It’s a little after 8 p.m. as I write this. I’m sitting in a bookstore listening to a Russian girl talk on the phone, listening to a group of folks talk about housing prices in Guatemala, listening to the whirr and gurgle of a cappuccino maker, and listening for the phone’s ring signaling that the coast is clear for me to return to the funeral home. Not that I want to, not really, because they’re not all that great to hang out in, but would rather be there in support than stranded here, waiting. But, in order to be reasonable, mature, accommodating, understanding, and sensitive, my exile to the bookstore is necessary. A learning experience, driving a strange car through strange streets at night in winter, a stranded weird escape from just a little too much family.
These past few days have felt very out-of-place, as we’re staying at the home of the deceased, sleeping in what was the master bedroom, combing through piles and piles of papers looking for those bits and pieces that will indicate what the plans were for end-of-life issues or if indeed we’re totally hanging in the fierce breezes of chaos. Despite some very assiduous digging through what seem to be the important papers, there is no current will. There is nothing filed with the county either. There is no clear indication of how much insurance was carried, who the beneficiaries might be, how big is the estate, what he actually owns and what the bank really owns, who’s liening on whom, and just how to move forward with so much remaining a mystery. What’s clear though is that Biff is going to have to return to his home state soon; the task of cleaning up, digging out, straightening up, moving forward is just too huge to be done in a week, even with many hands working at the Herculean task. Life moves on and is leaving a certain whiff of dread in the air as the hours march past. Too much to do, not enough time to do it, and then there’s the question of the cat.
It should come as no surprise then that the idea of a bourbonless January has flown out the window like a cartoon safe. Some things require medicating; the facts of this matter demand liberal applications of feel-good juice at regular intervals. Yes, yes, I could be strong and do this thing stone-cold sober, but that would mean existing through yet another death experience fully aware of how much it hurts. The familial grief and brave face of mourning picks at the scabs of my own experiences with death, and I’d really rather that exercise be blunted with the fumblefingeredness of a little happy glow. Being too aware, being too nimble, could lead to too-adroit uncovering of old deep hurts, a thing to be avoided when running ‘support services’ for a family who has been plunged deep into the heart of sudden mourning.
Having buried my own Dad 18 years ago, having buried my former father-in-law nearly 10 years ago, I have some practice on what to expect, but nothing is ever the same as the time before. This time I’m not in the core of hurt, which is a relief but odd at the same time as I’m married to someone who is at the center of a world-shattering experience. As I see it, this time around it is my job to be capable, to be strong, to be calm and cool. Being weepy and teary-eyed would be a touch disingenuous, for the length and depth of the family’s hurt is a decades-long history of love and family I don’t yet share. All I can hope to do in these days and hours is to be a strong-enough partner, a source of relief for those who utterly exhausted at being so very sad, and maybe a voice of experience and reason and hope. So I speak with the chatty, we get to know one another through 5-minute interchanges over coffee in the back room. I sit at a table sharing dinner with almost-strangers who are family, hoping I don’t do anything too foolish or say anything too stupid. I smile and laugh, hug and listen and hope like heck I’m doing it right, for this family, in this time. They are wonderful people, and deserve so much better than this precipitous launch on a monstrous dark journey.
One step at a time, one tiny baby step after another toward resolution and out of a world of hurt. After tomorrow, after the funeral, after the bashing together of this world and the next, we start the walk toward what becomes the new normal, knowing nothing will ever be the same.