The Messina Family

The Messina Family
Barcelona 2010

Monday, April 28, 2008


I know it has been a long time since I have put anything on this blog. Sorry to all my friends and family that are faithful readers! I just wasn't up to it when I first returned from my grandma's funeral in Michigan. We then had some thing highly unusual here...several days of sunny weather! It was about 11 days worth of sunshine. Far and away the longest stretch of nice weather we have had in the almost year we have lived here. I just couldn't stay in the basement typing...just couldn't be inside....what a great excuse to not clean the house! Then the craziness of life took over...and the rains began again. I am going to try and post several different posts over the next couple of days...trying to get caught up.

I would like to reflect for a moment on my trip to Michigan. If you ever want to travel on a day that no one else seems to be traveling on...pick Easter. I had three flights over to Michigan and I was afraid the two shorter ones would be cancelled for lack of passengers. However, I made it...having had an extra 6 hours tagged onto my regular 24 hour Easter Day. I encountered snow at every stop...Stavanger, Norway, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Minneapolis, MN and Saginaw, MI all had a white Easter. I arrived close to midnight and had been traveling over 16 hours. I was relieved to see both of my parents and my siblings; my sister, Pam, and my brother, Craig, all waiting for me at the gate. It had been 16 months since I had seen any of them.
I have to admit that nothing brings a family together like a funeral. My grandma was the end of this generation for our branch of the family tree. All of my cousins were there except for one Army training. All great-grandchildren were there except my three kids. Her sisters-in-law came from their warmer, southern homes to bid farewell to their brother's wife. My grandpa died over 25 years ago. At her visitation at the funeral home, the mood was joyous and celebratory. Of course, it was sad and shocking for all of us at first. I am not saying that tears weren't shed. However, so many people came to pay their respects and sit around and share good memories and stories. My grandma's pastor was out of town, so a different pastor presided over her funeral and interment. He had only ever performed one other funeral before. He didn't know our family, so came to the visitation to meet with all of us and get to know my grandma through her children and grandchildren. The emotionally strained faces soon turned to smiles as story after story was told about my grandma. How you needed a magnifying glass to read her handwriting because it was so very small....How she was still climbing apple trees into her 80's....How lunch after church on Sundays was always grilled cheese sandwiches or grilled peanut butter and brown suger (sounds yucky but is definitely a Neitzke tradition that I have passed on to my kids!)...How she made the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies...and always had some frozen in a coffee can in her freezer to pull out if company came. How she would send birthday cards and anniversary cards to countless people...I took a look at her event reminder book that was decades old. It was amazing the detail she kept in that book. She loved to quilt....she had made over 270 Lutheran World Relief quilts during her life.
She had been in the Navy during WWII, as I mentioned before. She had a folded American flag next to her head. Draped over her casket was a beautiful blue quilt. It was made by the Quilting Ladies at the church for her 80th birthday. It was so touching to see it draped over her casket. There was a huge spray of red and pink flowers from these ladies, her dear friends. In her casket was a small drawer, which some of her relatives put letters, cards and pictures in. I had hastily printed out a picture of each of the kids to bring with me. I ended up coming early to the church the morning of her funeral and wrote her a final letter and placed the three pictures of my children in her casket with her.
The morning of her funeral was cold...bitterly cold and then the wind picked up...and then the snow started falling...and then it was almost blizzard conditions. My grandma was one of nine children in the Knapp family and she had two sisters still living. One is two years older than her and one was two years younger. The younger one made it but the older one was caught in white out conditions and had to turn back. It broke my heart that she couldn't be there. It seemed so appropriate that her casket was covered by that handmade quilt on a day like that. Her grandsons were her pallbearers. That was very moving to me. To see these young men surrounding her casket and escorting her into the church and then to the cemetery was touching. I remember them all as gawky all grown up and most of them married with kids. Right before the service began, I was asked to carry the cross to lead the procession in...the cross, Grandma encircled by my cousins, and then the Pastor. My mom was the organist. Luckily, she warned me before the service started. She knew few people would recognize the processional hymn, but I would, and to be strong and not waiver while walking in. We walked in to the Navy hymn. Being a military spouse and a former military member, I knew this hymn. I am always honored to be a part of a worship service. This was just such a tremendous honor for me, the oldest grandchild, to lead my grandma's remains into her church for the final time.
The service was wonderful...full of love and hope and good memories. I was prepared to fall apart but found myself smiling...even chuckling through the sermon as I remembered what a great woman my grandma had been.
I was able to catch up with my family, which was so wonderful. I got to meet my cousins' children and see them in the role of parents...which was oddly satisfying since my kids were back in Norway and I could actually just concentrate on talking with other people. :o) Don't get me wrong...I sure did miss my family, but I was gone for 5 days and 1.5 of them was traveling.
I was so lucky to get to see my immediate family. My sister is pregnant with her third child. I was glad to be able to congratulate her in person. My brother got married last July and I hadn't seen him or his wife Mayra in person since the Christmas prior. I could congratulate them and then turn around in the same breath and say good bye to Craig, my brother. He left for Dubai last week to live indefinitely. Mayra will be joining him within the year.
I also got the chance to get my hair cut and go shopping! I had a long, long list and did quite well, actually. I came back with baseball mitts, running shoes, stereo wire, clothes, animal crackers, dog supplies - you name it. I can do a lot of damage in an afternoon. :o)
I am so very glad I went, even though it was physically painful with the jetlag, etc, coming back (I don't sleep on planes). I had been up for 30 hours by the time I landed back in Norway, and it was only noon here.
I miss my grandma, even though we haven't lived near each other for most of our lives. I had been writing to her often over the last 9 months or so and I still find myself making mental notes of events as if I needed to catalogue it away to write in a card to her. In fact, every time Lily sees me writing, she asks if I am writing Great Grandma. When we mail anything, she asks if it is a letter for Great Grandma. I guess I talked about it more than I thought with her. As I see spring starting to finally come into play here in this farming area of Norway, I see flowers that I want to tell her about...the foals that were born just down the street...the tractors constantly in the fields. I think it will take awhile to get out of that mindset. It has been a month since she died and I still catch myself doing it everyday...thinking that I need to remember this image or thought to share with her in my next letter.
I want to thank those of your that sent cards and heartfelt emails of support when she died. My great aunt said out loud what I had been thinking my entire flight over....that a generation in our family has now died out. My grandma, the matriarch of the family is now gone. Now her five kids become the leaders of their families...somewhat splintering off in their own direction. That makes me a little sad. However, I really had some wonderful conversations with my dad's siblings and their spouses while I was there. I wonder if they will all get together for birthdays and on Christmas Eve now that Grandma is gone...I hope so.

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