Lots of Lutherans.

Jen and a far-flung cousin on the boardwalk  New Jersey  1994

Jen and a far-flung cousin on the boardwalk
New Jersey
1994

There should be a song about knowing these people like I do, because we share the same blood, because our fathers grew up under the same roof, because we were all raised going to church each Sunday, with big Christmas celebrations, with uncannily similar experiences we likely may never realize we share.

I don’t know much about my father’s childhood, his stern mother, his father who died in a car crash when my father was only about eighteen. I always noticed more how the three brothers differed from one another, in their temperament, their jobs, their choices in wives, their demons.

But the first uncle who passed, the California one, he was a doctor, but also, an artist. His son, too, is an artist. And I am an artist. And our art is very different, one from the other, but still, we three, artists. There’s that.

I want to ask questions this weekend over a beer and a hoagie at one of the New Jersey bars where we’re sure to gather.

What stories did your father tell you? What was childhood like for a Groeber boy in the 30’s and 40’s? What was your father’s favorite thing? His least favorite? What do you know about our grandfather who died so early and so tragically and our grandmother who died before I could create any memories of her?

But I know we likely won’t have these conversations. We’ll talk about the planes, trains and automobiles we took to make it to the funeral, about the snow storm this week, maybe my uncle’s amazing sense of humor, his intense faith, our own children, where we live, our jobs. We likely will learn very little new about each other or even about my sweet, funny, beautiful uncle who we lost this past week.

Laughing with my uncle on the boardwalk  1994

Laughing with my uncle on the boardwalk
1994

And we will hug each other, hold each other’s arms, look into each other’s  eyes and say, “I know you, even when I don’t really know you. I see you now, although I really only see you at funerals, in Christmas card pictures and on Facebook. I carry you with me deep in my DNA, somewhere I can’t even begin to know in childhood memories and family traditions… and I love you.”

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30 comments on “Going Home for the Funeral

  1. Home That We Built
    January 27, 2015

    Jen, your posts are so emotional, so deep, so feeling-full and so complete, that besides clicking the “Like”, I find it hard to express how much I am impressed, touched and turned inwards by what you share. It is rare for me to be lost for words, but your posts leave me wordless, but filled with thoughts and feelings. Thank you.

    • 333jgroeber
      January 27, 2015

      This is one of the loveliest comments I’ve received. Really. It’s one of those things you hope to hear back from someone when you’ve tried to chase down a deep-churning thought or feeling or memory and pin it down in bits and bytes. Thank you so much for that.

  2. Amy Reese
    January 27, 2015

    You knock it out of the park with your sentiment in the end. You won’t talk about those things, but you still know these people through your common experiences you are sure to have had. I know that feeling. It’s interesting how we don’t share history very much, and that when you have those huge get-togethers, that kind of discussion is not even on the table. Right? It’s too chaotic, and you always feel like you’ll do it next time. My son interviewed his grandpa (my dad) for a social studies assignment. I thought that was pretty cool, because man, how things have changed in such a short time. Thanks for this lovely post, Jen. As always, you make me stop and reflect.

    • jgroeber
      January 27, 2015

      Thank you for getting it, Amy. It’s a complicated thing, right? Like how I realize when I don’t see my Mom for awhile that there are so many important things I don’t know and that she is the lone keeper of these pieces of information. But then we get on the phone and it’s all about her latest doctor appointments or who has a fever. (Sigh.) So glad your son interviewed your Dad. I must interview my Mom again… Thank you for this reminder.

  3. UpChuckingwords
    January 27, 2015

    Your last paragraph ..I wish I could tear it off the page and hold it in my pocket. Wow. I’m glad Amy tweeted this post. Fabulous.

    • jgroeber
      January 29, 2015

      Wow back at you. Thank you for that lovely comment. And thank you to Amy for tweeting me when I have no idea how to tweet myself. (Tweet, tweet.)

  4. lingeringvisions by Dawn
    January 27, 2015

    Maybe now, since you’ve thought of it, you might talk about some or one of these things with some or one of your cousins.
    You might.

    • Burns the Fire
      January 28, 2015

      I agree with Dawn! Then tell us about it. Love.

      • jgroeber
        January 29, 2015

        Look at you tucked in Dawn’s comments! Love seeing you here, as always.

    • jgroeber
      January 29, 2015

      Right? But I can’t picture it. Or I can picture it but I know it just probably won’t happen. We’re all so much more complicated and different from each other that the way we see those things we share in common through our parents we might not even see the same way, if you know what I mean.

  5. Pingback: Going Home for the Funeral | The blog of COOPER APPAREL. Find us at https://www.facebook.com/Coopertees

  6. Singbetterenglish
    January 28, 2015

    Hi Jennie – thank you for writing that.

    I was wondering whether you don’t have ‘these conversations’ because the real thing is the present moment, sharing the feeling of being woven together by blood and by remembering how each person is stitched into your own self. If I were a member of your family group, I’d much rather be looked in the eyes and told how much you love me. That would stay with me and would warm my heart.

    Safe travel at the weekend

    All best wishes
    Elaine

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      How did I miss replying to this? Because it influenced how I saw my cousins that weekend. We really did just look into each other’s eyes a whole bunch. And that was enough for now. Enough.
      Thank you for your beautiful words.

      • Singbetterenglish
        March 1, 2015

        I’m really glad they reached you, and that your weekend was full of strong sparks of connection in the middle of all the grey fog of loss.
        All warm wishes to you and to your family
        Elaine

  7. Matt
    January 28, 2015

    Always so great.

    My thoughts and prayers for all of your family members touched by your uncle’s passing.

    Your last paragraph. You just really get it, Jen.

    Travel safe, please.

    • jgroeber
      January 29, 2015

      Thank you for that, Matt. Fingers crossed the snow holds off for my many hours of driving.

  8. moomorpublishing
    January 28, 2015

    Thanks for blogging about personal and family things. So many of us can relate them to something in our memories, especially the regret that we don’t have all the stories of our ancestors or relations. How great it will be for your descendants and other relatives to have YOUR stories to recall and pass on. I’m trying to include personal and family things in my blogs as well. Just a few days ago reprinted a story I wrote in 1994 for Alzheimer Manitoba (see And they didn’t live Happily ever after … An Alzheimer Story http://wp.me/p2qBFo-nb.) Thanks for your reminders to keep blogging and appreciate the memories of others as well.
    Gayle Moore-Morrans

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      Thank you for this lovely message. Headed over to check out that story now.
      There’s a quote from a delightfully cheezy movie, You’ve Got Mail, that I’ve always loved: “Whatever else everything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”
      Thank you for getting it, for stopping by, and for leaving your own personal mark.

  9. talesfromthemotherland
    January 29, 2015

    Sending you hugs, and love. Just that. xox

    • jgroeber
      January 29, 2015

      Ah, thank you. Hard to picture that at this time tomorrow I’ll be down in New Jersey in the thick of it.

  10. Jenn Berney
    January 29, 2015

    I know this era of my life (the one where funerals become more regular than they have been) is approaching. Thank you for preparing me for it. And I love all of these photos. And that really should be a Bruce Springsteen song.

    • jgroeber
      January 29, 2015

      Can you stand that picture of my father and his brothers? Such stories of those three heartbreakers and their collective antics… If Bruce Springsteen were a woman he would have written that song.
      And as for these funerals… it seems too early by my estimation.
      So good to find you here, busy Mama.

  11. Emily Groeber
    January 29, 2015

    Tears and hugs. Wish the rest of us AZ Groebers could have come, too. So glad you could all be together again, especially to comfort each other, but to share those precious stories, too. xoxo from AZ, Emily, Andrea and Aaron

    • jgroeber
      January 29, 2015

      Oh, yes, the Arizona cousins. Looking forward to heading down tomorrow. Wish I were there now.
      Can you imagine your life being celebrated by the gathering together of all these far-flung children and nieces and nephews and grandchildren. It just fills me up, the thought of it. Now that’s a life well lived.

  12. Robin
    January 30, 2015

    What a beautiful tribute to life! Thank you for the reminder of what truly is most important. Enjoy the moments you have with your family celebrating one another in the name of you uncle.

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      Ah, Robin! How am I just seeing these comments now?! School vacations, snow days, conferences, and fevers, that’s how. Ha!
      Love seeing you here. Thanks for getting it.

  13. Pingback: Going Home for the Funeral: The Reprise or The Rising | jen groeber: mama art

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