Friday, July 13, 2007

What Time It Is Today

I went back for the funeral.

Since I knew I was not coming home in between the viewing and the funeral proper, I worked Wednesday, getting as much done as I could before I went home to pack and drive. Darling Man and Zboy stayed home for this one.

I left a little later than I intended. So I was a little late to the viewing.

In my life, I've only been to a few open-casket services. The first one was back when I lived in Oklahoma. A friend of mine had died of cancer. I visited her in the hospital regularly and painted her nails, which was the one thing, physically that she was very proud of. When her nails started looking bad, I would give her a manicure once a week. I always brought a lot of different colors so she could choose according to her whim. When she died, she was wearing mauve polish and they chose her dress according to her nail color. It as a bit of a shock, as I wasn't expecting an open casket, but as we spent time around her, it became a little more normal-feeling. My second one was when my cousin's grandmother died. One got the feeling that she was pretending so she could hear all the gossip that was swirling around as people visited during the viewing. She used to LOVE gossip.

This one was different... and the same. For one thing, neither MySmile nor Mac (again, blog or made-up names for some semblance of privacy) had been sick. Neither were elderly or infirm. Even though I knew it was a viewing/wake/laying-in, seeing them both in repose was unsettling. But again, as time passed in their presence, it began to feel a little normal. They were just the shells that were left behind. The priest who would conduct the funeral the following day did a small service, and afterwards, we lined up to hug the immediate family and view MySmile and Mac up close. She was beautiful. He was handsome.

But as I gazed upon their quiet countenances, I saw that no one was home anymore. The people who were MySmile and Mac were long gone and this was what was left. They were lovely - but they were just shells on satin pillows.

Some people have very strong feelings about open and closed caskets. My mother hates open caskets. Her grandmother had one when she died and Mom was young. She said that it was years before she could remember her grandmother in anyway other than lying in that box. But to me, it puts the period on the sentence of a life. It's a visual verification that indeed, the souls that you love have left and what is being buried or cremated really is just a shell, now discarded. Somehow, when you don't have that, there's always a feeling that your loved one has gone on a trip and will return... that they're out there somewhere, but not with you. So perhaps, for a young person, it is not appropriate. Their son did not attend either the viewing or the funeral. He stayed home with his little cousin and they played. Too young for this awful knowledge that Mom and Dad are truly gone. Too young to have seen it all unfold before him on a sunny vacation day. It will haunt his dreams enough in his life without having to see them lying in their caskets.

There were many hugs, many tears. How her parents, his father, the brother and sisters could function at all was beyond me. Swollen eyes, red noses, shaky voices. Lots of pain. Afterwards, we gathered out in the lobby like some odd cocktail party without drinks and caught up on the missing years in short, hushed, abbreviated sentences. Uncle T and his wife drove the two hours out and drove home again, only to return the following day for the funeral. My brothers Jerry and Matt also drove out and would drive home again, but not before we found some food.

DotnFL and Cafengocmy (MySmile's parents) were meeting late-arriving family members at a Waffle Shoppe and invited my brothers and me to come along. On a Wednesday night, it was short-staffed. We bussed our own table and sat down. While at the funeral home, I'd been searching for Advil - I had a whopper of a sinus headache. Just before he left, Uncle T stuffed a kleenex in my hand, so at the restaurant, I pulled it out and opened it. Nestled in the folds were two elongated green pills. It's been a long time since someone slipped me drugs in a kleenex - these drugs turned out to be Tylenol Sinus. Perfect! I would wait to take them though... wouldn't want to fall asleep driving back to my hotel. So the brothers and I sat in a booth right next to the rest of the family and we talked and laughed and traded stories before separating into the night. Jerry and Matt headed back home. Both had to work the next day. I drove back to my hotel, took my little green pills and conked out for what seemed like 5 minutes but turned out to be about 10 hours.

My hotel room was something else. It seemed normal enough on the surface...

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But when you opened the bathroom door, you saw this:

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The toilet was normal... But up on the vanity was a very old (30-40 years?) black and white TV set. Above it was a hairdryer with a clock in it and a mysterious red phone.

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On the other end of the vanity was a small microwave oven, a coffee pot, and a makeup mirror. The lighting in the bathroom was horrible for makeup, but the mirror didn't light anything up other than itself. It did, however, magnify my pores enough to look like the surface of the moon, and point out that I was beginning to grow a thin blonde mustache.

But the piece de resistance????

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It felt like taking a shower in a fire engine compartment. The red shell went all the way around, even to the ceiling, where a small dome light lit up the stall.

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It was one of the more... unusual... bathroom arrangements I'd ever seen.

It also provided my mind with a little comic relief.

The next morning, I woke up and laid there for a while, unable to rise. Grief hangover or the lingering effects of the Tylenol Sinus, I couldn't say. But after I managed to rise, swallow some coffee and take a shower in that amazing bathroom, I called DotnFL and asked what I could do. She gave me directions, and I joined her at Bo and Melodi's house. Bo was upstairs sleeping, and everyone else was gone grocery shopping, so DotnFL and I had a chance to just sit and visit. We talked about all kinds of things, interrupted by the phone on occasion for directions and after a while, other people began to show up. DotnFL's sister and her husband and son. Phre3D and his son Frank, the returning shopping warriors.... we heated up and set out food and more people came. It was just family, and we ate and visited and milled about. Smiling faces would crumple and tears would fall and just as quickly be smiling again. We got caught up.

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That tiny townhouse filled up with people, and yet, amazingly, the space worked.

Cousins F and Dav and Emily put in quality sitting-on-the-couch time.

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We also put the floor to good use...
Phred & Cordie

But eventually, this short idyll of near normalcy had to end as people got ready for the funeral ahead.

My parents drove over, as did Uncle T and his wife (for the second time in as many days). Brothers Jerry and Matt didn't make it back, but I didn't really expect that they would.

The service was held in a Vietnamese Catholic church. Cousin Cafengocmy has a very active life in this church and the community embraces him. The priest was the same as the previous night and I was glad I heard him last night so I could understand him more easily.

Cafengocmy got up and read the bible passage... a time to laugh, a time to weep, a time to live, a time to die. Cousin S also got up to read a passage and then the priest got up to begin his homily...

"What time it is today?"

I wish I had a recording of it. It may well have been the most beautiful homily I have ever heard. He talked about how Mac gave his life for his son - how MySmile gave her life for her husband. How love is what brought them to where they are today, and love is what brought us all together in this one place today. I cannot express here how lovely the sentiments were, how sad, how hopeful. It calmed my soul and that anger I had buried under my comforting shell. I hope it did the same for her mother and father. Her sisters and brother. Her uncles and cousins.

English was his second language. Sometimes the wording was awkward to native ears. Some of the words seemed to miss the second half of themselves and you had to listen hard to understand what was being said, but in listening harder, we heard more than we would have normally. We heard the poetry of his words and the music of his voice. It was perfect.

Afterwards, there were more tears and hugs and people separated once again. Family and a few close friends returned to the tiny townhouse where more food had somehow appeared for the mourners. And again, the smiles, the laughs, the sudden tears and more hugs. We are learning how to be a family again without the physical presence of MySmile and Mac. It's a tiny start, a little step at the beginning of a long journey for her family and his, this learning to live without. It will be painful, and sometimes will feel like it's going in the wrong direction, but as long as the family has each other, each day will eventually get a little brighter.

Goodbye MySmile and Mac. You are loved. You will be missed.

3 comments:

Mel said...

Sayre, my friend, I am so sad for your family. I really do wish I could give you all a big hug. And what a lovely way of remembering two obviously wonderful, loving people.
May they rest well until you all meet again.

HoosierGirl5 said...

Wow, beautiful writing, Sayre. I feel like I know all those people, like I was there.

I am so sorry for all of you, but it does seem like a beautiful, peaceful end.

J.

nikki said...

Your post was really beautiful. I am sorry for your family's loss and pain. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.