I haven’t really known how to say anything in 2019. Not here, not in writing.
I mean, I have written. I have the entire first draft of a new novel, in a new genre, sitting here on my computer (and, yes, in multiple other places), waiting for me to get around to printing it out and going at it with a red pen. That, I have done.
But that’s fiction. I’ve pretty much just stuck myself into the challenge of writing new fiction all year because I don’t want to think too hard about reality, or at least parts of it.
Three funerals in a year is, I think, a lot.
I realize I’m at the age where this will become more of an occurrence, not less. Does the practicality of that make it any easier? Of course not.
My friends and I don’t call each other much, we’re texters. And some friends I hear from only rarely these days, we’re all so pulled in different directions.
When I got a 7 AM call from Sanford in February, I knew something was wrong.
“Who died?” I asked, in lieu of the more standard hello, and braced myself. It was partly a dark joke, whistling past the cemetery, but only partly… it was also me hoping I was wrong and knowing I wasn’t.
Brian, only a few years older than us. A friend since college. Bass playing legend in our hometown, and even a bit beyond really, he was that good. He was also a hugger, an encourager, a source of light in the world, and then he was gone out of it. Unexpected, shocking, it ripped through our little group and left us gasping.
A public memorial concert turned wake, held in a local brew pub owned by my former high school band director, packed the tiny place out to the parking lot. It was a raucous, musical celebration.
Later, a smaller gathering of us got boiled crawfish and drive-through daiquiries and we got thoroughly plastered and cried, and cried, and cried. We celebrated my birthday that same weekend, and we cried more, and I was grateful but also hollowed out because if I was going to be celebrating my birthday in my hometown, Brian should have been there.
The visitation was open coffin and I could not, could not, could not look at him. I sat in the back of the chapel and prayed, apologized for losing touch, apologized that I couldn’t go say goodbye to him in front of all those people, that I could not let my last glimpse of him be that, that I wanted to remember him smiling and sarcastic and hugging.
That was something I couldn’t get away with when my Grandpa died in May.
Whoever it was in that coffin laid out in front of the church, he didn’t look like my Grandpa, but he had to be. He wasn’t standing by Grandma as she greeted friends and family, and his face was on the program, so it had to be him but it didn’t look like him.
The memorial video that was put together and shown on a loop in the church community hall was full of photos from his Masonic work, and Grandma had wanted to also include examples of the building and contracting work he did, so in between gala dinners and family portraits were 1980’s Kodachrome shots of finished bathrooms and closets and none of us could look directly at the video or we were going to absolutely collapse into hysterical giggles.
I went directly to the church from my six hour drive and the first thing Grandma said when she saw me was not hello, but rather, “Blue hair!?!”
Well, I suppose I do come by it honest, the feistiness, the sarcasm, the inappropriate exclamations.
So it was a shock when, four months after Grandpa, Grandma went too.
They all still hurt, but oh, this one, this one is still fresh. It’s only been two months. And maybe Grandma and I butted heads over a lot – my reluctance to continue with church, my weight, the way I ran away from home – but she was my Grandma, and we all basically lived in the kitchen my whole life, and she taught me how to iron and to do my laundry and to greet people with a smile even if you wanted to absolutely murder them, and I have still not come to terms with a world that does not have her and Grandpa in it.
I fully lost the entirety of my bottled-up shit at my asshole uncle while I was home for Grandma’s funeral. He deserved it. I will never speak to him again.
When I left, I took with me two pieces of her vintage colored Pyrex, and one of Grandpa’s folding rulers. He used to let me play with them when I was little, to keep me out of his hair while he worked on building plans and inventory.
They’re going to sell the house. So I don’t know when I’ll visit my hometown again. But after three visits in a year, all for funerals, I think I need a break from it anyway.
Yesterday, I deposited the check I got from their estate. I’ll be using part of it to go to Copenhagen next spring to do final research on that book I wrote this year.
Two weeks from today, I will be back in my beloved heart-home of Bergen, which is the one thing I have been clinging to all year while all of this was crashing down around me. This trip feels pivotal, somehow, in some way I don’t know yet. Or maybe it isn’t and it’ll be the nice quiet week of Christmas lights and winter photography that I’ve been yearning for. I don’t know. My anxiety has a way of creating ominous portents out of nothing, as if I didn’t have enough going on with the ominous portents created out of things like three heart-shattering funerals in a year.
I really just want gingerbread cookies and snowy mountains and Christmas stars and peace and quiet, far away from here. I am under no delusion that this will cure all, I’m not even under the delusion that bad news won’t be able to reach me (there is something about getting the news of a relative’s death while you are jet-lagged and delirious in Oslo that does away with any pretense of that with something of a quickness), I would just like to be somewhere that I love, having a little bit of a break from the madness, for a little bit of a while.
I would also like this to be the first international trip in my life that actually goes smoothly and according to plan, but this year more than any other is making that seem like the longest of shots.
Still. I’ll just hold on to that tiny bit of hope.