Earlier I wrote about the trip back to Wyoming, but that story did not include the climax of the matter – the memorial service.
My mom and I arrived early. We brought a couple of picture boards from Jenny's life, and wanted them to be displayed by the time everyone else arrived. I'm glad we did.
The chapel setup was beautiful. Two of Jenny's best horse paintings flanked several bouquets of flowers – enough, but not too much. The photo of Jenny that my brother Frank took, which was displayed in a national show, took center stage, along with the portrait my great-grandfather did of her.* As I got close enough to see everything, it hit me – the reality and finality of loss. I collapsed in tears. My mom hugged me close, and for the first time in probably 40 years, I cried on her breast while she comforted me.
When the flood abated, we went out to the lobby. Our old friends, Linda and Doug Nelson, joined us, and my cousins. My nieces, nephews, and brother and sister-in-law arrived, along with 2-year-old Tyler, my great-niece. I got to play with her while guests started to arrive. She had a great time exploring the fountain and getting everything wet while healing my heart, and soon the lobby swarmed with mourners.
Now, things have changed a bit for me since the last time I was home. These are the folks who knew me when I was a teenager and in the years since, when I desperately tried to compensate for the deeply ingrained sense of Not-a-Man by trying to be as macho as possible – which wasn't all that much, because macho just doesn't come natural to me. At all. Only this time, my hair was French-braided, and I wore a long black skirt and dark tunic. I did not look at all like the FN (Former Name) they used to know. Most people didn't recognize me, which was fine. I didn't go out of my way to introduce myself.
I did not, however, go unnoticed. Many people gave me curious looks. And when a large crowd had gathered in the lobby, I finally did approach someone, a close friend of my mom and my brother's former best friend – who greeted me with a loud "[FN]." A gentle correction led to, "You're still [FN] to me!"
Oh. Well, so it goes.
Without getting into too much detail, yes, that little exchange sucked.
I didn't cry during the service, which surprised me, given the way I collapsed before it. However, I was sitting up in the front, and felt the weight of eyes on my back too intensely to relax. It wasn't until after, during the reception in the lobby, that I once again collapsed, and cried on my cousin's shoulder for awhile. Jon has a pretty awesome shoulder for crying on. He's about 6'3", over 200#, former football player. Oh, yeah. His siblings nicknamed him "Herc," short for Hercules.
And then interesting things started happening. An old friend, a former rancher, realized who I was and rushed across the lobby and gave me a big hug. He was all smiles, and happy to see me. The fundamentalist Christian who adopted my youngest nephew following Jenny's car accident initiated a conversation with me, and we spoke pleasantly for several minutes. Raised eyebrows became smiles. The mom of the man who gave me that awkward moment before the service introduced her sister, hugged me warmly, and chatted for some time.**
* Art runs in the family. Jenny was a talented artist. My niece just graduated from grad school at the Chicago Art Institute. And I trace back professional artists on both sides of the family.
** There is immense power in being out. When people see you, the stereotypes they've accepted crumble before the reality of our common humanity.