“I feel the dead in the cold of violets
And that great vagueness of the moon.
The earth is doomed to be a ghost,
She who rocks all death in herself.” ~ Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, from “I Feel the Dead,” trans. by Ruth Fainlight
Saturday evening, party cloudy and very mild, low 60’s.
Yesterday evening was the viewing for the kids’ grandfather. It was held at the same place where we had Caitlin’s funeral service. I hadn’t been in that building since 1988. It was painful crossing the threshold.
I cannot say too much about being there as I felt very removed from everything, on the periphery, as it were. There was the family, my ex and his new love, my children, the evil step-m-in-law, my s-in-law, and a bunch of people, some of whom I knew, but most of whom I did not. I felt like a crasher at an intimate party.
Afterwards, I decided against attending the funeral and graveside service today. Everyone was going over to evil step-m-in-law’s house afterwards, and I knew that I definitely did not want to do that, and I didn’t want anyone to have to make a special trip to bring me home, so I erred on the side of discretion. That, and the wife told Ann that she could not speak at her father’s service as it was “not that kind of service.” Ann had held it together really well throughout the evening, and then she asked—probably to more to be polite than anything—if she would be able to say something and was shot down.
What kind of service does it have to be exactly for a daughter to say a few words about her father? Enough. It was the final blow for me. I never have to see that woman again, and if I do, it will be too soon.
“Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.” ~ Edward Hirsch from “ Was Never able to Pray”
My f-in-law was dressed in his Navy dress uniform, and an American flag was draped over the coffin. As with most of the dead, he did not look like himself.
How can the dead look as they did when living? That which made them the persons they were is gone. That light is gone. That spirit is gone. That soul is gone. All that is left is the shell, and if we were a more civilized society, I think that our burial rites would be more akin to ancient funeral rites: a burning on a pyre, allowing the body to return to the earth, the spirit to places unknown.
I think that if there were no cemeteries, those of us who cannot let go might be better able to move on. If we witnessed the burning, the resultant ashes, we might be better able to close that door. I know that this is a very odd statement coming from me, the woman who loves cemeteries, but I know that those places, the graves, the monuments and memorials, the flowers and trees—they are all for the living, for those left behind.
Burning makes sense. As does floating off to sea on a wooden bier. Give back to nature what belongs to nature.
Sorry if I’m offending anyone.
“It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “You Begin”
What defines us? In spite of what the media would have you believe, it’s not the physical. Certainly there are those who are defined and identified as their physical package, and those of us from afar make judgments as to what kind of people they might be, but what do we know, really?
How do I define myself? What makes me the person that I am? Is it my heart? My brain? My thoughts? My political party? My social affiliations?
You might be wondering why I’m wandering down this path again, but the statement by the evil-step-m-in-law really, really rubbed against the grain of everything that I believe. She is all about appearances, what is acceptable, what is proper. Yes, social etiquette has its place; it keeps us from eating with our hands and cleaning ourselves with leaves. But to be so caught up in what is the right thing to do and what is the wrong thing to do, to allow that to determine the right way and the wrong way to grieve—it’s just too much.
It’s like the color black. No, listen, I’m going somewhere with this. Black used to be the only acceptable color at funerals, just as white used to be the color for weddings, and white was the only color allowed at Wimbledon. Archaic. A widow who wore a red dress to her husband’s funeral was considered a hussy. But what about the woman who chooses to celebrate the life she had with her partner? What if red was a favorite color?
What we wear to honor the dead is not nearly as important as what we say and think. And what we say to others about the dead isn’t nearly as important as what we hold in our hearts.
“It is impossible not to notice that our world is tormented by failure, hate, guilt, and fear.” ~ William Saroyan
But this is not my fight, as much as I wish that it were, it is not. So I did the best thing and stepped out of the picture. As much as I would love to have that final confrontation with the evil-step-m-in-law, I will not. I’m not a complete barbarian. As she left the funeral home last night in her white Mercedes, I thought for a moment about how she was going home to an empty house, and for a second, I felt sorry for her, and then I thought about the old Ford that my m-in-law used to drive, and the years that she went home to an empty house, and any pity that I may have had went away.
Brett asked me last night why I never let go of anything (it was completely unrelated to anything I’ve been discussing here), and I told him that I didn’t know, that I just couldn’t.
But the fact is that I have learned to be much better about letting go of certain things. I make a real effort not to hold onto my anger with Corey, something I was never able to do with my ex. I would nurse a grudge forever, or until I felt he had made sufficient apologies. Then I learned that an apology isn’t worth anything if it is forced. It is words, mere words.
I have made myself let go of my feelings that my eldest son loves his father more than he loves me, and in doing so, I have come to really appreciate having him back here with us, and we rarely have the kind of conflict that we used to have when he was in high school. Perhaps we have both grown.
So in some very real ways, I have learned to let go, but as I said to Brett, I will never let go of Caitlin. I simply do not know how, nor do I want to.
More later. Peace.
Music by Morgan Taylor Reid, “Simply Human”
I Was Never Able To Pray
Wheel me down to the shore
where the lighthouse was abandoned
and the moon tolls in the rafters.
Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.
I was never able to pray,
but let me inscribe my name
in the book of waves
and then stare into the dome
of a sky that never ends
and see my voice sail into the night.