A World Without Grace

I was in class the day Grace came into the world. I left early, when I got Gail’s text, planning to visit her in the hospital. Gail and I, being Gail and I, she was comfortable telling me that she was exhausted and felt gross and didn’t want anymore visitors. I accepted that and met her little lady about a week later.

Me: “She’s all wrinkly… and red. When do they get cute?”

rachel green with ben
This IS how I would hold a football!”

Don’t worry. It happened… eventually… and quite severely.

I tell everyone that I was Aunt Belle to Gail’s daughter, but in truth, Gail was not immediately comfortable with bestowing that honor. Understandably, she didn’t want to give a family title to someone who was not technically family, possibly confusing Grace if I wasn’t around much. Over the next eight months, however, Grace became a far more regular part of my life than most of my family, including my actual niece. Any time Gail would swing by to pick me up in her 1997 Bonneville, filled to the brim with crap, I would automatically check the backseat for Grace. Her presence would set the tone of the day, be it drinks and appetizers in the arts district, or having infant Christmas photos taken at Target. It didn’t matter, because I loved Gail and I loved Grace.

labyrinth_lady2Gail driving the Bonneville. No really. I once had to sit in the back, because there was no room up front..

While Grace never smiled, in her life, she adored Family Guy and the sex scenes of True Blood. It had to be something about the colors and movement, but that little lady would nearly knock her bouncer over every time Sookie and Bill rolled around naked in blood. What? She didn’t know what it was. She was a baby, though an admittedly clever one. I don’t think the fake cell phone fooled Grace past the age of six months. She’d just toss it aside and reach for Gail’s obviously more interesting toy.

Now, don’t misunderstand my affection for Gail’s daughter. I am not rewriting history with an easily pacified, giggling baby. Grace was beautiful, innocent, and growled at her toys…, but I don’t know that I’ve ever come across such a demanding child as that one. I think a lot of things played a part in this, one being that Gail was unemployed for much of those first months. There was always someone to hold Grace, entertain her, and respond to her high-pitched falcon screech. Naturally, she was quite the entitled little thing.

At Gail’s apartment, on the phone with my Gramma.
Gramma: “Is that the baby?!?! What are you two doing to the poor thing?!?!”
Me: “She’s fine, Gramma. Seriously. She’s been fed, changed, and there aren’t even any tears. She’s just yelling, because she wants Gail to hold her all the time.”
Gramma: “Well, pick her up, then!!!!”
Me: “Gramma, she’s not my kid. Gail wants her to get used to not being held constantly.”

Oh, how I wish we’d just held her constantly.

Regardless of Gail’s efforts to wean her of this habit, the day Gail finally had to leave Grace at daycare, she falcon-screeched so long that they had to rotate her to different rooms, because the teachers couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t blame them.

:: Hanging out with Gail and a screaming-without-tears Grace ::
Me: “Grace, you have got quite the set of little lungs, don’t you?”
Gail: “I can put her in the other room if it’s bothering you.”
Me: “No, that’s alright. She’s fine.”
:: three minutes later ::
Me: “Actually, could you?”


Grace.

Despite her vocal range, though… Grace was precious. She was entirely portable, so we took her everywhere, constantly talking to her and playing with her. The lady at the barbecue place had even begun to recognize her. I suppose, that since Gail and I had lost touch for a year and a half after high school, Grace was the ultimate test, particularly when I miscarried. She was just a couple of months old and I had a bit of trouble being around an infant. If anything, though, Grace brought Gail and I closer; like on the night Gail called me at 1:00 in the morning. She had taken Grace to spend the night with her ex-husband Shane, only to get a call that her baby falcon just wouldn’t stop screaming. I was just starting my student teaching and had to be up early, but I knew Gail wouldn’t call without reason.

Gail: “Can you just keep me awake while I drive out there? I’m so tired.”

We chatted for a bit and hung up when she told me she was there. The phone rang again, just a moment later.

Gail: “I forgot the car seat. I have to go back and get it and Shane’s yelling at me to just take her anyway.”

Britney Spears drives with baby Sean

… but Britney did it!!!

Gail being Gail, she was an intensely paranoid mom. If Grace sneezed three times, we were in the ER and I do mean “we.” If Gail wanted company and I was free, I was there. So it was, with my second or third trip to the ER, Gail officially dubbed me “Aunt Belle.” Grace had been sick for over a week. It was just a cold, but now she had a high fever. We knew she’d be fine, but they sent us home… and she only got worse. A few nights later, Gail called me late to ask for a ride back to the ER, since her Bonneville wasn’t reliable. When I got to her apartment, though, she told me that the nurse she spoke to said they’d just send her home again, despite the 104 degree fever. We briefly considered taking her to the children’s hospital in the city, but we’d be taking a sick baby into the cold, the hospital was far away, and we both had to be up early. Besides, Grace would be fine. The doctors weren’t even concerned.

Two days later, Gail and I had dinner out with Grace. We laughed at the weird cry she was making, assuming it was a side effect of the medication. That night she lost consciousness and would never awaken. She was dying and we had laughed.

Apparently, a cold had turned into undiagnosed pneumonia, which had turned into bacterial meningitis. I visited the children’s hospital two or three times over the next week. Shane caused drama, over Gail’s refusal to hug him, over her boyfriend Cam wanting to see the baby he’d also loved, probably over the flavor of Gatorade in the vending machine. Gail’s parents, sister, and grandparents wept and prayed. Gail slept beside Grace’s hospital crib. We all waited for news of how this would affect Grace in the long run and when Gail would be able to take her home.

I had intended to buy Grace a learning toy for Valentine’s Day. An education major, I wanted something that would help her grow intellectually. Not knowing what she’d be capable of after she got well, however, I bought her an infant stuffed giraffe that played music. I hated that it had the words “press here” embroidered on it and only managed to remove half of it with a seam ripper, when Gail called.

“If you want to see her again, you should probably get up here soon.”


Toughest drive ever.

“You have to have faith. Miracles happen all the time.” – Everyone

The intentions in the above statement are good. Maybe that’s why the entire world shared some version of it. A baby’s life, however, does not hang in the balance of how hard I pray, how much I cry, whether or not Gail kept a constant vigil at her unconscious daughter’s side or convinced herself that she’d be taking her little girl home soon. God has a plan and if that plan is to take someone you love, there is nothing to be done about it. Trying to convince a mother otherwise is unintentionally cruel. Gail and I, being Gail and I, realized this even then.

Me: “She’s really going to die, isn’t she?”
Gail: “She’s already gone. That’s not my little girl anymore. Everyone keeps telling me to have faith, that a miracle will happen. I just want to say ‘fuck you.’ My daughter isn’t dying, because I don’t believe in God enough.”
Me: “This really sucks… and you kind of smell.”
Gail: :: snort of laughter :: “I don’t actually remember the last time I took a shower.”
:: we both realize it’s snowing outside her window ::
Me: “She’s never seen snow.”
Gail: “I know.”

On February 13,  2010, I got the text message.

Gail: It’s over.
Me: Do you want me to give people your parents’ address for flowers?
Gail: We have plenty of flowers. I’d rather they donate the money to research of some kind.
Me: Okay.
Gail: Thanks for not saying the stupid things you’re supposed to say.

Over the next few days, I didn’t hear from Gail much. She texted once about how she finally understood the reason behind flowers at a funeral: they give you something to talk about, other than the obvious. Grace’s organs were donated on Valentine’s Day and Gail informed me that her heart, intestines, and liver had gone to two other babies.

:: months later ::
Gail: “I don’t think I’d undo it if I could. As much as I want her back, if her death meant the lives of two other babies, I don’t think I could trade that.”

She’s so much less selfish than I.

I texted more than once, asking for verification that Gail hadn’t killed herself. I didn’t realize that she thought I was telling a morbid joke, which, admittedly, wouldn’t be entirely out of character. She’d forgotten the time we went to lunch with Cam and she told us about a special she’d seen, over parents who’d lost their children. She didn’t think she could ever survive that and I wasn’t sure what that meant.

Gail and I, being Gail and I, most of the “concerned” messages came to me. Some of our friends from high school, with whom Gail had been close, were legitimately concerned. Malik told off Shane, in a way that made my comment about how if we could manage not to hit him, he could manage not to hit Cam, look like kitten kisses. The others, whom neither of us had seen in a few years, were shocked. They were worried. They wanted to know what they could do to help. I refrained from sarcastically asking if they had powers of resurrection. I was just so tired of the rest of the messages. The girl who had a screaming fight with me in our eleventh grade algebra class was just sooo sorry. If we ever needed anything, we were to let her know. Oh, by the way… “what happened?” Gail and I still joke about asking her for a casserole. Outside of a catty remark, I don’t think she ever spoke to Gail in four years. The friend of a friend, who was always nasty to both Gail and I, was soooo crushed and would see Gail at the funeral. Oh, by the way… “what happened?” Nothing infuriated me quite like them turning my shattered best friend into post-high school gossip: The Girl Whose Baby Died.

I was the only non-family member Gail let add anything to the tiny pink casket. The aforementioned barbecue place gives away their logo cups for free. In addition to the Valentine’s gift I’d given her (which Gail added), I tried to put one in Grace’s casket, without looking at her body. I missed and it rolled underneath. I ended up having to crawl around to retrieve it, holding up the line. Sigh. That’s not supposed to happen at a funeral.

I cried in my Gramma’s arms. My mom got angry that I chose my Gramma’s arms.

no wire hangers
There are apparently no wire hangers allowed at a funeral.

The program specifically stated that only immediate family was welcome at the graveside. I asked if Gail wanted me there and she said no. I took no offense and didn’t go. Everyone else, however, did. Later, Gail told me that they all stood there, watching, and when she got up and walked away, to wait for them all to leave, they looked at her like “That’s it?”

Gail: “Go fuck yourself. I want to say goodbye to my daughter in peace.”

She, of course, never said that… to them. Apparently, she was a disappointing show. She didn’t shed a single tear and had just stared catatonically at nothing. I received no response when I hugged her and told her I loved her. I don’t know what was worse, laying Grace to rest, or watching Gail go through that… or rather, check out of that. I gave her some Ramen noodles, because they’d take longer to go bad than the casseroles she’d surely be getting. I couldn’t afford any more and included a note telling her that I’d never be able to say the right thing at the right time, but I’d be available when she wanted someone to treat her normally and make inappropriate jokes to take her mind off the pain. I thought I wouldn’t see her for months, an idea that broke my heart after the loss of Grace. Apparently, however, being treated like glass got old fast.

When Gail and I hung out, during the next year, sometimes we talked about Grace and sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes, in the middle of an outing, Gail would tell me she needed to go home, that it was a bad day. She developed severe memory problems and people became tired of her flaking out on them. To this day, I regularly remind her when we have plans. Gail even handled the question “Where’s the baby, today?”, from the waitress at the barbecue place, with… well awkwardness, but she didn’t burst into tears.

“Wow. She’s doing really well.” – Everyone

No matter who dies, there is only so much time that can be spent rocking in a corner, chewing on your own hair. Bills have to be paid. Food has to be bought. You don’t go on with life, because you’re “doing really well.” You go on with life, because there is no other choice. When Gail received notice that she was going to be evicted, everyone thought it was cruel. We both acknowledged, though, that the world does not stop turning, just because yours falls apart. Businesses must still function, even if Gail’s mom found her crying in a heap, where Grace’s crib used to be. Showing surprise that someone’s doing so well implies that they really shouldn’t be.

Gail: “I love when people say that. I want to be like ‘Yeah, there’s lots of polka dancing.'”

Grace died four years ago, today. She was 8 months, 5 days, and 15 minutes old. She never had her Valentine’s Day or an Easter. She never drew a picture or ate dog food or shoved a bully at school. She’ll never have a fight with her mom, a first period, a heartbreak. She’s truly, physically, gone. At first, it was all that filled my head and certainly more-so for Gail. Time went on, though, and I’d realize, that I didn’t think about Grace at all the previous day. More time passed, and then I’d think ‘Wow. How long has it been since I thought about Grace?’ Then I’d feel horrible, because I forgot Grace. At the same time, I’m occasionally shocked at how much it still hurts, being without her. I don’t want to tell anyone, because she wasn’t my kid. She wasn’t even related to me by blood. Maybe I should stop being so dramatic and trying to make this tragedy about me. I’ve even told Gail as much.

Gail: “You were a part of her life more than anyone outside of my immediate family. We joked about you being her dad for a reason. You’re absolutely inclined to feel the way you feel.”

Mostly, I deflect feelings with morbid humor.

Gail: “I wish she’d just been deaf. It would have been just enough to keep Shane from wanting to deal with the hassle, but not enough to keep her from living a life.”
Me: “Yeah. We’d both know ASL ….and that would look great on a resume. Damn it, Gail!”

Emotions go with the last friggin’ horcrux, y’all.

horcrux cave
Right here.

There’s so much guilt in Grace’s death. Gail and I desperately wish we’d taken her to the children’s hospital that night. We blame the local hospital for falsifying records, claiming Grace was smiling and laughing, when Gail tried to pursue a lawsuit. Her parents blame themselves for leaving 22-year-old Gail to care for an infant alone, wanting her to stand on her own two feet. We all blame Shane for being a soulless prick. There is no fault, though. It was God’s plan. It led us here… and here is usually pretty good.

You see, A World Without Grace was supposed to be bleak and filled with sadness, something from a dystopian young adult novel or a Tim Burton movie. On rare occasion, it is. Christmas morning, Gail sent me a text, referring to my miscarriage and Grace…

Gail: “Our children would’ve been up for hours, already.”

She still gets frustrated, when she runs into someone who used to sit at our lunch table, and they fumble around more awkwardly than is normal of post-high school run-ins.

Gail: “Can’t you just not mention it? How about we just pretend that I’m not The Girl Whose Baby Died and you tell me about your life? I want to hear about your boyfriend and work, just like everyone else. I’m not going to burst into tears if you ask about mine!”

I’ve repeatedly suggested telling half of the people at our reunion that Gail had a mental break and doesn’t realize her baby’s dead, while telling the other half that I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, creating the most confusing gossip ever.


That’ll teach ’em.

Most days, though? Life is really good. The New Year’s Eve, when we rented a motel room and took a taxi to the casino, Gail and I commented on how that wouldn’t be possible if I’d had the baby and Grace had survived. Gail wouldn’t have met Terry, because, hopefully, someone with a toddler would be a bit more careful about fucking a trucker off Craigslist. Just as I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my master’s degree and become a librarian, if I had had my baby; Gail wouldn’t be able to work for the post office, if she had a four-year-old. Two babies, who might’ve lived after transplants, almost certainly would’ve died.

Today, my heart is breaking for the four-year-old that’s not in my life. I’m swearing I’ll never have children and trying not to think about the three-year-old I would have, had things worked out differently. I fucking hate Valentine’s Day, because everyone else is happy right now or bitching over trivial crap, like not having someone to buy them flowers that are just going to die. I can’t get the picture of a catatonic Gail and a baby pink casket out of my head.

… but in six months, Gail and I will be drinking chick beer in my living room floor, giggling about my online dating disasters and her mother’s desperation to get her married off to Terry, as soon as possible. We may comment on how the world would be so different had our prayers been answered. We also may not… because for better or for worse, God intended we live in A World Without Grace.

gail convo 02-11-14

 

Original post date: February 13, 2014

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“Too soon?” Yes. It is too soon and you’re an asshat.

On Saturday, Paul Walker, actor in The Fast and the Furious franchise, died as a passenger in a single car accident, on the way home from a charity event. We, as a country, responded in one of three ways:

1. Appropriately sad
2. Somewhat unhealthily sad
3. With giggles

The first response is obviously the one I favor. These people may have posted something on social networking sites addressing Walker’s age or expressing best wishes for his family. They may have mentioned their love of his films or the fact that they just got them all on sale on Black Friday. They expressed remorse and went on with their lives. Perhaps these folks watched She’s All That and managed to not angrily scream “WHERE IS THE ADMINISTRATION?!?!?!” during every high school scene. Normal.

The second response… is weird. I’ve really never understood the total devastation someone can feel over a celebrity death. If Pope Frankie (as my cousin, Mitch, likes to call him) died tomorrow, I would weep for the Church. I’ve never met the man, but he’s an influential leader and, in my opinion, a truly good soul. If Barack Obama died tomorrow, I would weep for the country, because he’s a political leader and that would leave our government in uproar during a tenuous time. If Leonardo DiCaprio died? I’d comment on his age and watch Titanic, failing to not angrily scream “HE’S A VAGRANT, YOU IGNORANT COW!” during every romantic scene. I would not cry… because his life in no way affects me or anyone I love and I don’t feel I have that right. My Gramma cried the day Elvis died. I know many who cried when Michael Jackson died. I just don’t get it. However, it’s not an offensive reaction. I realize that other people (who are wrong) don’t necessarily scream “Emotions should be hidden like the last fucking Horcrux!” every time their eyes water. Maybe they’re the healthy ones. I don’t know. Regardless, no harm done.

The third reaction? This one is deeply disturbing.

Facebook status on Tuesday:
So a car just freaking exploded and was engulfed in flames right next to my apartment building. This is one of the most insane things I’ve ever witnessed

Comments:
– Paul Walker came over? To soon?
– ok guys that’s a bit fast with the Paul Walker jokes. I’m furious.
– haha I think it’s time to hit the brakes with the jokes.

 I am not contradicting myself here. I realize that I’ve made many inappropriate jokes in my day.

::in the car, waiting for my dad and step-mother to bury my grandfather’s ashes, inJuly::
Me: “Ugh. It is a thousand degrees in here. They’re gonna have to bury three more piles of ash if they don’t hurry the hell up.”
Cade: “It would be awesome if the window was open and they could hear you.”

So, what’s the difference? The difference, is that my grandpa used to drag my brother and I to church on the weekends that we went to the lake, because vacation was no excuse for missing Mass. The difference, is that every Christmas he bought us shitty gifts, filled with love, because it’s all he could afford. The difference is the cherished rosary he wanted me to have. The difference, is that he was my family and saying goodbye was hard, so humor was my crutch, because emotions belong with the last fucking Horcrux!!!!!

Paul Walker was only 40 years old and his father had to bury his baby boy. I don’t even have kids and my relationship with my dad has shown me that a child never stops being his parents’ baby, whether they’re throwing up at age 10 or crying on their doorstep at age 23. A woman watched her son lowered into the ground forever. His parents won’t be able to give him the Christmas presents they’ve already bought. There’s a couple out there weeping over high school graduation pictures from the early 90’s. Paul Walker wasn’t an only child, either. Bo may be a redneck bigot sometimes, but if my big brother died, I would be inconsolable. Most tragically, there’s a 15-year-old girl out there who was just getting know her daddy and now his light is gone from the world.* He’ll never interrogate a college boyfriend or walk her down the aisle. That is heartbreaking.

Paul Walker’s death was no more tragic than that of any other 40-year-old man with a family and full life. It also, however, was no more uproarious. If his family and friends choose to use humor as a crutch, more power to them. We all have fucked up coping mechanisms. Whatever gets you through hard times. Everyone else? No. We don’t get that crutch, because it’s not a crutch for us. It’s insensitive and cruel, especially when published on a social networking site where the man’s name is tagged and his family is guaranteed to see it. Remember when your dog was hit by a truck when you were fourteen? How much more awesome would that have been with strangers making lame-ass jokes?

“What’s black and white and red all over? Your dalmatian!”

This isn’t a new issue, either. It’s not even confined to celebrity deaths. During the last natural disaster, I had a heated Facebook debate with that douche bag from high school who’s only on my friends list because it’s amusing to read about how much he loves himself. When I called him out on his insensitivity, he told me I had no right to be offended, because I wasn’t harmed. CHILDREN DIED. I’m sorry, but as an American citizen, a native of this state, an educator, I had a fucking right to be appalled that the bodies had barely been recovered and he was running the laugh track for his self-proclaimed cleverness. Furthermore, several people liked each and every comment I made, as I defended the fact that his being an inconsiderate prick, didn’t mean I didn’t have a sense of humor. I clearly was not the only offended party on the billboard that is Facebook.

Gaily’s daughter died at eight months old. I was Aunt Belle. I saw that little lady 5 times a week…. and sometimes we make disturbing up jokes about it, because it hurts not having her in the world. It’s how we deal and we know we’re broken. Where has the compassion gone for everyone else who’s hurting, though? I’ll admit, I don’t know what to say in times of heartache and I usually end up doing something really awkward…

In fact, the last time, I’m pretty sure I waited waaaay too many days to comment and then blurted “I’m sorry you’re sad.” It wasn’t perfect. Far from it. It also wasn’t a giggle. Had that been the alternative, it would have certainly been best to say nothing. This is a really easy response in social networking. You don’t have to comment. If you don’t have anything nice to say, shut your damned hole on a public forum.

I’m not even knocking offensive humor, as a whole. I, myself, have made too many battered wives jokes to count. I’ve also survived an abusive marriage. Just the same, generally offensive jokes, like those horrifying dead baby jokes that Gail and I made as teenagers, are far less appalling. They never pinpointed one tragedy or crying family. We were also kids and didn’t quite comprehend that that shit actually happens. The comments I’m reading and hearing about celebrity deaths, the Oklahoma tornadoes, and Sandy Hook? Those aren’t being made by kids, but adults who fully understand the pain and heartache of losing a loved one; and without fail, they always end in “too soon?” Yes. It is too soon and you’re an asshat.

i plane ny
This shirt fucking exists.

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/paul-walker-died-seconds-crash-coroner-rules/story?id=21098595

http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/12/01/the-sides-of-paul-walker-you-may-have-missed/

Tears, Giggles, and an Urn

Me: “I don’t know. I never actually watch porn. I only ever watch pornographic GIFs. You never see any faces and just have a repeat of the good part. I don’t need a story or anything. I usually have one in my head already. He’s a werewolf… she’s a woodnymph. It’s just best not to mess with it.”
Gail: “What is wrong with you?”

Gail: “I didn’t think they were legally allowed to sell vibrators in CVS.”
Me: “It’s not a vibrator. It’s a ‘personal massager’, you pervert.”
Gail: laughingly “I apologize. I didn’t mean to offend.”
Me: “Oh, hey! I was right. It does say ‘personal massager’… and it’s ‘perfectly contoured for the female form.’ Thirty dollars?!? Mine was only thirty-four and it’s a lot better ‘contoured for the female form’!”
Gail: “Ahhh, Belle. You will just say anything won’t you?”
Belle: “What? No one heard me.”

Sunday, it was just after these conversations, that I was lying on the couch reading the train wreck that is the This Man triliogy, marveling at how trapping a woman with an underhanded pregnancy isn’t considered abusive, but sexy, when my Dirty Girl Novel was interrupted with the following text from my Aunt Dee:

Do you think you could do a reading at grandpa’s funeral? I was thinking you and Mickey both. Both granddaughters and both good Catholics. Gramps was so proud of you.

I responded without the use of the word “irony”, proof that I can control myself and just choose not to do so, Gail. I told Aunt Dee to just let me know what passage so I could practice. Now… how much did I not want to speak at my grandpa’s funeral as a “good Catholic girl”?

thiiis much
Thiiiiis much.

I hate ceremonies. It’s a whopping generalization, but they’re all awful… and here’s why:

Weddings: usually an expression of financial irresponsibility. A couple goes into a marriage, either in debt, or just down a couple of tens of thousands of dollars over a party that no one really wanted to go to anyway. I was bored at my first wedding and I’m sure I’ll be bored at the next one, between the dry heaves and shouts of “maccarroni!” which Gail will have forgotten is our codeword for “I’m freaking out and why the fuck am I doing this again?!?!”

Graduation ceremonies: too fucking long and made up of overly generic speeches. At my graduation for my Master in Library and Information Studies, the speaker made repeated references to how it was “only a few short years ago that we were moving into our dorms.” Psh. It was only a few short years ago that I was drinking myself to sleep to take my mind off of my wretched marriage. I can guaran-damn-tee the forty-something woman next to me didn’t relate to the statement, either. The ceremony was also held inside a kiln and I sweated for two hours just for someone to call my name. There’s not even any actual requirement that you prove your right to graduate. They will, literally, let anyone walk.

everclear
What?!? It’s practically Ambien.

Funerals: Funerals just fucking suck. Everyone’s sad and the last place they want to be is standing outside in July, wearing tummy tucker panties and heels.

bridget jones granny panties
Ahhh, comfort clothes.

Also… I make everything awkward and a funeral is just not the place for that. In fact, the entire drive to the church, I kept thinking…

Is this dress too sexy? Do I look like I’m going clubbing after the funeral? 

I was pretty certain I was wearing a Magic Dress: a dress that can look equally professional or sex kitten based on accessories. I wore my interview heels, but had I been in the knee-high black heeled leather boots, I’d have looked rave-bound and I knew it. I just wasn’t sure about the heels and dreaded the whispers of “Can you believe she wore that?” Fortunately, Bea made a similar comment about her own simple black dress and told me mine looked great the second she saw me.

This uncertainty, however, is precisely why I didn’t want to do the aforementioned reading. I got to the chapel about fifteen minutes early and a woman in a glowing green suit jacket took me to the front, showed me a binder and instructed me to put it on the table to the left when I was done. She pointed out the steps to the podium, which were danged near invisible. I already knew I was doing the second reading and had gone over it the night before to avoid the mispronunciation of anything.

Okay. Don’t trip. Don’t forget to move the binder. I can do that.

The Mass started and my cousin Mickey immediately went up for the first reading. I did not hear one word she said, however. It was at that point, after the procession and drama and melancholy had set in, that I realized… I had no idea when I was reading. I had no Mass sheet and found I couldn’t remember the typical order and wasn’t sure how funeral Masses differentiated. My Aunt Dee was seated in front of me, so I spent the first reading whispering to her about how I wasn’t sure when I was supposed to do mine. Bea sat to my side and tried not to giggle. Mickey was finally seated and I sat with bated breath, just about to rise… then the music started.

Well, I guess it’s not now.

A Catholic Mass is a formal affair. A Catholic funeral is a very formal affair. I discreetly glanced around in hopes of spotting a neon green suit jacket, but had no luck. The music stopped, I was poised to rise… and Father started speaking.

Well, I guess it’s not now.

Father: “Geff was not a complainer or a whiner.”
That’s not true. Grandpa Geff whined about everything and everyone knew it. Why can’t we just remember the man for who he was, flaws and all? How is it respectful to make shit up? ‘Belle will always be remembered as a seven foot tall space cowboy.’ Horseshit. I shouldn’t think ‘horseshit’ in a church. 

Wow. I want to get married in this chapel. This place is gorgeous. 

st. patrick's catholic church

I started thinking about how it would be funny to put little decorative stones in the wall where the angels’ toes would be, so it looked like they were wearing nail polish. I felt bad, because you’re not supposed to think about that at a funeral. Then someone tapped my shoulder and I realized Father was no longer speaking and there was a woman wearing green Christmas lights sitting directly behind me, which explained why I couldn’t find her earlier.

“Are you going to read?”
“Oh! Yeah. I just didn’t know when.”

Bea assures me that the lull did not stretch out for days and everyone thought I was gathering myself, so there was minimal awkwardness in retrospective. She claims.

Then the sad part set in, because funerals suck.

Father: “Geff was a proud veteran.”
Grandpa Geff was a veteran? Why didn’t I know that? How terrible of a person am I for not knowing that? 

Father: “As we all know, Geff knew dogs.”
Grandpa Geff was into dogs? Why didn’t I know that? How terrible of a person am I for not knowing that?
Father: “Having worked for the post office for many years…”
Oh. It was a joke. Grandpa Geff didn’t know dogs. Why didn’t I know that? How terrible of a person am I for not knowing that?

I should have visited him more. I lost five years with dad’s family, because of my mother. I hate her. I shouldn’t think that in a church, during a Catholic Mass. I’m doing this all wrong. I’m failing at a funeral and I hate my mother!

I want to suck my thumb and cry and I don’t want to be in tummy tucker panties. I can’t suck my thumb in public and emotions are gross. Why are we even doing this?!?!

Me: crying and whispering “I hated his Christmas party, every year. No one liked it and a lot of times we never even went. I feel so bad. We didn’t have Christmas with him last year. How awful that we didn’t want to spend any time with him at Christmas?”
Bea: “We had his birthday party, though. That was nice.”
Me: “Yeah.”
Bea: “Oh, my gosh. I thought for an awful moment that maybe you weren’t there.”
Me: snorting and laughing “Nana nana nana.”

Oh, gosh. We shouldn’t laugh during a funeral. We look like we’re having the best time.

Gramma was the same age as Grandpa Geff.
That brought on more tears.
Oh, I’m crying because of the thought that Gramma might die one day, rather than the fact that Grandpa Geff is dead.That is so much worse than reading Lady Porn when I was asked to read a bible verse! I am the worst person! 

Not only is a Catholic Mass a formal affair, it is one fraught with beautiful ritual, as is every Catholic Mass, and attended by many who do not know these rituals. Mass ended with Father raising his hands in prayer.

priest holding out hands

I looked over to see Bea and her brother Cade doing the same… alone. They only lowered their hands when they saw my cousin and me snickering.

Finally, the Mass ended and we made our way to the cemetery. My dad carried Grandpa Geff’s urn, a brass perfect square, in one hand like it was an empty casserole dish.

Cade: “Only Kent would carry an urn with one hand.”
Aunt Kendra: “Kent, I hope that’s sealed.”
Me: “My dad thinks it’s dumb that we have to bury it anyway, so if he drops it, it’s probably not an accident.”
Step-mom Lena: “Don’t joke about that. It’s taken very seriously in the Catholic faith and you might offend someone.”
Dad, Cade, Bea, Aunt Kendra, Me: simultaneous laughter

My step-family is not Catholic, if you haven’t guessed. My step-mom certainly meant well, but no one present would’ve been offended. In fact…

When we arrived at the burial plot, we found the unmarked hole, perfectly carved out for Grandpa Geff’s urn. We piled on his roses and the wreath that read “Grandpa” and gathered round as the sadness set in and everyone got quiet.

“Wait. We’re over there.”

That is right. We almost threw Grandpa Geff in the wrong hole. The hearty laugh we got out of it as a family is precisely why Lena needn’t worry that anyone would be offended by jokes about the redundancy of the Catholic decree that we bury ashes.

Other Shit You Probably Shouldn’t Say at a Funeral

Dad: “..and then father will bless us with the ashes.”
Me: “Okay. Wait! Bless you with the ashes!?!?!

blessing urn
What he meant.
ash wednesday
What he realized I was picturing.

– Debating cremation versus burial –
Bea: “I don’t want to be burned!”
Me: “You can’t feel it. You’re dead.”
Bea: “Hopefully!
Me: “Well, if that’s the case, then I’d rather be burned than wake up.”
Dad: “We’ll just have to make sure to leave a string tied to some bells outside of your grave, Bea. That way you can ring for help when you come to, like in the 1800’s.”

– Driving to the cemetery, my step-mom holding the urn on her lap, everyone waiting for us to bring Grandpa to his final resting place –
Cade: “Ugh. I’m starving. Can we stop for tacos or something? 7-Eleven is giving away free Icees today.”
Me: ::tearing up:: “Wait. He was alone when he died?!?! That’s horrible.”
Step-mom: “Belle, he was alone, but he wasn’t there. He hadn’t been there for days.”
Bea: “Wait, wait, wait! 7-Eleven is giving away free Icees?!?!

My dad gets out of the truck and leaves the urn while he checks to see if we’re in the right place.
Cade: “Kent… I think you forgot something! You didn’t even crack a window.”

– sitting in the back of my dad’s truck with Cade and Bea , while my dad and Lena bury Grandpa Geff –
Bea: “Is my dress see-through? I feel like it’s see-through. Could you see anything in the sunlight?”
Me: “Yeah. You’re practically naked. You’ve got a little toilet paper in your ass crack, by the way”
Bea: “I hate you. It only seems see-through right here.” ::points to space between her legs::
Cade: “I don’t know what’s worse, the heat or this conversation.”
Me: “Yeah. Geez, Bea. ‘Hey, big brother. Can you see my vag?'”
Bea: “I cannot believe you just said that!”
Me: “You’re the one who said it.”
Bea: “I am not!”
Cade: ::groaning:: “Thank you for that, Belle.”

Me: “Ugh. It is a thousand degrees in here. They’re gonna have to bury three more piles of ash if they don’t hurry the hell up.”
Cade: “It would be awesome if the window was open and they could hear you.”

My Grandma Kay has been divorced from Grandpa Geff for near fifty years, but was at the funeral.
Me: “Hey, kid. Did you wish Grandma Kay a happy birthday?”
My cousin Mitch: “What? It’s Grandma’s birthday? Seriously?”
Me: “Yes, seriously. It’s on Facebook, if you don’t believe me. Go tell her happy birthday.”
Dad’s cousin Tina: “Aw. That’s a tough day. We should take her some flowers.”
Me: “Hey, there’s some over there in the chapel.”
Mitch: laughing “We’ll just take her all of the funeral arrangements. She’ll never know.”
Me: “Yeah. Let’s take her the wreath with ‘grandpa’ on it…”
Mitch: “… we’ll just write ‘ma’ over it.”
Tina: trying not to laugh “You guys are horrible!”

I came home and I slept. It was a tough day. I’d have been content to skip it and pretend Grandpa Geff was still alive and that I just never see him. The only consolation is that Grandpa Geff was a devout daily Mass goer. He’d have been thrilled by a traditional Catholic funeral filled with people he loved sharing the occasional laugh. There’s not a whole lot more for which anyone could ask, and if one sucky day fulfills that life goal after a painful battle with cancer… well, at least it’s all over.

I’m sorry I’ve misdirected my sorry: Watching my dad watch his dad die.

I stand by my dad’s work truck while he ends his phone call before our weekly lunch.
Me: “That didn’t sound fun.”
Dad: “No, it isn’t. Dad’s dyin’ and he’s just pitiful.”
I hug him and he grips just a little tighter than normal.
Me: “Love you, daddy.”
Dad: “Love you too, baby.”
Me: “So it’s bad, huh?”
Dad: “Yeah. Like I said, he’s just pitiful, but he’s been pitiful his whole damn life so it’s just pissin’ me off even more now.”
Me: “Well, I’m sure I’ll be there with mom one day.”

When I was little, my dad had two dads. One was his step-father, my Grandpa Murphy, who died of cancer when I was five. The other, we saw so little that I once introduced him to my cousin (also his granddaughter) when I was six. I can list what I know about my Grandpa Geff in bullets…

  • He went to Mass every single day of his life.
  • The few times we saw him, he made us go to Mass, but always bought us breakfast.
  • For someone so devoted to God, he completely dropped the ball on his earthly obligations, such as children.
  • He’s been a far more influential presence in my dad’s half-sister, Sarah’s, life than my dad’s or his sisters’. She’s a self-indulgent fuck-up, though, so maybe that’s a good thing.
  • For Christmas, my dad’s and his sisters’ kids got tube socks or a stuffed animal. Sarah’s son got remote control cars.

My Grandma Kay once told me that Grandpa Geff would regularly promise to take my dad out after the divorce; my dad would sit on the steps waiting for him all evening and he’d never show. After she married my Grandpa Murphy, he stopped offering to help at all and my dad quickly came to think of Grandpa Murphy as his father. Grandma Kay once explained the divorce to me, how Grandpa Geff wouldn’t let her use birth control, but wouldn’t help with the kids and wanted her to take care of him as if he were a child as well. She declared….

“I told mamma and daddy, ‘I’ve been a good girl my whole life and I’ve always done exactly what you wanted, but I will not stay married to that man. I hate him.'”

For the last few years, my dad and I have been celebrating semi-weekly Daddy Lunches. They’re one of the best parts of my generally packed schedule.

lunch with dad
I’m almost certain it’s more of a texting issue than a spelling issue.

For the last several weeks, though, he’s talked to me a lot about his and his sisters’ frustrations with Grandpa Geff’s cancer.

Me: “I’m kind of surprised you’re all doing so much. I mean, I know you don’t have the best relationship.”
Dad: “Well, you know, what can you do? You can’t just leave him to die.”

Me: “I feel bad, because I don’t really feel that bad, you know? I’m sorry.”
Dad: “Don’t apologize, baby. He was never around when you were growin’ up. You hardly know the man.”

Dad: “He keeps callin’ me over in the middle of the night swearin’ he’s gonna die. He’s just eatin’ up the attention.”

Dad: “He keeps tellin’ me he’s ready to go, that this is it. It’s never it. It’s not it until his body says it is.”

Dad: “Sarah keeps tellin’ the nurses not to give him pain medicine and tryin’ to bring her stupid ass preacher in to ‘pray for him.’ Fuckin’ crazy ass bitch. I’m gonna lose it on her. Dad was a devout Catholic his whole life. He is not gonna want some fuckin’ preacher prayin’ over him.”

Dad: “He won’t use the damn oxygen. He just sits there and wheezes, complainin’ about how he can’t breathe, but then he won’t use the oxygen.”

Dad: “I wouldn’t let my dog live like this. If she couldn’t walk, I’d put her down.”

I don’t want Grandpa Geff to die, but I feel worse for my dad than I do for him. Grandpa Geff’s a religious man who never pursued much in his life. He’s comfortable with death and as long as he’s medicated, his remaining days will be good. I feel so much for my dad right now, though. This is the end. He’s having to face the fact that Grandpa Geff will never come through for him…. while helping him bathe. Grandpa Geff milks the attention and drama, by refusing oxygen and calling every few hours to cry wolf that this is really the end. My dad rushes over, because it may be and then finds it’s just his usual drama. He’s relieved and regretful, feeling guilty about the latter. He doesn’t want to abandon the man, but at the same time, resents him for his own abandonment. On his death bed, he sees him coddle my dad’s forty-something half-sister like he never cared for him or his sisters, even when they were children. He’s hurt and stressed out and resentful, but still battling to carry out his dad’s wishes of using what’s left of his money to pay Sarah’s mortgage. He even fights her off when she demands to bring in her Evangelist preacher and take a sick man off his medicine. They’ve had multiple arguments about the house Grandpa Geff lives in, because ownership goes to Grandma Kay when he dies. She wants her kids to sell it and split the money, because their dad never did anything for them and Sarah is pissed. My dad’s still angry on my Grandpa Geff’s behalf, because Sarah’s taking advantage of him and has been doing so for half of her life. My daddy’s a lot of things… vulgar, loud, funny, offensive, loving, generous on his terms, but he’s not sensitive and watching him hurt… well, that fucking hurts. When he hugs me tighter than usual, says “I love you, baby” and clearly eats up being around his young and lively 25-year-old daughter, if only to discuss his pitiful and selfish dying father… I want to tear up. It’s like watching Chuck Norris weep.

chuck norris
Yeah… that picture doesn’t exist. Point made.

Maybe I feel so much for him, because I will be there with my mom one day. Right now, she’s got a good 30 years to stop being who she is and apologize for what she’s torn away from me. Well, she eats a lot of mayonnaise, so maybe 20 years. When that day comes, though, and I never got another glimpse of the woman who used to put candles in my birthday pancakes? When I know it can never get better? That’s gonna hurt. When she somehow manages to dramatize death… that’s gonna piss me off. I’ll feel relieved that she’s never again going to play head games with me… and I’ll feel like shit because of it. So, I can imagine how my dad feels right now.

Then again, maybe watching my dad watch his dad die just strikes a cord with me, because I couldn’t bear to lose my daddy. Maybe that’s intensified by watching him be so good to a man who did him so wrong, despite his defensive harsh words in regards to the situation. I mean, if there’s a single person on this PLANET who can see past the offensive jokes to the goodness and the pain, it’s the girl to whom he passed the gene, amiright?

I know for certain, though, that watching a man’s family have such conflicted feelings on his death… well, that makes me want to live a good life where I care for people and keep up my end of the bargain so no one’s ever not sure if they’re sad that I’m dying.