My grandmother’s (my Dad’s mom) brother, Art, died several years ago. I remember feeling so sad for her, realizing how incredibly sad I would feel on the day I get the news about my own brother. I like to think that he will never die. Neither will my mom. Dad is already gone, and I’ve never quite healed from how quickly he was plucked from my young life by an angry man whom I didn’t hate or love, but whom I knew.
When I called my grandmother, I told her how sorry I was to hear about Art. She has seen so many people die. She is 91 years old, born in April of 1920. She worked in factories when she was still underage, using her deseased sister’s name and social security number to bring in money for the family. Everyone called her Marge because her sister’s name was Margaret. Until recently, when she got in some trouble with the IRS, everyone still called her Marge. Now, she insists on being called Lorraine to new friends, but old friends can’t break the habit of calling her Marge. When grams and I spoke about Art, the conversation turned to her own morality. She told me that she has two dresses hanging in her closet, one if she dies during Lent, when she’s skinny from giving up sweets, and one if she dies when she has gained a few pounds. She said she wants us to lay her out for two days at the funeral home, and then she wants the family to have a big party.
“Nobody better be crying,” she said, “because I’ve had a long and full life.”
I stood at Red Rocks next to my best friend, Miranda. Brandi Carlile played took the stage with her band and we all rose to our feet. I love all kinds of music, but Brandi is by far my very favorite artist. I can listen to her music over and over again in the car, while running, while cleaning my house, or while reading student papers and I never get sick of any of it. Most music is not immune to getting warn out on my ears.
At the end of her set, she played Rufus Wainright’s song, Hallelujah, on guitar with her haunting and powerful vocals. After the first stanza of the song, I turned to Miranda and said “When I die, give my life insurance money to Brandi Carlile so she can play this song at my funeral.”
“Wouldn’t a recording work?” Miranda leaned over and asked, then laughed. “I guess that shows how cheap I am.”
We both smiled while the chant-like music silenced us. With her right hand, she he reached for my left hand and held it, and I felt entirely thankful for my life. But I still want the live version, just like my grandmother is certain about the fashion statement she wants to make as she rests in her casket.