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Second Stage - 2014-04-14
At The Last - 2014-04-08
Snack Bar Stories - 2014-03-31
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Night Writing - 2014-03-25

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2:49 p.m. - 2014-04-14
Second Stage

We have stepped onto the moving sidewalk of grief. Death, like airports, has its own momentum once the flight is confirmed. My father-in-law died yesterday in the very early morning. He chose, as most who love their families do, to leave when he was alone. The previous three weeks the house had been full. All of us there tending to him and each other in rotating shifts. The night before last obeying the unspoken imperative we all stayed home leaving MIL and FIL alone for the night. It was time. MIL went to bed after setting her alarm to wake for 2:00am meds. Except the alarm never went off. Oversleeping by an hour she rushed into the back bedroom and began to administer the morphine before she realized the man she'd lived with and loved for 56 years was gone. He was still quite warm and hours from rigor. As though he'd known MIL's accidental oversleeping was his only chance FIL left bare minutes before MIL came in. She sat with him until dawn, nothing changed except she'd shut off the oxygen machine.

That's how Mick knew as soon as he stepped inside his parents' house at 7:00am. Knew before MIL emerged from the hall and Mick saw her face and grief was confirmed. Like the poem* says,

'Bad news is not broken,
By kind tactful word;
The message is spoken
Ere the word can be heard.
The eye and the bearing,
The breath make it clear,
And the heart is despairing
Before the ears hear.'

And even before seeing his mother's face Mick knew from the absolute quiet. The non-sound of a silenced oxygen machine no longer needed.

Friday (maybe, the days ran in a blur without context of calendar) Mick and I went to the funeral parlor to make arrangements. Doing it in advance to spare MIL. Mick and his sister had decided this and while I worried about the highhandedness of making FIL's final arrangements without MIL's input (such 'loving gestures' can backfire big time) I sat with Mick in the slightly tatty conference room of the funeral home and ended up doing the deed myself. Picking the box and the vault and explaining how there'd be no public viewing nor announcement or obit in the newspaper. "Just us," I told the kind man in his sober mortician's clothing. A quiet last visit with the immediate family before a secular interment in the veteran's cemetery with a coffin flag and a guy blowing 'Taps' on a horn. FIL has no living family except for us and he'd outlived his few friends.

Mick supplied the genealogical data for the death certificate and included Wolf among FIL's descendants. His grip on my hand was fierce and left it dented and red and tingling when he had to let go to the sign the contract. The whole business would have been impossibly grim if not for the farce that happened next. We'd just finished with everything when the phone rang in the adjacent office and we clearly overheard the office manager saying, "O'Gaelic? Yes. Interment in the Podunkville veteran's cemetery?" And we realized it was MIL on the line. She'd decided to start the arrangements herself in a quiet moment while SIL was in town making a grocery run. The office manager put MIL on hold and ran back to us ashen-faced and asked what she should do in a whisper-shriek, her eyes rolling in a panic. I shooed Mick off to pick up the phone and speak to his mother. He did, but MIL believing she'd accidentally clicked through to Mick on the call-waiting tried like hell to not let her son know she was on the other line with the funeral home who'd be prepping and burying his father. After some Abbott and Costello-esque fumbling Mick finally made his mother understand that we were AT the funeral parlor and had taken care of everything already. It was too absurd. The funeral director was reduced to unprofessional giggles, Mick's sorrow was shoved aside by the dopiness of the situation and he laughed with the flummoxed funeral director and I had a weird cross-connect to Evelyn Waugh's 'The Loved One' and started hearing everything in a plummy British accent.

I've yet to be at a wake or funeral where I haven't gone off the rails with unseemly laughter so it seemed fitting to me that even arranging a funeral should be part screwball comedy and farce. Once back in the car I called MIL and said we'd be over directly. At the house the convo which by rights should have been tearful and fraught was, instead, accompanied by a huge (and necessary) horse laugh. We'd ALL been trying to spare each other some grief and ended up being fools. Which isn't a bad thing if you think about it.

Same thing happened yesterday. Another episode where caring and delicacy smacked into reality. After FIL's body had been taken away I urged Mick to bring MIL over here. She came and we sat at the table eating corn muffins and just being together the way you do when Life hands you a shit-burger. All I could think about was FIL's beard. Would the funeral home know not to shave it? They might think he had a bed beard, you know? And they might shave his face clean while they groomed and prepped and dressed him for the last viewing. I'd gently coaxed MIL into forgetting the suit in favor of putting FIL in his familiar shirt and sweater vest combo and of course his hat. (A London newsboy's cap he always wore.) But what about the beard? The beard that'd been making me crazy. Finally I got up the gumption to ask and was relieved to hear the men who'd come to fetch FIL had already asked. The beard stays. Trimmed and brushed smooth, of course, but when we see FIL on Wednesday morning it will be him. Our last time with FIL will be with him looking pretty much as he always has. He won't be some bareheaded, smooth-shaven stranger in an unfamiliar suit. Thank goodness.

You know, what with this nitty-natty about the practical mechanics of death going on that all of us have spoken up about what we want for our own selves. MIL- immediately cremated with her ashes divided equally between her mother's grave, FIL's grave, and the rest cast over the pond in her backyard. No viewing, no wake. She had the shudders over the idea of her children's last mental picture of her being her cold dead body. I promised I'd do my best to keep SIL and Mick from seeing her thus.

Perhaps it's strange but Mick and I had this conversation fairly early on in our relationship. We knew that one or the other of us would be the one to make the arrangements just as we knew we were a done deal almost from that first date. We're both organ donors and have DNRs. Odds are I'll go before my darling and I've been fierce about making him say back to me what it is I want. Take everything. Organs, corneas, teeth, skin, if there's any part of me that can be of use to others after I'm dead then I want it used. Take what's left and burn it. Put my ashes in an urn shaped like a book and stick me on a shelf with my favorite authors. No viewing, no wake. What's the point? I'll have even fewer physical mourners than FIL. My friends live in the abstract of cyberspace. Alex won't give a shit (and may even throw a 'Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead!' party when he's sure I'm gone.) Wolf? If there's anyone around to shield him I want the same as MIL does. No seeing Dead Mom. Mick's wishes are much the same as mine except he'd like an obituary in the paper and his ashes put into the ocean at Seaside. Our happy place. Preferably at night and high tide on the beach at Avenue G, this being where he presented me with the diamonds that sealed our troth. That night was a full moon, but he doesn't insist on this.

In the end though what happens to the dead is at the behest of the living. Regardless of the stated wishes of the deceased. Whether there's a Heaven/Hell afterlife as described in the holy books, or an awareness on the astral plane like the 'spiritual but not religious' crowd believe, or as I think that there's nothing at all- you're just over like the silence of an unplugged oxygen machine, what happens with your physical bod when you're done with it is up to those who are still here.

How those carcasses of decaying meat are disposed of is moot really. Our true legacies are the kids we made to replace us, the work we did that carries on beyond our death, and the memories living inside those who still exist here.


It's all we can really ask for, ~LA

*POEM



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