Whatever you’re feeling angsty about, you have no right to. You don’t even have a real job! You don’t have children of your own to worry about. Is that why the unnatural attachment to pets and parents? How can you still be Catholic after…everything? And with a mouth like that. Wow, you’re a grandmother? I don’t check social media (eyeroll) but I did see your post about… Not to criticize, but. A boob job is not okay. I would never do Botox. But coloring your gray hair is? Nail polish is allowed? You’re criticizing the Facetune app but you literally got a facelift. You don’t look like any yoga teacher I’ve ever seen. There’s water in the basement again. And another mouse. We will have to pay someone to take this house off of our hands someday. But you don’t even try. You could occasionally DO something instead of going out to play. You say Namaste but your disdain for the local weather girl is public. Holier than thou. I wish I had someone to pay my bills all the time. Maybe if you work at it your house will look better…your face will look better. Stop complaining. My pet peeve is self-pity. I hate winter I hate winter I hate winter I hate winter. I can’t stand the grey. I remember my dad saying he was starting to wish away five months of the year and now I’m doing the same, but when you age you don’t want to be wishing away that much time because you realize it’s not an unlimited supply. I hate the hourglass. Always have. I love being alone but I hate never being alone, never having privacy. I can laugh that I have the body (and the shoes!) of a drag queen but the nose of a toddler. So much guilt about things I’ve said or done in the past. I scratched Bryan in first grade and Russ in 9th grade and I haven’t been as reactively angry since. I don’t even have enough anger to punch someone, or a wall even. That’s weird, right? I cry when I’m mad. Right now I have two moods, gentle anger or melancholy. And all the self-talk to cheer. You are the baby. You are not the favorite! You are the favorite. I miss my friend. You used to be the favorite aunt. Just when they were little. You lost it along the way. He didn’t mean it that way. Your husband was so nice. I’ve never been a cat person. Now I’m lost to this cat. He didn’t mean it that way. He’d do anything for anyone. Show-off. That mouth. I should be writing. It is all written in my head, so much, years’ worth. Like laundry that’s clean and even folded but never gets put away. You’ll die without that laundry being put away and no one will know anything. But who would care anyway, enough to read it? Who would read it? YOU don’t even want to read it. And then you do and and WOW that’s really good! Wait, you think that’s good writing? Who dressed this weather girl, seriously. Idiot. Hot yoga is a gimmick? Self-pity is my number one pet peeve. I just want to drive by myself. I just want to have once looked the way I dreamed. It’s only because of someone else that I got a degree, or a certification, or a license. Where is the me? Gluttony is a sin. Food, and stuff. You have always been overweight, even at your skinniest. Strongest person I know. Strong. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I seriously cannot believe anyone smokes. Alcohol doesn’t like me anymore. My intentions are always good. Jewel, as a really young person, once said publicly that you can control your own thoughts and so now I do. Back when I was up all night listening to her howl. Be better. It’s not fair that not everyone gets to see what I see some days, the squirrels, the heron. Fall makes me so melancholy. I hate morning. I hate awakening. I hate winter. I used to wake up with the window open and feel the breeze, hear the birds, feel the weight of his purring body on mine and smile. Now without the purring I don’t even notice the breeze or the birds…yet. Why was I born in relative prosperity when someone is waking up on a dirt floor, cold? I didn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it! Why do you always land on your feet? It’s not fair. You don’t deserve it. One of us is going to get sick with cancer and have to care for the other. One of us is going to die. That used to feel so far away. I miss Hap. I want to achieve more but I don’t want to work harder. I should walk today, but I might sit here and watch Bravo. Fast on Mondays. No TV on Mondays. Games people play. Don’t be so hard on yourself, you don’t deserve it. One of these times the mammogram will come back bad. I don’t want to stop eating, God I love food. I want to be a vegetarian. I don’t want to be a vegetarian. I want my hair longer, one last time. I want my hair as short as a guy. Am I too old for that? Am I too young for that? Am I too ugly for that? Pretty is as pretty does. That’s what my mom always said. I can’t see my own eyebrows very well anymore to do them. Just because you go to church doesn’t make you a good person. Why do you people put your kids through this? I wish I would’ve had a flat belly just once, even if it was when I was young. Younger was uglier for me. We just have different values, that’s all, not saying whose are better. It’s like Jedd Clampett’s yard out there and I wish I cared more or wanted to do something about it. You always think you’re right. Eye roll. I’m super cool because I drive a stick shift but I’m tall and arthritic to sit so low in a car now. Seriously you’re not that old. I cannot believe you’re this old. When did it all get to be behind instead of in front of? We can suck it up, we can be the bigger person (people.) Let them do what they need to do. It’s okay. It makes me anxious when you act like an old person. Will I find you at the bottom of the stairs one day? Will it be fast or slow or dramatic? Can’t I just eat what I want and not gain weight. Does every menopausal woman cry once a day about absolutely nothing? What will I eat when I get home. What do YOU have to be depressed about? Must be nice to be you. What’s it like to be you? Fifty and to be honest I’ve never once for more than a day had a clean polished car or a clean polished house. I love the restful feeling of walking into the neat person’s house but I know they don’t often feel restful like me so how does this all work? Will I ever get it together? Obviously not and most of the time that’s okay. Laughter. Thank God for that, and now can some people not find that everything can be funny? Make me an instrument of your peace, send your Holy Spirit to bless my words, guard my words, inspire my words, actions, asana practice, and even my thoughts that they may glorify you God and best serve those you place in my path today according to your holy will for them. Help me to serve from humility and not ego and make me better. The other night I woke to the sound of a storm through the open windows, the kind of noise and breeze and bliss me and the Peeps would enjoy together, and as I lay there and cried I heard the big family of deer walking by under my window, just a different animal to keep me company. That friend that I love but is so bitter and negative and doesn’t know it. Its not THE BFF by the way. Wasn’t that a nice daily prayer tho, but the one that comes even more often is please don’t let me be such an asshole. Please make me less of an asshole. What’s my purpose here, anyway? Thanks for inventing ice cream, whoever you are. Suck it all up, buttercup. Everyone’s got stuff. All misunderstood.
Kerrygold’s Dubliner cheese is one of several reasons I have not been able to commit to being a vegetarian. Seriously unsure I could live without a bit of it from time to time. Other than that cheese and some other isolated dairy purchases (ice cream), I try to buy organic sustainable happy cow milk products when I have to. But dairy is not inflammatory to me, and all I use is a plop of milk in my coffee and some organic plain yogurt for probiotics and calcium. Cuz no, despite my advanced age I’m still not taking calcium supplements.
I am an animal lover and advocate and yes obviously I abhor factory farmed meat. But I also run quite low on iron and after years of experimenting with diets (for weight loss, but also vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, etc…) I just know what my body likes to run at its best. And it involves small amounts of meat a couple of times a week. So I pay through the nose for allegedly sustainably-procured animal protein. Which means our Thanksgiving turkeys are about 75 bucks. But I feel better.
On the subject of food, one of the bright spots of my week was knowing that my great-niece, quite new to food at only 6 months old, zealously enjoyed the organic, washed, steamed, pureed, stored in bpa-free-containers sweet potatoes I made for her. She will grow up and grow old never knowing that as an infant, Mamie took such joy in a few hours of steaming vegetables and spooning them into serving-sized trays. But Mamie knows. Somehow when I blinked, turning away for a moment from giving hugs and love to my niece, she grew up and had a baby. So now I have this teeny, tiny hand in nurturing the baby of the first baby I ever loved.
To segue into babies that I love, Peepers is still alive and more than half-well, after convincing me he wasn’t going to make the new year. I won’t bore you with details–well, I actually WILL, probably, at some point–but for now he’s acting close to normal for a cat his age. Which is an adjustment for me, because three months ago he was acting like a cat less than half of his age. But as I type this, I hear the news that the only other remaining sibling in his litter was put to sleep this week for kidney failure. So at their age (15) and of unknown parentage (they don’t know who their daddy was, surely he was a drinking, smoking, philandering diabetic cat with no job) I guess it’s time to acknowledge his frailty. Interestingly, Peepers was the runt of his litter, and that’s the reason I ultimately kept him. Which involved a bit of a tiff, because he had been promised to a friend of a friend. But after keeping the litter long enough to safely vet and re-home them, I decided to offer that girl another cat because I couldn’t part with the Peeps. She didn’t want another cat, and Peepers stayed. I’ve never had a cat before him, only dogs, so I was rather vigilant with his health because everything was new to me. Like his parents, he received overpriced propaganda food, so maybe that helped keep him in optimal health for his genetics up until recent events. Aging takes its toll. But the last remaining sibling who passed this week had been the most robust of the litter, large, confident, the ringleader. And female. So the strongest and the weakest survived this life the longest. And the runt is the last of the red-hot lovers!
I’d still love to eke out more time with Peeps. I’ve always said I hoped to get him past age 20. Can diet and supplements and occasional fluids keep him in a good life for awhile? Time will tell. The vet knows that it’s not my plan to keep him alive if he’s ever suffering. And we’ve all put pets down before and know how this goes. But I was unprepared to find out how different cats are than dogs. For example, in conversations with friends I volunteered with at the cat shelter, and other cat owners, it seems this sub-cutaneous fluids thing and appetite stimulation is a common thing with cats. So God apparently made an animal that will curl up behind a chair, filing its nails in boredom, and say, “nah, that food isn’t what I want, and plus it’s all the way across the room, so I will instead just die here.”
He’s here with me, curled up on the bed in the spare bedroom while I type. I’m exhausted emotionally from all the self-talk of being willing to let him go, but also listening to more experienced cat people tell me this ain’t (yet) that tragic and he may have some good life left in him. I never thought of myself as impatient, but his improvement (behavior-wise, like wanting to jump on the refrigerator or drink out of every sink in the house) is slow in coming. And maybe it will come, maybe it won’t. It’s the not knowing, the being patient, that apparently keeps me stressed. I’m not a stressy person. And I’m still in denial that this situation caused my hives or my recent illness. I’m pretty sure a dad with dementia was more stressful than this, but no hives then.
And I tread lightly in saying this, because it’s ridiculous to compare my cat to a sick child, but all I’ve been able to think of since this started, since I wake up every day and first check on where he is and how he feels before I can proceed with my day, is how the hell do people with chronically ill family members survive? How do they go to work if their sick child is having a bad day, a seriously bad day with pain and suffering and dire consequences? And not even how do they GO to work, but how do they un-preoccupy their mind enough to even drive to work? To put a bite of food in their mouth? To brush their teeth?
A sick pet for a couple of months and I ate like a trash can and stopped flossing. Like there was no room in my psyche for mundane details while this was going on. So I’m not saying it’s even close–I’m saying that from now on I pray fervently for people going through worse. Who still have to cook and work and carpool and pay bills.
Now let’s talk about joy. I keep hearing this new year about how to purge the clutter from your home by touching items and seeing if they “spark joy” in your heart, and if not…it’s file 13. I like it! It has helped me. I keep things I don’t love, often, because I love the person who gave them to me. But that’s stupid. Because most of the time, unless it’s a memento like a piece of jewelry, ain’t nobody gonna remember the sweater they bought you or notice if they’ve seen you wear it, and they certainly aren’t going to go through the closet to see if you kept it. So I’m going with it! Except I will keep the traffic-cone orange hooded rain jacket my husband bought me, because it’s simply so ugly that it has become a story. And that does give me joy.
My car gives me joy, and today I had to take her to the dealer for a blinker to be fixed. (Yes, I know this is a small chore some people take care of themselves, and in fact I’m pretty sure one of my sisters has done this for herself on her car. But this is me we’re talking about. But before you judge, I DID take the back off of my dryer a couple years ago to be sure it wasn’t just a blown fuse before I purchased a new one.) When I have to take my car in, it’s always a scramble because my car is basically an apartment. Today’s efforts to tidy up were actually not that taxing, mostly because it’s winter. So I had to move someone’s Christmas gift (thought I’d see her over the holidays and still haven’t) to the trunk, move the bottle of champagne I keep hearing rolling around the floor in the back to the front passenger seat, ditch bank deposit slips in the trash (because, do I really want them to see the size of my deposits? Some people may think this would incite theft or bitterness because a person has huge bank accounts. But seeing the $50 deposit for teaching two yoga classes at an adult day-hab facility may actually spark pity, and I don’t want that.) Come to think of it, maybe they saw one today by accident, because when it came time to check out, the service manager told me she wasn’t charging me because it took a little longer than expected.
This month was my book club meeting, and I have to confess I read that book in the eleventh hour because I assumed it would annoy me. Late to the bandwagon, I may actually cop to being a fan of Rachel Hollis (Girl, Wash Your Face, among other successes.) A good friend was reading/listening to the book on Audible, and she was a bit irritated by Ms. Hollis’ vocal quality, which is EXACTLY the kind of thing that I’m easily annoyed by (if you know me, you know which local weather chick drives me nuts with her affect!)…so, I promptly went to my cable television remote, having recently discovered I could say “YouTube!” into and watch videos on my television…and watched a few interviews with Rachel Hollis. And I was not irritated. I can absolutely see where the annoyance would occur, but it didn’t work on me. She just seems too sincere to me for it to matter. Plus, she said a few things on a podcast which seemed to be directed right at me. So, I’m on that bandwagon for now. I’m not part of her “tribe,” all the rage, that buzzword…and I don’t feel like we have much in common, because she’s pretty much the antithesis of me. But I like her. Which makes this all the more serendipitous.
Speaking of speaking into my remote, I found myself this week on the couch, under a blanket, with a spoon in my jar of homemade peanut butter…watching power yoga on YouTube.
Other bright spots in my week:
Seeing a guy on a riding lawnmower drive out to get his mail, on a not-very-long driveway. I decided maybe he had a busted hip. Or a hangnail.
Walking out to get the mail myself on a different day, between black-as-night hailstorms, and noticing the warm sun…saying to myself, “but another storm is coming,” (having been told that by my iPhone) and then replying to myself, “No. Just notice the sun. Full stop.”
Realizing I’m definitely like a grandmother (and, in fact, AM a grandmother) because I have two pairs of pajamas that stay in the drawer unless I’m traveling. To “keep them nice.” Too much stuff, yes, but having decent pajamas when traveling does “spark my joy,” so they made the cut. The rest of my pj’s are bleached, ripped, stretched pants, often flannel, or having cats (my best friend swore years ago to keep me in line by allowing cats on only socks and pajamas, not real clothes) or shoes or wine patterns, and worn with old shirts whose sleeves have been cut off carelessly. Why? Because my annoying ample bosom makes sleeves feel restrictive for me. Like when I reach my arm for something, I feel like the whole shirt tightens and my neck feels choked. This is the same reason I can’t practice yoga in any sleeves. It’s not because I think my arms are sexy. So now you know.
Speaking of acting like a grandma, I ran into a grade-school friend, the boy–because we were the same height–who was my boy/girl line up partner from Kindergarten to First Communion to 8th grade graduation at St. Bartholomew. I ended up in line BEHIND him for a change, at the CVS. Where I was buying cat food. And ice cream. I’m not making this up. It was Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. And gravy-lovers chicken feast.
I will probably never blog to list things that were UN-bright spots of my week, but finding out after two decades that my husband eats a Klondike bar with a plate and a spoon was unwelcome information. It might have even been a fork. I couldn’t watch, so I’m not sure. But I forgave him, because he also wordlessly handed me the very last dregs of the leftover mashed potatoes before putting the bowl in the sink. Oh no, I’m sorry–NEXT to the sink, because he apparently thinks it looks better to have dirty dishes on the counter than in the sink.
Hey, follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.
I just made that up. It stands for “blog entry, no editing.” So here that goes:
Why am I a practicing Catholic? (IF I am a practicing Catholic.) I humbly submit that even professing myself to be a practicing Catholic feels like an overstatement, not because I don’t consider myself one but because humility (yes, humility) prevents me from feeling that I do enough successful Catholic-ing to boast the practice, although I’d be proud to say that I am trying.
But the priests fondling little boys! But the power and corruption and cover-ups! The hypocrisy, the money, the nuns with their rulers. Yes, all of that. But “here’s what” (as Andy Cohen might say):
I belong to a family. I don’t always agree with them, their behavior, their mistakes, their opinions, their rules and criticisms, the way they raise their children or treat their husbands or what they make for dinner. I am still a proud member of my family.
I work for a company. I don’t always agree with the owners, their choices, what they wear to work, what music they play in the lobby, the style of the product they sell, the tagline they stenciled on the front door, the color they painted the walls. I am still grateful to work there and consider myself a proud member of their team.
I live in a community. I don’t always agree with its leaders, the way they enforce the speed limit on my street, the poor business decisions that have led to the empty storefronts, the rusted fire hydrant in front of my house, the lack of responsiveness to complaints, the fact that bulk trash pickup occurs only once a month. I still choose to live here and support the local economy and am proud to be neighbors with the population.
You see where I’m going here, I’m sure. I don’t have to agree with the Catholic church leadership on everything. I am but one member of this body. So yes, that might make me an imperfectly practicing Catholic, but I still call myself Catholic. You may think the Catholic church doesn’t like gays because it will only marry a man and a woman. You may think it thinks poorly of women because they aren’t allowed to be priests. You may think many things about the many things you disagree with the church about. Understand that the church has very specific reasons for its laws. And I have been fortunate enough to be educated my entire life by Catholics, lay and clergy, from preschool through high school and beyond. I was fortunate that all of these influences, all of the folks who have been placed in my path to guide me in my faith have somehow imparted to me that MY personal faith is one informed by my religion, yes, but more importantly by my prayer life, my living relationship with God–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. My conscience is informed by my conversations with God. Which is not to say that I get to make things up, decide which rules are right and wrong for the Church, because that’s not the case. As a responsible person of faith, I read about and experience my religion, deliberately, to inform my conscience. I ask for help in prayer, and it is delivered to me in books, readings, human beings, nature, news, suffering, and joy…jobs, relationships, pets, vacations, athletic endeavors, illnesses.
I know how I feel about homosexuals, and immigrants, and bad guys, terrorists, orphans, the mentally ill, the imprisoned, Jews, Muslims, interracial couples, cops, criminals, the elderly, the unborn, the born-again, the agnostic and atheist, the current president of our country, the harassed and the rapist. Every time I need to make a decision about my words or actions about one of them, that decision is informed not by my family, my job, my community, nor my religion, but by my informed conscience. My conscience, my personal faith informed and fed constantly by my active, living relationship with the holy trinity through prayer and worship and works and participation.
I’m wrong, hell yes, all the time. I revise and reconsider, beat myself up and nod at myself in agreement. But I practice. Not just being Catholic, but being me, being human, being a person of faith and a witness to that faith. I ask for the help, and it comes. It NEVER FAILS to come, in fact. When I ask for the inspiration, the words, the thoughts to be right, the answers come. It’s miraculous, actually.
I’m not a practicing Catholic because I agree with every law of the Catholic Church. But it is this particular religion which has given me the people and experiences which have brought me thus far in faith, and I will proudly accept the challenge placed before me in prayer to stand with her in support–as I do with my family, my job, my community. I know that it is right to do so because conscience tells me so.
More than all of that, I believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that it happened, and I believe that because it happened I am saved and forgiven. I really do believe it. And so I want a seat at that table. That table is only memorialized at every Catholic Mass with a consecrated host. I would never want to be without the opportunity to share in that promise. So, I am a practicing Catholic.
I am a practicing Catholic. And by the way, the Catholic church isn’t a building or even an organization or an institution, as a whole. It is all of those things, and I won’t even use this platform to explain the vastness of the social help given through Catholic Charities Association to people of all descriptions, but wholly it is the eyes, hands, feet, hearts, voices and strength of its members. Like me.
Not long ago, I found a letter that my dad wrote to me in April, 1987. The reason for the letter was my high school senior retreat day at Padua High School. It was a beautiful surprise to see my dad’s handwriting again, all confident, cheerful and scrawly, and to “hear” his voice again in those words. When I saved this letter and put it away, I’m sure I never gave his words another thought. The thing is, though, I didn’t have to remember his words, because every single day, he told me the same things in his actions. It amazes me how much his own words mirror the words I used later in his eulogy to describe him and his life. This is vintage Hap, solid advice! And it reminds me that while we may think the most important thing we can say to someone while they’re here is “I love you,” the greater gift may be to say, “I know that you love me.” The letter is pictured here, but difficult to read, so I will transcribe his words: (spoiler alert!! He spills the “secret of life.”)
Time for our Father Daughter talk! (Equal billing)
Mary, the whole world is yours if you shut out the negatives. Don’t think the bad of anything. Enjoy your work–your school, now or ever. Please try & be happy with any situation you’re in. I know it sounds stupid but you can make or train yourself to accept & enjoy all challenges. It’s never too hot, too cold, too far, too anything. Don’t be afraid to reach out. I enjoy you & I love you & I want you to be a doer. Mary, honest, the secret of life is to love man and God, don’t dislike, nothing is worth the emotion of hate. I tease you about your loving me. I know you do. I get a lot of mileage out of teasing you about it. It’s really more important to me to know that I love you. You & your sisters have always thought of me & are nice to me, you all know I loved you. What I really want you to realize is how special Dolores Mae is. None of us can comprehend how much she loves. The nicest thing you can ever do for me is to treat mom as the special person she is. Then treat yourself as the special person you are. Reach out & enjoy. Please care enough about the people you know & live with to be a positive influence on their lives. I truly believe you are special. Take whatever school or job you may & love it & enjoy it until the next one. Try to enjoy everything & every one. I wish I had realized much earlier in life how special the gifts of God are. End of lecture. I love you. I will never not love you. -Hap
(written October, 2013)
In an educational exercise one October morning, I had been instructed to describe the day’s color. The word which immediately surfaced was lucid. That afternoon was no different: the individual leaves on the arms of autumn trees viewable in high-definition against the clearest blue sky, still dry air, and a sun nearly painful in its brightness, closer to white than yellow. With my mother in the passenger seat next to me, I turned left into the ten-car parking lot of the monument showroom. While our task of picking out the headstone for my recently-deceased father’s grave was…well, a grave one, our moods were as light as the Indian-summer day. I rolled my eyes sardonically, noting that instead of a concrete curb barrier at the head of each parking spot, there was a sample granite grave marker, complete with engraved names and dates. “That’s creepy. I feel like I’m parked on a body,” I said. She laughed good-naturedly: we had suffered enough, and our family was an irreverent lot, even in mourning. “Shall we take our coffee in with us, or leave it in the car?” She asked. We decided to carry our eco-friendly travel mugs inside; I had made it at home, strong and subtly hazel-nutty, and this chore could undoubtedly take a while.
We strolled casually towards the showroom door, taking in our surroundings: this would not be anywhere we’d visit often. Life-sized, bone-white statues of the Holy Family flanked the glass doors, while off to the left a grassy patch incongruously boasted a rough wagon, a slatted-wood cart on wheels, full of cascading flowers. The prairie meets Jerusalem meets the 21st century, where nearby a mega-watt digital sign runs a silent, solemn commercial of sober but satisfied faces. A highly-polished marker on the ground near the door revealed that the business was opened in 1969, the year I was born. The still-living founder’s face was etched onto the stone, and I imagined that this must be an eerie sight for his family. I reached for the heavy door and ushered my mother inside.
We stepped into a wind-chiming, welcoming store, devoid of any discernible scent, hushed but not cold in atmosphere. High-ceilings and full walls of windows made the space seem whitewashed on such a sunny day, almost cheerful. The first visible items were tchotchkes: “God Bless the USA” bumper stickers, Swarovski-crystal one-decade rosaries: “great for travel!” Pewter car-visor clips saying “Bless this trucker” or “Drive safely, someone loves you!” A bowling angel attached to a lapel pin came with a poem about getting closer to a 300 game. Further in, larger and heavier items began to appear: garden statues of St. Francis of Assisi, in his humble robe, gently regarding the birds and animals around him, and small fiberglass benches, designed to look like stone, just big enough for one seat and the diminutive angel perched on the armrest. Here, we were approached by a tall, handsome woman about my mother’s age with a gentle smile and a decidedly tentative “are you ready for any help?”
Since we were ready for help, having no idea how to begin the process of choosing our headstone, we introduced ourselves to Marie, who happened to be the wife of the founder. I decided against asking her if it was unsettling to see her husband’s face on what amounted to a grave-marker when she walked in to work each day. Marie led us with her outstretched arm across the store to an interior wall on which hung dozens of heavy granite rectangles, fully engraved with names, dates, etchings of photographic quality, hearts and flowers. The samples ranged from the size of a large book to the size of a small bed. Some had rough, geography-class-rock borders with quartz-like sparkles, while others were polished like a kitchen countertop with salt and pepper just beneath the glossy surface. Colors ranged from wet putty to the amber of rich Oktoberfest ale, to azure with milky, translucent chips, to the blackest black night, with or without the accompanying stars. Here, by some silent mutual agreement, we became solemn. Somewhere between the veteran’s insignias and the teenaged girl’s senior picture, scratched artfully into her eternal social-media profile picture, we adopted the hushed manner appropriate for those in the presence of the tenderest of souls: the too-soon departed. And isn’t anyone who is loved and missed taken away too soon?
Marie, in her conservatively leopard-printed cardigan and fashionable metallic flats (right up my mother’s alley!) expertly and quietly described our particular options: we couldn’t have a raised stone because my dad’s grave was in the first row near the road at the cemetery. That was fine with me – I had always associated raised headstones with horror movies and Halloween lawn decorations. I was in favor of a low-key, flush-to-the-grass marker. I made a joke about the word “flush,” because my dad’s gravesite happens to be near the restrooms at Holy Cross Cemetery. Marie threw her head back and laughed. We did, however, have size and color options. When my mom asked me for my opinion, I suggested that she choose what she thought Dad would like. Then, I remembered that this one four-inch thick slab of granite would mark the grave which eventually would hold both of my parents. “You’ll be under it too, one day, so pick whatever you think is pretty,” I said. My mom chuckled in acknowledgment as she sipped her coffee, surveying the sample wall, and she and Marie, being contemporaries, opined conspiratorially about stone colors, fonts, and graphics. I deliberately retreated, catching only fragments: Marie, her polished, square fingertips grazing my mom’s elbow and her nose wrinkled, “I hope you don’t like the gold lettering on the Norwegian blue, it just doesn’t look as nice,” and my mom graciously acknowledging that “you sure get lots of ideas by looking at these!”
Half an hour later, in an office with a sage-hued desktop constructed of the same highly-polished granite as the gravestones, we faced Marie as she stood over the left shoulder of a lanky young man in Ray-Ban glasses whose thin fingers raced across the computer keyboard, projecting a mock-up of our headstone onto the wall behind them. After we nodded and murmured our assent, Zack plinked the print button like an ebony piano key and left the room wordlessly. My mom had chosen all the specifics: color, font, a wedding ring with the date of their marriage to be etched in between the names Hap and Dolores, the sentiment “Together Forever with God” at the foot. After signing approval on the invoice, we spent at least twenty minutes chatting further with Marie as if we were long-time family friends.
We all agreed that we enjoyed drip coffee from the pot better than the now-popular K-cups. She and my mom showed each other photos of their grandchildren, a new generation of grandmothers pulling out their iPhones instead of school-photographs. Marie was elated to learn a Nordstrom Rack store had just opened nearby. We could have chatted for hours; we had fun. As she walked us out, back through the store which somehow struck the perfect balance between dignified and cheerful, we agreed to come back soon and shop for less weighty items. There were ornaments and freshly cut flowers for sale, memorial cards for pets and decorative blankets to be tossed casually over the back of a sofa. Racks of cards, religious and secular, stood sentry near seasonally scented candles in pumpkin-shaped glass jars. As we climbed back into my SUV, our empty coffee cups standing upright in my ample handbag, my mom thanked me, remarking in an echo to my own thoughts about what a positive experience it had been. “We’re doing really well,” I thought to myself.
Hours later, driving home alone from a group tennis lesson which had produced equal parts sweat and laughter, an inexplicable and immediate grief welled up inside me and burst forth into the approaching dusk as I sobbed, suddenly and wetly, at sixty-five miles an hour. I still felt that the day, the task completed with my mom, had been fun. But a practical voice in my brain reminded me that I had just picked out my parents’ headstone, and what an obscene chore that was. I missed my dad viscerally; more than that, I realized that at some point in my future, I would walk back inside that showroom’s heavy glass doors, alone or maybe with one of my sisters, to inform them that the final year of the second-deceased could now be engraved onto the Norwegian blue granite she had chosen herself on a lovely October day. I wondered if Marie would still be there, and I thought of good, strong coffee and my mom’s smile, and as I gripped the steering wheel, my knuckles white at ten and two, I wept in fat tears and keening sounds like a child; a child who has lost her parents somewhere.
Funny, when I started this blog years ago I used the word “musings” to describe it, but I’m not sure I have done that at all. I think I tend to use Facebook for my musings, Twitter for my criticism (most people I know in my age group and older are on Facebook so I can be meaner on Twitter and still not blow my cover), and Snapchat for…well, snapchat.
I avoid writing unless I feel I have the time and inspiration for a full, concise essay with a message and hook and an ending. Why? No one sees this anyway, for the most part! So I’m gonna MUSE!
Yesterday evening, I realized as I stood in line for fresh peach ice cream, a seasonal offering at Mitchells, that at that very moment when my husband and I were capping off a long day of sun, food, and cocktails in the searing late summer Sunday heat, a boy I went to high school with–and with whom my husband would eventually cross office space with–was sitting at a service to bury his 19-year old son who had committed suicide. We had visited with the family at the wake earlier in the day, not knowing what to do or say besides a hug, tears, and the promise of prayers. Being thankful for our mental health and that of our children, my husband and I, murmuring taboo words about what life would be like for this family now that every day would cease to be about managing the lifelong depression and emotional chaos of this boy. Realizing that on the day of his birth, they had a perfect baby and life was just beginning, and no matter what happened in the years after that, on one blissful day that baby was fresh and new like we all are once and nothing was “wrong.”
I wouldn’t look at the poster boards of photographs of the boys as a child. I didn’t know him, had never met him. I didn’t have waterproof mascara on. I was afraid of touching that place which I wanted to avoid.
And then, fully appreciating the possibly obscene juxtaposition of our day vs. theirs, we went off to enjoy Cleveland’s refurbished downtown areas, waterfront, dinner, drinks, ice cream. Celebrating our own fifteen years of wedded bliss, and bliss is pretty much an apt description of it. Why do some get so much on their shoulders, and all that has been on my shoulders, it seems, is the sunshine that I seek so fervently this time of year?
So why write when I have no pat answer or cute meme to punctuate these thoughts? Musings. I’m just musing. And that’s how it works.
And a few less important things that really take up room in my head: I want our local weather person to stop telling me whether to eat my meal on the patio or in the air conditioning. I want her to stop instructing children what weight jacket to wear to the bus stop, and for the sake of all that is meterological I want her to stop sharing recipes. Just tell me the weather. I can make the rest of the decisions on my own.
I think BlueApron or whatever this gourmet food delivery and recipe thing is called is stupid. How hard is it to go the store and buy the six items needed for a recipe? This is another reason why people hate Americans. I know I’m right about this, and I know you probably feel the same way about some things I do, like posting yoga poses and swishing with coconut oil and still having a land-line. But these are my musings, so today I’m right.
Now, after months, I wrote something. So now I’m free to go make a playlist for my noon yoga class, because I feel like that’s fun and this is work. Why, I’m not sure, because I get paid for the yoga and not for the writing. Which is another hilarious turn of events since my intention was not to necessarily teach yoga. But two great yoga jobs were tossed into my lap like a hot potato (vs. a football, because if you toss a football into my lap I will let it fall because I think football is mostly unnecessary in my life, but a potato (hot or otherwise) I will never let pass me by) and I am completely, unexpectedly energized by teaching.
Have a day. No pressure, it’s Monday. Open heart and no complaining.
“Beam me up…
Gimme a minute
I don’t know what I’d say in it…
I’d probably just stare, happy just to be there
Holding your face.
Beam me up…
Let me be lighter, I’m tired of being a fighter
A minute’s enough
Just beam me up.”
She fell in love with the song from Pink’s “The Truth About Love” album as soon as she heard it. The dramatic instrumentation, the tender, heartfelt vocal, the melody soft but strong with those minor keys of angst, building the feeling. She shared Pink’s song and the lyrics with plenty of people, because the song reminded her of profound losses: her sister’s baby, eventually her own father (…in my head I see your baby blues.)
The only detail that didn’t sit well in a song so perfect it always drew a tear and required a replay was the part about a minute being enough. What is that about? How could a minute be enough when you long for and miss someone so desperately, and then you get to be “beamed up” to see them again? A minute could never be enough.
Her dad is in her dreams, sometimes. Fairly regularly, in fact, but never the focus. His presence there is purely incidental: it is a holiday at home, so of course he is in the family room in his chair, or outside with the grandkids. She hears his voice in reply to someone’s question, catches a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye smoothing back his shock of white hair the way he always did. He’s there, as he should be, but in the dreams she is always conscious of the looming dementia. In the dramatic irony of a dream, she knows about the dementia because it has come and gone. She knows everything about it, about what’s coming, but he does not. She awakens troubled and anxious, vestiges of her sleep-self worrying that he is still driving but losing his sense of direction, still talking but sometimes seeing things. She’s afraid he will mention a puppy under the table or a bug skittering in the corner. In the dreams, she’s stressed, holding it all together and not sure what to do. But some part of her consciousness always knows it is a dream, because she knows how all of this ends. She simply can’t stop it this time, any more than she could in real life. The dream isn’t about him, so it doesn’t matter. She’s just dreaming, and he is there. Just like the pets and the kids and the occasional former co-worker or high-school classmate. Like intricate puzzles put together with a few of the wrong pieces, forced in awkwardly, dreams are.
One September night, still warm enough to sleep with the bedroom window open for the sleek purring body of her black cat to somehow relax into the tracks of the frame, she understood what it meant to be beamed up.
She dreamed, and this time it was just her and her dad. There was no context, no preface. They stood outside in the darkness facing each other, as suddenly as if they had both been dropped there like a slide from an old projector. Outside of what or where, she didn’t know, couldn’t tell. A place, a building maybe? They were a mere few strides apart, facing each other in the almost-blackness. In a fraction of a second she understood that this dream was different: he had already died, and he knew it. The dementia had come and gone again, and he knew it. And he knew that she knew it all. Revelation was instantaneous. They rushed to approach each other with arms open, no time to waste. He wore a shirt she didn’t recognize, the only thing that wasn’t familiar to her. They hugged, and her dad was once again the right size; the right height, a bit shorter than his youngest daughter in adulthood (he had introduced her around the dementia ward as “the tall one”) so her face was over his shoulder at the crook of his neck, the right density. His back and shoulders were smooth and strong and bullish, the way their dad had always been. Robust, immovable in a hug. He smelled like dad, the cloud of soap and toothpaste and shaving cream that had always breezed behind him as he rushed down the stairs, the last one to shower in a houseful of females. Somehow she could even see his tan in the darkness, sense rather than see the glossy blue-against-white of his mischievous eyes. They hugged strongly—tightly, but not hard, he was so staunch and she gripped the muscles of his back for emphasis. She knew this would be brief, and she rushed her tearful, joyful words, “oh, we love you and miss you so much!” And because she had always joked with him, added, “we don’t want to, but we do!”
He chuckled, still in the hug, unable to see each other’s faces except in mind’s eye, and said, “I know.”
Then they pulled back, still linking forearms but facing each other in this unnamed night-place. His smile was perfect, lighting up his face in its familiar jocularity, and he said to her, with just a trace of disbelief and humility, “I really love it here.”
Her heart spilled over to hear those words. She had already believed he was in a better place, THE better place, and it was what he had believed too. But to see him, feel him, smell him, and recognize the same wonder in his voice that she had heard him use in the past to describe a mountain, or a golf shot, or a talented child, or a great meal, convinced her down to her soul. She grabbed him again, sliding her arms around his shoulders and squeezing his meaty clavicles with her fingertips.
“I’m so glad,” she choked out near his ear. And she meant it. And she wanted him to know that she meant it. She was so happy for him, and she was desperate to impart the whole remaining family’s love and joy to him in what she inherently knew was a very brief opportunity. She squeezed him tighter, burying her face in him. He squeezed too.
She woke up.
Just like that, she was back in her bed at around three in the morning, her husband asleep next to her, her cat curled up and humming, the sounds of the night falling softly through the screen. The whole thing had taken no time at all. A hug, a few words. But now she could feel her dad in her arms. His voice and scent and warm, living skin lingered. She hadn’t hugged her dad that often when he was alive; she would be more inclined to chuck him on the shoulder, while he would have yanked a piece of her long hair from behind and then dodged her retaliation. She felt, for a moment, what she supposed could be called bliss.
The vestigial flavor of that dream lingers, and she deliberately goes inside her thoughts to enjoy it from time to time. She had her dad back, her real dad, tangible in her arms. And then one day, a couple of weeks later, her earbuds delivered that beloved Pink song while she was walking to one of her sister’s houses, to collect the mail or let out the dog, on a sunny, end-of-summer day. Now, it all made sense, and the lyrics didn’t leave her frustrated any more. A minute was all it took.
A minute was enough.