I like most of my cousins, but I’m damn tired of running into them at funerals. Before I start, none of these deaths were really what I’d honestly call heartbreaking to me. I’ve been there, with my sister’s death 6 years ago, but the deaths of my mom 4 years ago and my dad recently weren’t heartbreaking; me standing in my mom’s way 6 years ago at the door of her new residence, a room in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home, was heartbreaking. Me telling her then that “You always told me there’s a lot of things that you have to do in life that you don’t want to do”, and her being barely together enough to know that she was being confined against her will, while having no idea who her family was or what part of the world she was in, that was heartbreaking. My dad’s confinement to wheelchair and nursing home was heartbreaking. Not their deaths. Their deaths were inelegant, sad, inevitable, scary for us, so obviously scary and confusing for them. So GOD…DAMN…final. All we can do then, it seems, is hug them, hold their hands, say nice things to them, demand pain and anxiety meds to ease their terrified, troubled, confused passage. Oh, and, you can stick your badly-copied pamphlet about the phases of dying right there sideways up your asses, health care professionals (usually very caring people, of course, mostly angels, I’d say, but c’mon, a pamphlet??). A woman I know, who is self-righteously certain of her salvation, agrees with me when I say to her that the process of death is scary, even if (in her eyes, at least) the reward is so great. I’m not so convinced, nor completely unconvinced, of the reward, but that’s another essay entirely.
What I’m getting at is that, though it’s a kind thought, no one here need say “Sorry for your loss” to me, because, except for my Dad’s death at age 90 a couple months ago, none of these were of people really close to me, and his death was, not really a blessing by any means, but a relief in some ways, I suppose.
Anyway, the short answer is that I’ve been to too many fucking funerals lately. I know, I superstitiously risk the wrath of a vengeful God, who would answer this whining by striking down anyone or everyone nearer and dearer to me than those who died, but I know the power of luck, fate, or deity already, and we must tempt them at times, I suppose, or go crazy, be lame, hedge all our bets and write recipe columns rather than pour out our deepest and darkest, most joyous and hopeful, most ridiculous and whimsical, most social and at the same time most masturbatory musings into cyberspace.
–A year ago, an old buddy of mine who was 65, was a sort of roommate to me 25+ years ago (I lived with a girlfriend; he drove a semi-truck and came home to visit his girlfriend and daughter every other weekend at my trailer and I would come home and visit my trailer and them. We would drink and sing and dance to music on his old band speakers which were the size of washing machines–the neighbors loved us). He got esophageal cancer 9 years ago, had major surgery then, was a shell of himself thereafter till pancreatic cancer became the death sentence it usually is. We sang “Happy Trails” in the cold wind at his graveside.
–Last spring, my friend’s dad-in-law, 90.
–About 3 months ago, an aunt, 85? (Dad’s brother’s widow)
–2 months ago, Dad, 90.
–Christmas time, the 17 year old family member of some people who are very dear to me.
–This week, a cousin, 63, that I hadn’t talked to in 40 years and didn’t much care about (though I’d say his mom, my aunt, is second in sweetness among women only to my own mom), a Dad and Granddad who glowed with pride, who basically committed slow suicide for the last 8 years via depression and the bottle.
–Tomorrow, a guy I knew a little, a sudden death at 53, a guy who was married for 35 years to his high school sweetheart, a woman I used to work with, one of those loud-at-times-but-heart-of-gold women, unfailingly nice and supportive of me when I had hard times.
–This weekend, one I won’t go to, a very sad one to some folks I care about (just one more step removed from where I feel I must go to the visitation or funeral service, but tragic nonetheless), a 20-something husband, father of two small boys, a loving man who only saw blackness one night this week, for some reason, and had to leave the world.
I love seeing my cousins; they are funny and nice and so, so open and more fully realized in their conversation, it seems, than what we’d hear from our parents’ generation. Did that generation, and Grandma, talk about serious stuff that we weren’t in on, didn’t care about, didn’t get to hear, or dismissed as “boring adult stuff?” Of course they did. Did they talk about things as openly or have as much fun as we can? Maybe, but I find it hard to believe. I sat next to my 6-foot-and-a-bunch girl cousin and her taller brother at my cousin’s funeral, and another girl cousin sat next to me, and we chuckled over the part in the funeral program where someone (my sweet aunt?) had written that “most of his life” my cousin had been a kind and good person. The giant boy cousin then said something funny to his sis that I didn’t quite catch, though she tried to share it with me, but I didn’t feel it nice to ask her to speak up to tell me a joke, in a church, 2 minutes before a funeral, but I was proud, for real, that the whole damn pew was shaking with her laughter.
I get, maybe, one call every day and a half, so of course I’d be the one to get a call in mid-funeral, so I finally remembered to turn my phone off one minute before the funeral, when I noticed a missed call and voicemail. Upon sneaking off into the corner after the service to get the message, I found out that a friend’s son-in-law had committed suicide. So I didn’t even leave one funeral before finding out about a new one.
So, though it’s a nice thought, please don’t say “Sorry for your loss” to me, as I don’t consider these so closely heartbreaking to me. If that were to happen, I’d be sitting on a mountaintop somewhere, staring into space. Not by any means would I be blogging. A simple “Sorry to hear that” or any other comments or thoughts that weren’t hateful would be fine, or just knowing you are reading is fine too. I’m so blessed to have readers at times, and friends at times, though there’s no reason ever for anyone, other than my daughter and a future, probably nonexistent, girlfriend, to ever bother me in the morning.
This almost unfailingly sad post must have some lightness. There’s a commercial on late night “old-people-reruns” TV about some product, Lifetouch, I think it’s called, where people have a call button on a necklace that they can press in case of emergency; it dials a security company. The old lady in the commercial has a fainting spell and tells the emergency operator “No, don’t bother (calling 911), but could you call my neighbor Gladys?” I just so terribly want the emergency operator in the commercial to answer “We’re sorry, but Gladys has informed us that she no longer wishes to have a neighborly relationship with you. Let’s see–it says here that you’re clumsy and, um, overly dramatic.” (Then, very brightly and sweetly) “Is there someone else we may contact for you?”
Though there is a poorly-attended family reunion in the fall for our clan, we’re contemplating a more raucous summer party, to see each other at something that isn’t a funeral, or heaven forbid, a church. Here’s to hoping that your gatherings are more parties than funerals.
I fail to see that me having hernia surgery recovery at the time of George Jones’s funeral last May was one of those things that “happened for a reason”, but I may otherwise have wasted my time being at work, and might not have seen this performance by Vince Gill and Patty Loveless of Vince’s memorial to his own brother from the 1990’s, “Go Rest High On That Mountain”:
A hugely underrated singer/songwriter who performs outside the hideous cesspool that is modern formulaic country music, Mrs. Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, with a song that I love, with wonderful, terrible words, one of those things that makes me want to write, sing, drink, or just sit and listen–“The Duel” (not “The Dual”)
Flesh and blood’s a sissy fist,
Death’s a Gold Glove pugilist
Every day’s a hit and miss
That’s what I believe: