A Hundred Days of Mourning

(All quotes in this post are the words, written or spoken, of Thomas Lynch, author of Bodies in Motion and At Rest and Funeral Director in Milford, Michigan.)

"grief is the tax we pay on loving
people. It’s like
constantly being in the Book of Job."

When Dan was in middle school, as often as not, he failed to turn in his homework. Most of the time it was done and done well; he just didn’t turn it in. I’d find it later, too late for credit, wadded up in a pants pocket, shoved into a motley mass of papers in his backpack or under the bed and when I’d ask him what on earth was up with that he would look at me with a blank expression and say, "huh?"
I finally concluded that middle school, with all it’s angst and charm, was just far too distracting to keep track of anything as mundane as homework. He has long since redeemed himself in the world of academia but I was thinking of that blank stare and "huh?" when I wandered over here today. I read my last post. I looked at the three (3! Count ’em!) perfectly good posts all written and archived for publication last week. What’s up with that? I mean, I already wrote them! They have pictures! Really nice ones, too. Never posted.

I have a hunch. This may be getting old for you because I’ve been on this topic for a while now but my mother died. And yes, life does go on. But usually it goes on after the funeral. Or Shiva. Or a wake. After the casseroles and flowers.

"A funeral is the way we get through a death in the family. It has
not changed fundamentally since the species began doing it 40,000 years ago. The
fashions have changed, but the fundamental obligation of a funeral is to bear
witness to a death in the family and to initiate remembrance — that’s pretty
much the same. In some cultures they do that with fire, and other places with
graves. Some places use caskets. Some places use old doors. Some people leave
their dead on the tops of mountains to be eaten by scavenger birds. Some people
put them in vaults in veterans’ cemeteries. Those are fashions. But the fundamental
obligation of a funeral is to provide an opportunity for the living to confront
their dead and to dispose of them in a way that’s other than the way we dispose
of a rock or a rhododendron — that’s not changed. They have value in that respect."

We spent a week watching her while she died and then on March 11, we all just left the ICU at Marquette General Hospital and wandered home. I wandered around here, tending to life and then I wandered back up there to tend to Bud but it was about getting on with the day-to-day aspects of life. Cataract surgery. Medical bills. Filing taxes (or not, in the case of Bud and Jan). I flew to Florida to make sure Abby got her knee taken care of. I flew to Las Vegas and back with friend, Gene. I did a rather amazing number of other things that you don’t even know about yet because I failed to turn in my completed homework…But I didn’t yet say goodbye to my mother.

"Think of the people who must be
there to get a funeral going: You have to have someone who agrees to quit breathing
— forever, and then you have to have someone to whom that death matters, and
then you have to have someone who tries to make some sense of it. This doesn’t
seem to change. We have the dead guy, and we have the people to whom the death
matters, and someone — shaman, rabbi, priest, a holy one, a witch, whatever it
happens to be — comes in and says, "This is what happened, and this is why." "

We didn’t get it going, in large part, because of the damned snow. 8 feet of it, on the ground and another 31 inches the night after she died. No one could get there. The prop planes don’t fly in that much snow. Blame her idol, Mother Nature. We decided to wait for better weather, which in no small part, is taking liberties with death.

I want a mess made in the snow so that the earth looks wounded, forced open, an
unwilling participant. Forego the tent. Stand openly to the weather. Get the larger
equipment out of sight. It’s a distraction. But have the sexton, all dirt and
indifference, remain at hand. He and the hearse driver can talk of poker, or trade
jokes in whispers and straight face while the clergy tender final commendations.
Those who lean on shovels and fill holes, like those who lean on custom and old
prayers, are, each of them, expert in the one field.And you should see it till the very end. Avoid the temptation of tidy leave-taking
in a room, a cemetery chapel, the foot of an altar. None of that. Don’t dodge
it because of the weather. We’ve fished and watched football in worse conditions.
It won’t take long. Go to the hole in the ground. Stand over it. Look into it.
Wonder. And be cold. But stay until it’s over. Until it is done."

Well, we just couldn’t. Now, however, we’ve collected ourselves and the black flies are waning and we’ve bought up an entire prop plane worth of seats and we’re going to have a final goodbye. I doubt it will be a tidy leave taking; our family is far too goofy and opinionated for that. Betsy was taking requests for music and as I understand it we’re going from the ridiculous to the sublime (Tristan and Isolde to Tom Waits). First we’ll all gather for Friday Fish Fry and Bud may well get into fisticuffs with the owner of the restaurant: they butt heads over environmental matters in the past. Then we’ll convene around the table at the Lithium Manor Inn and play Texas Hold ‘Em until Dan drags in during the wee hours. He’s leaving his tour in Minneapolis and coming by rental car because he doesn’t trust the airlines with his 1930 Beuscher baritone sax. Who can blame him?

On Saturday, we’ll charter a boat and scatter her ashes on Lake Superior and dine at her favorite restaurant in Copper Harbor. On Sunday there will be a service at Michigan Technological University in Houghton; hopefully someone besides us will show up. It is, after all, 3 months to the day later and while we have been stuck in the Book of Job the rest of the world has moved on. I just ordered more flowers than my credit card can hold; my mother loved her garden and her flowers and I have no idea if there will be many others beyond what we sisters come up with. Bud will say some things about my mother that he has been hashing over- think of the eulogy you can write during three months of adjusting to life without your love! Maybe some others with speak. Not me. You may have noticed that I’m atypically lost for words. There will be lots and lots of food; it comes with renting the MTU space and besides, who knows how many mouths to feed?

"Feed the hungry. It’s good for them. Feed them well. This business works up an
appetite, like going to the seaside, walking the coast road. After that, be sober."

I was thinking the other day that the thing I’ve been missing the most, other than my mother, is my sense of humor. I’m not laughing much and I’m not funny, either. I’ve been sober. But somehow, I suspect that, surrounded by this wacky family of mine, with a celebratory nod to my mother’s friend, Jack, and with so many wonderful  memories, I’m about to rediscover that lost sense.

In the meantime, I leave you with this, found in the woods behind Wit’s End.Fawn_1

18 responses to “A Hundred Days of Mourning

  1. Know that all your blog friends will be with you in spirit this weekend. Oh, you haven’t lost your sense of humor… it just needed a little time of rest.

    What a beautiful symbol of new life, a small fawn.

  2. Vicki, I’m so glad you quoted Thomas Lynch. I think I remember that you mentioned him months and months ago, and I meant to look for his book and forgot, of course. I’m going to go order it now.

    As for you, my friend, we’ve missed you and maybe some of us have even worried about you a little bit. I think, I hope, that the weekend will be very healing.


  3. What a beautiful fawn, and I am a big believer in closure. It does help. But only time heals.

  4. Vicki, I will be with you in spirit this weekend, as you say goodbye to Jan and scatter her ashes on the lake (my wish is for that also, but in the ocean). I have no doubt she will be there with you in spirit also, and at her favorite restaurant. She will applaud your flowers and be buoyed by your love and the words that are spoken. I hope Dan will play just for her, some piece which always made her heart soar, and will again.

    We have missed you, my friend.

  5. A dear friend told me once that plants have a time for root growth, and a time for leaf growth, and that even though a plant appears to have gone dormant, often it’s growing in a way that we cannot see, and this is the same with people. So it must be with your sense of humor. I suspect, however, having read your posts about your family’s behavior at the hospital, that you will find your sense of humor, make jokes, then cry, then make more jokes, then cry, then joke again. But know that you don’t have to be funny for us. We like you best when you’re being you, and will be here when you get back. *hugs*

  6. I’m very glad the mother deer didn’t go all Charles Bronson on you. Oh wait, wrong state: http://tinyurl.com/edsng

  7. Hi Vicki.

    I’ll be thinking about you and your family.

  8. Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought. (Percy B. Shelley)

    I’m so glad to hear from you and I will be thinking of you and your family. And the picture of the fawn is a lovely symbol of hope.

  9. After my father died, my mom couldn’t watch movies. They’d always make her sad. But then after a few months she got hooked on comedies. I still remember being on the phone with her and her laughing hysterically at Jim Carey’s Dumb and Dumber. At that point, I knew things would be okay again someday.

    You laugh this weekend, Vicki. Laugh hard.

    And cry whenever it comes.

    It might take a very long time to say good-bye. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen this weekend.

  10. {{{HUGS}}}

    Your sentiments, and those you encourage from your readers, are profoundly moving and soothing.

    Is there ever a moment when you Wolverines aren’t fiercely competitive? You are obviously trying for the Perfect Post award with this one. And, you have this Spartan’s vote!

  11. Time.
    It just takes time.
    Take care and our wishes go with you.

  12. Thanks for that picture. I had to forward it on to my wife as she’s a big fan of Michigan whitetails.

    You should consider saying some words for your mother’s memorial. Even if you just write something, then read it. Certainly what you’ve written here is beautiful. I’ve done four eulogies myself; brought my little type-written sheet up to the pulpit and just read what I wrote. As long as it’s written from the heart, people will cherish what you have to say.

  13. My spirit will be right there with y’all. Love ya girl. ^j^

  14. Ah, dear Vicki, such things give us closure, except that when it comes to those we love deeply, something always remains just a little bit ‘open,’ and as time passes, we can look through that little ‘open’ spot and see only the good things, the best things. Those little irritating things? Funny how unimportant those become, isn’t it.

    Know that the love of many friends goes with you.

  15. Dear Vicki, I echo what all the others have said. Letting go of a loved one is never easy, whether they go suddenly or you watch them slowly die. This quote spoke to me recently as I thought of the losses in my life.

    “I have survived so much loss, as all of us have by our forties–my parents, dear friends, my pets. Rubble is the ground on which our deepest friendships are built. If you haven’t already, you will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and you never completely get over the loss of a deeply beloved person. But this is also good news. The person lives forever, in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through, and you learn to dance with the banged-up heart. You dance to the absurdities of life; you dance to the minuet of old friendships.”

    Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

  16. Vicki,
    This was so beautiful and touching. Hold onto the good memories and may God be with you always.

  17. Vicki, I am so sorry for your loss, and wish you and your family all of the best. My mom died on May 27, and we are struggling as a family, and personally, with the loss. Blessings to all of you, and peace.

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