At every turn, there is another fresh ending.
We began you entered hospice, having danced around them for years. We said our so longs in between visits, hoping that the force of the words might keep you with us until the next trip. But the first real goodbye was the voice mail. “Anthony died this afternoon.”
Each one is a shock to the system, a punch in the face, a reminder that we never get to see you again. There are goodbyes in which I don’t have (get to?) participate. Sorting clothes. Shoes. Coats. The intimacies of domestic life, which were a way I never knew you. Seeing you in a casket, though… From a distance, I swear it looked like you could have stood up, stretched, and popped your neck and back. Up close, I couldn’t help thinking of the last man I saw in a casket and what your son must be thinking about his dad right now. Goodbye.
The church is a new beginning. Not a grand beginning, but we have to begin the service, there’s work to do. The hymns. The readings. There you are. And I do okay during my reading as long as I don’t look anywhere but the paper. Goodbye.
Six of us carry your casket to the hearse, and you know what they say about many hands making light work? For what it’s worth? Totally true. Emotionally and physically. Carrying you is okay. I stepped on Andrew’s heels, but it’s otherwise okay. Putting you in the hearse, that’s okay too. But shutting the door was awful, brother, and watching the car drive away? That ripped my heart, that latest goodbye.
You only died the one time. Why do we keep having to say goodbye?
With all due respect to Charles M. Schulz.
It’s hard to think about anything other than the funeral. We took a moment of respite to go to Sea Salt for lunch, on the banks of Minnehaha Falls. We had the dog with us, and tired as she was, she was exceptionally well-behaved. This earned us many oohs and aahs from a neighboring table whose occupants we decided in advance of our interaction that we would have liked just fine, thank you, as they plowed through their fish tacos and second round of drinks (him: beer; her: wine) with gusto. “Have a great day!” they cheerfully wished us as we left.
I did not say, “we’re going to a funeral tomorrow,” because that would have been unkind, a slap in the face to their honest good wishes on this sunniest and mildest of late October days. We drove back up Highway 55 listening to Talking Heads, with the dog’s head draped out the rear window.
I helped move furniture this morning with Steph’s dad and Andrew, Anthony’s brother. Lisa came by later with the dog, and we took the kids out for a walk with our dog and theirs. We ran through the park, had our dog jump at sticks, climbed the odd tree. They told us how they stalk their dog. We told them how we stalk ours.
For a little while, it was the most normal of days – except that Lisa and I were hanging out with two kids under 10, which is an aberration. No one got wound up. No one got overstimulated. Except our dog, who got exhausted and could really have stopped jumping at the sticks they held up for her about 15 minutes before we said she should probably be done. Nearly an hour of no grief, no dwelling, just reveling in two dogs rolling around in the sunny grass.
Because it’s really hard to be in a bad mood – any kind of bad mood – with a happy dog in sunny grass.
Given that there’s not much we can do to palliate death, we want to do what we can. Anything to avoid feeling totally, completely helpless.
Which is why Marit, Tom, and I all feel like turds. I haven’t actually talked to Tom, this is just hearsay.
The least we can do, right? At the very least, we can be present.
And we weren’t.
I took a job and postponed my trip to Minnesota by a week – which is to say, I’d already earmarked this weekend, the funeral, as the time to come up and see Anthony. Even if I had driven up last weekend, I might not have been at the house on Friday afternoon, I might have still been in the car. Which was Marit’s problem – a client that meant she had to leave in the middle of the afternoon, which is when Anthony, in fact, died. And poor Tom was in Germany – on work again – preventing him from being around.
No one has scolded us. No one has said that we’re bad friends. My guess is that, if asked, Stephanie would say that we’re being silly because all three of us try very hard to be present in many other ways. Logically, rationally, we know this. Emotionally, what we tell ourselves is that while we’re doing all of these other things, we’re somehow failing to do the least we can do.
I’m not saying it makes sense. I’m not saying it’s smart. It’s a perfectly understandable, unreasonable response.
It’s not like our being there would have made a difference. Anthony would still be dead. We’re not magic that way. But on a certain level, we wouldn’t have failed to do something. That’s the problem. That’s how it feels.
We all want to do something. Steph sent me a text asking if there’s anything that can happen on Saturday, as Mike is coming in from out of town for the funeral, and it might be good to have a Job for him.
A job for him, and me, and Tom, and Marit, and Steph’s parents, and sister, and other friends, and so on.
If you need a ride to the airport, I can probably help out. Simple problem, simple solution. There isn’t any solution to death, though. It’s not so much that we’re being busy to avoid thinking about it, or to avoid grieving (though that might be the case). We’re busy being busy because we want to help. We want to be part of the solution.
Palliate. As in palliative care.
The problem is death. Someone just left, and we can’t do anything about it. He wasn’t taken from us in the sense that someone killed him. You can be angry at the universe, or angry at a disease, but, never having experienced this, I expect it’s a whole lot different from being angry at the distracted driver, the negligent worker, the mugger, the killer. There’s not a person to target in this case. Just death.
Simple problem. The solution is that the rest of us keep living.