Two Thousand Sixty-Seven
April 08, 2011
On Tuesday, last week, I took Ezra for a check-up at a new pediatrician.
"Okay, family history," the doctor said cheerfully, turning to her computer. "Heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer? Are all the grandparents still living?"
"My dad," I said. "Is not. He died yesterday."
"I'm so sorry," she said.
"It's okay," I said.
On Wednesday, last week, I took a train back up to Pennsylvania.
As I rose to get off, my bag knocked over my seatmate's coffee cup.
"Oh!" she gasped.
"Oh shit!" I muttered. "I'm so sorry."
"It's okay," she said.
A very nice man asked me if I needed help with my suitcase as we boarded the elevator out on the track. I told him no thanks, my toddler weighed more than this, and HE didn't come with wheels and a handle, so I was good. He laughed.
Then he sighed. "And NOW I have to go to work."
And now I have to go help plan a funeral, I thought, but did not say.
Instead, I smiled. "That sucks. I'm so sorry."
A couple hours later I was ordering a cake. The baker asked if I wanted anything written on it, or a specific decoration or theme.
"It's...for a funeral," I stammered. "So...probably just plain. Right?"
He nodded. "Simple and elegant. I'm so sorry."
People kept stopping by my mom's house to visit -- some of them out of the blue, having come across his obituary in the paper that morning, despite not having any contact with my parents for years and years. I found some of them nice, some of them insufferable, but almost all of them exhausting. I sat on the couch and nodded nicely as they retold their own decade-old stories about loved ones who died, who died after an illness, or suddenly, or at the hospital or at home or in hospice. My favorite was the one who was convinced her dead mother and grandmother were communicating with her via an off-season-blooming of her Christmas cactus.
I was tired and cranky and terribly sick with a cold and trying to hide the alarming number of false-labor contractions I'd been getting since my arrival from my already stressed-out-enough mom. I'd lost two pounds since my last OB visit and couldn't seem to eat anything without experiencing stomach pains afterwards, so I was generally quarantined to the couch, unable to do much without immediately regretting it.
So I wasn't in the mood for small talk with strangers, especially small talk about strangers dying, which I couldn't even believe was actually possible, but there it was. Thanks for sharing? I'm sorry I don't remember that time you babysat me when I was five? I'm sorry for your loss? I'm sorry but it's our turn now, so shut up?
My mom kept asking me to pull up my blog on my phone, so she could see the comment count climb. 1,832. 1,910. 2,014. Two thousand and sixty seven in all. We read every single one. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.
I told her there were hundreds more on Facebook, Twitter and email, too.
"It's so wonderful," she marveled. "What do you even say to them?
"I don't know," I said.
The funeral was on Friday. He was buried with military honors for serving at Fort Knox as a sergeant during the Korean war. It was cold and raining and had even snowed for awhile. "April Fools!" barked the TV weathermen that morning. I wore a dark purple dress, a black puffy maternity parka and cream-colored rubber wellies. My sister and I sat on either side of my mom, who sobbed and sobbed, while my other siblings spread out around us, our faces all frozen in tense, non-crying states, our eyes all communicating the singular thought of OH MY GOD THIS SUCKS.
I stared at the casket and felt dull and numb. And cold. So very, very cold. I decided I just wanted to get through the day without anyone touching me. Or rubbing my belly. Oh, hell, that. And that I would ask my mother-in-law for some pantyhose before we went to the reception.
"I want to be cremated," I told Jason back in the car.
"Really?" he asked.
"Yes. Then go on a really nice trip and dump me there, and like, be done with it."
Jason adjusted his grip on the wheel and looked pained. "I don't know."
"Okay, well, how about if I go first, you do whatever makes you feel better? If having a grave to visit helps, do that. Otherwise..." I waved my hand dismissively out the window.
"I really hate this GPS," he said, poking his finger at the map, which informed us we were on private roads with no data.
The reception was lovely. Family friends hosted it at their sprawling old farmhouse, and there was a train table upstairs for the boys to play with and a piano downstairs for them to bang on. And then there was the cake. The simple, elegant cake with plain white icing and no writing.
After each and every bite, Ezra scrunched up his fists and his face and yelled "YUMMMMMEEEEEE." And he greeted everyone he met with hugs and kisses. Noah was shyer, but was on his most perfect behavior, except when he told Ezra there was a bear in the basement and accidentally made him cry. I hadn't seen them since Tuesday, and I couldn't get enough of them.
All the televisions in the house were tuned to the Phillies' season opener. Ezra wore a little red Phillies t-shirt I'd bought at Old Navy ages before. The Phils came from behind to win in the ninth inning, and everybody cheered. My dad's home (and eventually, hospice) nurse was there, and his general physician and his entire office staff came, after seeing their last patient for the day.
"I so sorry," people said to me, over and over. But then they also told me how beautiful my children were, and how funny, and how wonderful I looked, and how exciting a new baby would be, and how they promised to help cheer up my mom the next week, and the week after that, once I went home and was grounded from travel.
"Thank you, " I learned to say, simply, finally. And I meant it. I mean it. Thank you.