Two weeks ago, my plan for this exercise was to dive in and write another 14,000 words of my novel in progress. That was the plan.
As the old adage goes, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
Because instead, most of my writing brain over the next few days will be writing my father’s eulogy.
His passing was both expected and unexpected. Expected in that he was eighty-seven years old, and to a certain extent, anybody’s passing at that age is kind of expected. Unexpected in that after several years of slow decline, he dropped off the cliff in his final week. On Saturday, when he went into hospice, he was able to get into his wheelchair in the morning, and by evening, two of us assisting couldn’t manage to get him out of bed and into the chair. Saturday evening, he ate dinner in bed, and we sat with him and chatted. By Sunday when I arrived after church, he was in the hospital bed the hospice people had brought the day before, and he could barely mumble. Sunday evening, at Mom’s request, I called some family members and friends of my parents so the ultimate call wouldn’t come out of the blue. By Monday, he barely moved, although when I tried to swab his mouth, he made his opinion clear, clamping his lips shut and moving his arm as if to wipe his mouth. That evening, as the night caregiver and I sat in the living room to give Mom time with him, I overheard her encouraging him to go, telling him that his parents and siblings were waiting to see him.
I’d begun drafting his obituary on Monday, the same day I reached out to the funeral home to let them know what was coming and to find out how and what things needed to be done. Function, don’t feel. Tuesday, I spent the day working on a brief for a client. When I finished, I fed the cats and made soup. At 8:12 p.m., my phone rang. It was my older sister who, as a nurse, has been incredible in his declining days. I knew there was only one reason she would be calling rather than texting, and I was right.
Tuesday evening, everybody was holding it together and playing nicely. Mom said at least ten times that she didn’t want “a big hullaballoo,” a word I’m not certain she’d ever used before.
The next day, we met with Dan, the funeral director. None of us had ever done anything remotely like this, but Dan shepherded us through logistics and decisions. The one light moment came when it was time to choose a color for the urn. Years earlier, my parents arranged and paid for their funerals, and Dad had chosen an urn by a company called Mackenzie, but he hadn’t specified a color. Since the urn will be buried, he probably didn’t think it was a big deal, but a choice still had to be made. We all knew blue was his favorite color. When Dan put up the color choices, the blue options included navy, Wedgewood, and cobalt. Then Mom said, “That one,” pointing to Mystic Blue.
Maybe my monitor is just different from Dan’s, but on his screen, Mystic Blue was screaming-bright. My sisters could barely keep straight faces, commenting, “That’s blue, all right,” but Mom said, “That’s the one I want.” So once the cremation is complete, Dad will reside in the bluest of all blue urns.
On Wednesday, we met with a pastor friend of my older sister. Since none of us had any idea how to structure a service, his guidance was helpful. Personally, I’d have liked a little more guidance toward the traditional, such as including music, but I do not come from a family that understands the public aspects of such rituals, and so the only music will be the Marine League playing the Marine Corps hymn and a congregational singing a cappella of “Amazing Grace.”
When the pastor mentioned the idea of someone from the family talking about Dad, my sisters immediately said, “Oh, I could never do that,” the implication being that they would be far too emotional. Mom, of course, would not speak. So I said, “I’ll do it.”
My younger sister, who dearly loves to control everything relating to our parents, has been staying with Mom since Tuesday, but she goes home today, thank God. After a day and a half of playing nice, we had our blowup on Wednesday after the pastor, when she announced that the memorial service will be private. Calling hours were already restricted to a single hour before the service, which seemed unreasonable to me; now, the plan was apparently that those who come to offer sympathy and support will be kicked out after the hour so we can have the service. I pointed out that people will be coming in support of other family members, to no avail. Finally, I said the obvious: “She’s not the only one who lost him,” to which my sister snapped, “Yes, she is!” It was such a ludicrous response that I was temporarily at a loss. Then, when she started telling me how to do something—I don’t even recall what—I snapped, “Back the fuck off!” to which she replied with a half-hearted, “No, you back the fuck off.” It was all I could do not to sneer, “Great comeback!” Instead, I packed up and left to rule Mom’s world.
(The next morning when a lawyer friend emailed me on something, I responded by asking if he’d represent me if I were to choke a family member. He responded, “Of course, but my advice as your legal counsel is that you not do so.” I told him I’d take it under advisement, and he shot back, “Typical client.”)
I know I’m supposed to be patient. Right now, I’m just angry, and my bossy, irritating sister makes a very convenient target. I vented to friends last night while drinking wine. When it was bedtime, I found myself unable to recall whether I’d fed the cats. (Since they weren’t complaining, I assume I did.) I’ve been swearing more this week than I ever have. I’m honestly not certain what I’m angry about; I assume it’s a variation on grief, albeit not one I’ve experienced. Last weekend and through Tuesday, I was exhausted, which didn’t surprise me since grief is exhausting. In the past few days, though, I’m at the other end of the spectrum in that I don’t feel like going to bed. When I finally make myself go to bed, not unlike the way you’d force a child to go at bedtime, it’s difficult to turn off my mind enough to go to sleep.
So, here’s my first 1,000 words of summer. No idea if I’ll actually do it for the next thirteen days. I certainly have an excellent excuse for not doing it, but I need to refocus. Years ago, when a dear friend was dying, I coped by writing. Maybe I’ll end up doing that again.
I guess I’ll find out.