jen groeber: mama art

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

Going Home for the Funeral: The Reprise or The Rising

The smell of my uncle’s house.

That was what first struck me. It smelled exactly the same as it had the last time I was there twenty-some years ago. Back when my uncle was alive, of course, and my Dad and my brother, my handsome brother-in-law, they were all there then, too. And to me that smelled like order, like warmth and family and Christmas.


A life well lived
January 2015

This weekend though, there was a large piece of posterboard on an easel in the dining room, covered with the pictures of all who have passed, rather than a table covered with turkey and potatoes and candles, or my laughing, loving uncle rushing in to give me a hug.

Relatives and Friends  January 2015

Relatives and Friends
January 2015

The next day at the church for his service it was the book of signatures that stole my breath away. Groeber. Groeber. Groeber. I went and got my camera and returned to the hall leading to the main aisle to take a picture. “Did you see all those Groebers?!” I exclaimed to the cousin I haven’t seen for seven years.

The family at the church  January 2015

The family at the church
January 2015

“Too many Groebers, too little time,” I added. He laughed and agreed.

It’s hard to know what to expect from a memorial or funeral.

We are sad. There is loss. We are together. We remember everything and hardly anything.

With each face I was struck with how much my cousins or sisters had begun to look like my aunts or uncles or my own parents as I remember them from 20 years ago. I wondered if I was beginning to look more like my father did when he was 43.

It was surreal. I kept catching glimpses of a cousin or niece or nephew and thinking I was seeing someone else. Blue, hazel and green eyes at every turn. In a gesture or profile I’d suddenly see my father clear as day, or my son. I kept taking pictures wishing my children were there to see where they had come from, to be seen by these people who would get it, most of whom have known me longer than I have known me.

We argued over which gin my father preferred. Was it Boodles? Or Gilbey’s? We wondered whose Benny Goodman record we’d found in my uncle’s collection.

We talked about funerals, who wanted a high-end casket (my mother) or to be cremated and poured out onto the ocean whether from a paddle board (me) or ocean cruise-liner (a sibling), to have a party with a house band and fireworks and steamed crabs (another sibling) or to be feted with  a religious celebration, all thumping hymns and guttering candles (a cousin.)

Who are these people?  January 2015

Who are these people?
January 2015

We touched each other’s faces, and rubbed each other’s arms. Some of us hugged closely, cheek to cheek, and some just shoulder to shoulder. I may have grabbed my sister’s bum. I stroked my mother’s hand.

I sat for a moment and patted my aunt’s arm, speechless, silently saying without saying, “I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.”

We posed for a group photo and then another. Another.

Family  January 2015

January 2015

What if we all lived in a village? A little village somewhere and we were neighbors and friends and shopped at the same market, knew the same neighborhood crazies, went to the same schools? Would we fight? Would we argue over our differences in religious beliefs or moral code or political candidates? Would this get in the way of this love that we can’t quite define? Or would we be a refuge for each other? Or both.

New Jersey  January 2015

New Jersey
January 2015

As I drove the infinite New Jersey Turnpike in the blackness of evening I heard Bruce Springsteen’s song, The Rising, on the radio. He wrote a song for a funeral after all.

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
Make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line

Maybe I can have them play that song at my funeral. Maybe my cousin who is so good on the guitar will play it, and my sister with the voice I have always coveted can sing, and friends can come and sing, too. Maybe it can be a celebration of friendship and love and family. There should be an open bar at my funeral, or at the very least, a few cases of red wine. There should be good food. There should be stars or sky or ocean.

On the way out the door after the luncheon, the far-flung cousin held both my arms, and he said, “Don’t forget to write about it, Jennie. Too many Groebers, too little time.”

Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
I was wearin’ the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin’ down here…

There’s spirits above and behind me
Faces gone black, eyes burnin’ bright
May their precious blood bind me
Lord, as I stand before your fiery light

I see you Mary in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
There’s holy pictures of our children
Dancin’ in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin’ on the end of my line

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)
Your burnin’ wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life.

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

~Bruce Springsteen, The Rising

13 comments on “Going Home for the Funeral: The Reprise or The Rising

  1. creamy725
    February 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

  2. Matt
    February 5, 2015

    “… wishing my children were there to see where they had come from, to be seen by these people who would get it, most of whom have known me longer than I have known me.”


    Yeah. Here’s to family.

    • jgroeber
      February 5, 2015

      Thank you, as always, for reading and commenting. The last post I read of yours, with the burning RV, has stayed with me all week. For once, I had no idea how to comment. But thank you.

  3. kellylmckenzie
    February 10, 2015

    I am right there with you. Just attended a family funeral across the country for a lad who passed much, much too young and the experience of seeing family who live both close and far flung was similar to what you experienced. And yes – that cousin now looks just like my late uncle and that little niece is the spitting image of her aunt.

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      Ah, the vision of family. I am so sorry for your loss, but so glad you were able to take that journey to say both hello and good-bye.

  4. talesfromthemotherland
    February 11, 2015

    Your posts (ever. single. one) touch me deeply… I get so much of this, on a visceral level. Like you, I’ve lost far too many loved ones, far too soon. Friends ask me to “come home,” but it’s always a mixed thing. I am surrounded by ghosts at home… those smells, the memories (good AND sad) and all of it… Your post touches me deeply. Just incredible.

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      Thank you for stopping by. And in the midst of a traveling month for you.
      “Coming home” means so many things. Thank you for getting it. And if you ever “come home” my way, remember I’m likely only a T and commuter rail ride away.

  5. Jenn Berney
    February 14, 2015

    I love how Springsteen really likes to haunt your posts. If he doesn’t know that yet, I hope he figures it out and finds his way here. Or writes a soundtrack for the movie version of your life. (Who would play you?) And boy, that’s a beautiful church. I’ve been feeling awfully old this weekend, and your post spoke to me in that place–that place where it’s too clear how quickly the years are passing.

    • jgroeber
      March 1, 2015

      A casual friend of my husband’s son is Bruce’s son’s roommate in college. (I guess we’re all only separated by 6 degrees or less?) Now the question is how to hitch a ride and casually say hello to Bruce. “Hi. Nice to meet you, Bruce. I’m from New Jersey, too…”
      Now I’m wondering when your birthday is. Hmmm. Winter birthday, huh? Hard to mark the aging in the midst of gray skies.

      • Jenn Berney
        March 1, 2015

        My birthday is January 8, exactly one week after New Year’s, you know, when everyone is totally holiday-done.

  6. Pingback: A Dream About Love | jen groeber: mama art

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2015 by in Memory, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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