this again?

17 02 2009

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I’ll be the first to admit that I am often stuck in a rut when in comes to creative meals but seriously?  I know…one is the flavor of the day…and the other is an entrée but just seeing them together this way made me laugh.

Billy was a MickeyD’s kinda guy but she’s stepped it up to Culver’s.  Yes, you can tell me how bad it is for her and how she shouldn’t eat one a week – but at 82…if she wants a single deluxe…I get her a single deluxe basket with onion rings, by the way!

It was another daytrip for me – squeezing in my job as a pharmacist, supervisor of water softener salt, garbage man, accountant and grocery shopper- into just a few hours. Another task came my way unexpectedly which delayed my return trip north by a number of hours.

A week ago she had a call from a friend asking about the experience with hospice. Ruth Ann’s husband’s time at the hospital had come to an end and hospice had been suggested. The Mrs. felt good about being able to just share her perspectives on the subject.  

A couple of different times during the past week, she got in her car and drove over to the hospice center see her friend but missed her each time.  I was proud – the courage it must take to re-enter the space where she’d just said good-bye to her life partner of 60 years-to walk beside another facing the same situation. Ruth Ann’s time there with her husband only lasted a week and he died on Valentine’s Day.

So, when I walked into the house yesterday at around 11 a.m. the Mrs. was all dressed and ready to go to the viewing.  She’d mixed up the times and it wasn’t until late afternoon in a neighboring city about 15 miles away.  Anytime I think about her driving more than the 3 miles, in town-to church, I get nervous.  I just have to deep breathe and remember that I’ve lived through this before with young teen drivers a dozen years ago and can do it again. But if I can save myself one ounce of worry by taking the trip with her, I will.

The hours until the viewing were passed with lunch and my buzzing through my list of things to check on.  We got in the car and I was at her mercy to direct me to the funeral home.  She had no doubt how to get there. One of the good things is that Billy taught her to back road.  If there is a county road that goes in the same direction…it is always the preferred route.  That was some comfort knowing that she was going to be driving this route again in a few days for another outing on her busy social calendar.

She’s still sharp enough to know her way around and her directions were impeccable. I let her off at the front door, helped her inside then sat out in a parking lot watching couples in their 70’s and 80’s tetter in – along with lots of single elderly women.  I waited almost an hour before sneaking in to make sure she’d not passed out somewhere.  There she was – sitting with her famous “Lunch Bunch”…all high school friends that try to get together once a month for a gathering.  She was saddened to learn that since Billy’s death, two or three of her friends have also lost their husbands.  It’s a new club…they may all be widowed…or soon to be.  Ruth Ann – the latest inductee.

In the twenty minute ride back to her house, she told me about six different times that two or three of her friends had been widowed since Billy’s death.  I just listened and acknowledged each declaration as if it had been the first.  I knew her brain was on overload.  Then she launched into memories of Billy’s funeral – she doesn’t remember much save staring into the stoic yet tear-stained faces of her grandsons as they stood behind the flag draped coffin. And she remembers being “tickled pink” that her grandkids dragged her outside for a group picture that she cherishes with all her heart.

Our little adventure was over.  I got her back inside and settled for the night before my own return trip north as the sun was hanging low in the sky.  It had been great little detour.  More time to process.  More time to talk.  One less outing that I’ll fret over her taking the car out alone.

This week she’ll be taking those keys in her hand alot.  Today is the funeral, then she’ll skip the burial to head off to a luncheon for the seniors at church. On Thursday, she’ll drive the route we did over the country road another 15 miles to where she’ll meet one of her Lunch Bunch ladies.  They’ll carpool (with the other one driving) to a restaurant where they’ll meet up with the others. 

I’ll try and not stare at the clock all day…waiting for her call late in the afternoon and breathe a sigh of relief that she’s home safe and sound.  She’ll tell me that two or three of the ladies have lost their husbands since Billy died and I’ll act as if it is the first time I’m hearing the news.





I get by with a little help from my friends…

17 09 2008

I dig iconic art.  I wasn’t raised with iconic art in my church unless you consider a semi-tropical river scene in the baptistry iconic art.  I always felt a bit like the baby Moshe being put in a wicker basket about to be floated down the Nile during the 8:30 a.m. sleepy service on Sundays. 

Pictures of our Jesus were not on the walls or in statues – just in those carry- home papers we were supposed to read with our parents.  They were always the same pictures and when I look at them now I seriously hope Jesus doesn’t look like that at all.

 

 A tad creepy really.

 

And I didn’t know my heart   had an Arts & Crafts             decorating motif… I thought it’d be a bit more like door at Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End.

 

When we showed up at the funeral home for Billy’s wake and did the first “walk through”, I noticed that everyone did a little imperceptible shudder…it wasn’t like when my Mom first saw her father “dressed out” in the casket and realized that his moustache had been shaved off while in the hospital down in Tennessee…but it was a shudder nonetheless.

On a side table near the casket was a glass pillar candle with a picture of my dad superimposed over the background of a flag that the funeral home had prepared. It was like the ones you can buy in the grocery store – at least I can buy them in my grocery store in the hispanic section – but I imagine some of you don’t have large immigrant communities in your neighborhood. 

Baptists don’t get into the candle thing so much – at least the way good Catholics do. Sometimes I’m pretty sure when Martin threw the baby out with the bath water there were lots of things that Protestants might think about reclaiming. One explanation of the candle part is:

Vigil Lights (from the Latin vigilia, which means “waiting” or “watching”) are traditionally accompanied by prayers of attention or waiting. Another common type of candle offering is the votive light. Such an offering is indicative of seeking some favor from the Lord or the saint before which the votive is placed. Lighting a candle is a way of extending one’s prayer and showing solidarity with the person on whose behalf the prayer is offered.

Mom has begun to really enjoy her St. Billy candle.  She couldn’t have candles lit around Billy much in the end – he’d freak out thinking they were going to catch the house on fire and would go around behind her blowing them out as soon as she had lit them.  Now, I appreciate that Smokey the Bear mentality but those little battery operated tea lights that I bought them as a substitue – don’t really cut it much.  

For as long as I can remember, when the weather starts to turn cold and the days grow shorter – she enjoys having a candle on her kitchen table to light in the early hours of dawn.  So maybe she’ll be sharing that space with Billy’s face flickering in front of her.  Yesterday something she read got the well of tears pump primed and she has had a hard time capping the flow.  That is a good thing.  She needed that and it is healthy.  I’m a bit jealous actually. And she said she likes to be alone to get it out her way – on her timetable.  What a smart woman.

One of the first days I came home after the funeral, I was at the grocery store and had to bring some friends home with me to share my space.  And in case you don’t recognize them by their faces, know that I’ve got it covered here with the patron saint of hopeless cases on my side.  I know you’re relieved.





inside out

31 08 2008

I grabbed a handful of fresh dirt and rubbed on top of his casket. Like putting a period at the end of a sentence.  That was the only way to finish it all off. 

 I’m surprised they didn’t have the mound covered with the pseudo- grass pretending to think that the earth didn’t have a big, naked yawning gap in it the shape of a coffin.  I like those interments that are really interring something…lowering the body into the grave. Yes, it’s hard to watch but it is what it is.

When I saw myself in these scenes as I replayed them with each north-south jaunt it felt different.  Maybe its been the years of decline that weathered it all like Lake Michigan driftwood.  The rough sand and pounding surf rounded out all the sharp – grayed up the deep colors.  I need to see it played out on a huge screen, sitting in the darkness surrounded by strangers eating popcorn- to feel it. 

The wail of the bagpiper – the somber processional transported me to some small church in the Highlands, some windswept hilltop grave.   Words whispered to my mom by one of the dwindling number of the Greatest Generation – I wondered if he thinks about what his widow will look like with her trembling hands outstretched as the triangle is entrusted to her.  The soft leather of the interior of the limo – being that car you see and wondering what it feels like to be inside it.  

Engraved forever in my mind the faces of the grandsons standing behind the flag draped oak box. The cacophony of memories leaking out of their eyes – jaws set. What we all really wanted was for no one to be there with us – we wanted to weep like our hearts were telling us to but ceremony dictated otherwise.  

Did you know that in the jewish practice of shiva the mourner is under no obligation to engage in conversation and may, in fact, completely ignore his visitors?  That feels right.  There were inquiries and comments that felt like I was being slapped awake from a dream for no good reason. People tend to keep their distance if grief is openly expressed –  but since I wasn’t sobbing – they thought I was open for business as usual.  The whole time I was wondering if someone was getting their feelings hurt – why should I be worrying about you at my father’s funeral?  

So now on to the business of living.  I will find my space to cry my tears how and when I want to. There is a porch in Michigan that is waiting…wishing we (beedub3club) were there tonight as the lightening bugs start to blink their on and off message that Billy is with us, all around us and he’ll never let us go.  





an open letter to my nieces and nephews be they tulley or mcniece

30 08 2008

There are moments of brilliance in all this gray…I must stay sharp and attentive or I’ll lose sight of them all. There are quiet times around a table that my mom has great clarity about things long since lived. I had quizzed her just the other day about when they were engaged and got a mixed story. She didn’t think that they’d gone to a Cubs game but to some other game in Chicago.

Well with the internet at hand I just figured a good journalist does their best to facts check. The Sox were out of town that weekend in 1947 and isn’t it a bit bizzare that someone has taken the time to post the schedules from that long ago? The Cubs did play that day…and knowing what I do about our family – I don’t care how love sick my father may have been he would NOT have spent his hard earned cash on celebrating his engagement with wasting money on Sox tickets. It would NOT have been. And since most of this is memoire anyway – and the things about that day don’t hang on exactitude…I make the rules.

But there are times when I can cull more and more detail from her jumbled mind too – when the stars line up, when her blood sugar is good – I don’t know that there is a formula I can follow so I grasp and run when they tumble out of her mouth and call it gospel truth. There are times I feel a little like a detective – hearing the story 5 times in the space of a relatively short amount of time – I just cross check facts – if she repeats the same thing 3 times, I call that verifiable. So today’s recounting still had some of the same components plus a few others…two quite contrasting as a matter of fact.

When she got her diamond – they went to the apartment where she lived with her dad, and brother…her dad was over the moon and quite expressive and didn’t let them out of his sight till he prayed a blessing on them. That would be my Grandpa Cummer.

Next was the parade, then stopping by Billy’s house to show his folks. His dad, a civil engineer by trade had a holiday from work. July 4th…and he was busy hanging wall paper in a small bedroom upstairs. I can see my mom (motherless remember) looking for anyone to share in her joy – running up those dark wooden stairs. James Robert McNiece had his head down with probably a board stretched across two wooden saw horses making exact cuts in the wall paper to make it fit. She plopped her sparkely left hand down and said, “What do you think about that?” wiggling her left finger. And his reply was, “You’d better move your hand or I’ll cut your fingers off”…and as she told me the story she laughed and said, “It sounds like something your dad would say”…and to that I say amen and amen.

On one side I’m blessed with warm fuzzy sentimentalism from my dreamer grandfather – the watchmaker, jeweler, theologian, chess player, chocolate ice cream and oreos for breakfast- kind of guy. There will be much to say about him in the future – he was one of the most important people in my life for millions of reasons that you’ll hear all about. Then the other strand of my DNA has this seemingly cold, stoic, gruff, steel-eyed, no nonsense whammy from my dad’s family. And I see myself perfectly in that blend – delicate as it is.

So in an effort to really understand history so we understand ourselves better – I say I’m sorry I’m not warmer and fuzzier when you think I should be – but move your damn hand before I cut your fingers off. I still love you all – but telling you once in your lives is plenty. Get over it.

p.s.  Just in case I ever make it to the Oprah show – I kept doing everything I could to keep fact checking the Cubs game thing…then I found her “diary” from 1947 and they DIDN’T go to a game that day.  It wasn’t until the almost 12 days later…and it was the SOX.  My apologies to Billy for saying “he’d never”…

Here’s to you!  An Irish funeral prayerDo not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow; I am the diamond glints on the snow. I am the sunlight that ripened grain; I am the gentle autumns’s rain. When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift uplifting rush, Of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft star that shines at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there; I did not die





mairzy doats

29 08 2008

I am numb. I’ve escaped to the anonimity of a hotel. I’m trying to turn my brain off – off load some of this stress. I step into the elevator and the door slides shut…and I start to cry as I see one of the chain’s efforts to decorate the inside of the utilitarian space. And this stupid little poster?

Me, sitting alone in the backseat of whatever car we had back in the day. Driving anywhere – going from one window to the next (we didn’t have to wear seatbelts back in the day). And I’d make up songs (early singer/songwriter DNA gene pool).

But Billy taught me one that I’ll never forget Mairzy doats

Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?
Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?

I don’t think you’d ever think of him as a singer but he had a good voice and could carry a tune. He enjoyed music and as a cousin reminded me, he had a great appreciation for his stereo equipment. Everything was always mounted in a closet – separate receiver, turntable, etc. We were taught how to clean records, carefully place the needle. We never had much money but whatever was invested in that equipment – was well spent.

And the treat of all treats was getting to wear the headphones. It was like stepping into a dream world. Nothing could touch you there – you were swallowed by sound. Even looking at this photo I can still smell and feel those massive headphones pressing in on my head.

Today I will be accosted by the sounds of people talking, sharing, remembering, consoling. I’m terrified of getting trapped in one of those conversations that yammers on about things that I could care less about today. This is probably one of the hardest parts of this whole process for me – having to engage people when my head needs quiet. I’d like to see the people that come to the wake – receive a warm hug – but have my ears drowning in white noise. Like a huge acrylic hamster ball – me inside- watching, observing, lip reading but silent.

Maybe I’ll feel better after more sleep. I woke up at 2 a.m., I’d fallen asleep at 8 p.m. I’ll finish this up, post, have coffee and go back to sleep till whenever. At 1:30 p.m. I’ll be at the funeral home dropping off some last minute casket props. I love set designing. Can I wear an ipod to the wake? Oh, the soundtrack I’d play…starting with The Cure…after all…It’s Friday, I’m in Love.