We all operate at different speeds. Something happens, an unexpected death and the ways society operates with such precision, dictating procedure and timing. Some of these are for good reason, necessary steps such as removing physical remains to more appropriate locations.
I’ve never before been a witness of someone who has passed into the next plain of existence, whatever that is, and watch as the body they left behind us escorted away. Until this past Monday.
She did not look like the woman I knew so it did not seem real. I was sitting just out of view when they moved her onto the stretcher and zipped closed the shiny bag with it’s geometric pattern of cream and burgundy. I watched as her grandsons helped wheel her out of the house. “Just a body now,” I tell myself. But in my head it doesn’t seem real.
My empathy is overwhelming and I can’t help but weep with those broken down. Grief overflowing all the cups in the room. I’m crying too, for them. In those delicate moments I’m not crying for myself. I’m not there yet. My timing is different.
Cultural process dictate that arrangements be made. Conversations are required. Being on the periphery, my input is not needed. Maybe just for the correct spelling of names to be printed. A few names among a very healthy lineage, biologic and otherwise.
A day later we’re sitting in the party room of a restaurant. One of my first visits inside an establishment to sit around a table and have a meal since the onset of the pandemic. No one at that table was prepared for the conversation. No one had done any planning for the processes society forces us to conduct, decisions to be made.
No religious services, cremation, thoughts of a burial plot shared with parents near Walnut Iowa. Splitting ashes so my dad can have a part of her remains close to him. The writing of her obit for the paper and the handout at the service. The decision to position the gathering as a celebration of life. Details forthcoming.
I listen and have little to contribute. Talk around the table is contained. No one is in tears so I’m ok too, just listening as I try to eat a meal. Unmasked and wondering if I’ll be quarantined when I get home.
After that we part ways. The core crew headed to the funeral home to finalize arrangements. I get in my car and drive home alone with my thoughts.
I feel sort of lost in not knowing what to expect next or when “things” will happen.
I tell myself that I just need to keep being there for my dad, who just a few short months ago celebrated his 30 year anniversary with the woman he chose to spend his life with.
Later he calls me. Tells me “service” will be Saturday followed by a family gathering of Pizza King Pizza which is a long time family favorite for us and lots of other families living in the Council Bluffs area.
Then he asks if I’ll say a few words on Saturday and, once again, I’m caught unprepared. I say maybe. I’ll think about it. So dumb. Why didn’t I just say yes?!
Of course I will do whatever people need. I realized we are bound by what we collectively need, which is to grieve. But I’m just not there yet. I’m not sure what my speed is but it’s slower than what’s required by society. Saturday feels reassuring. I’ll have plenty of time to prepare.
Last night, after having been awake since about 3:30AM and unable to sleep during the day I declared in a deliriously exhausted state that I was going to bed at 9. I hit my body with magnesium, CBD, Tylenol, and melatonin. I really needed a full nights sleep, which I received.
After Eight full hours I woke groggy at the 6:30 alarm. I woke with a headache and despite the hours, feel unrested. I groaned into the kitchen to make breakfast, feed the fish and cats (inside and outside too).
I stand over a hot griddle, stirring pancake mix and start to cry. For myself this time. Finally.
I’m thinking of a text my friend Kel sent me in the wee hours of the morning (3:24am), sending hugs. I’m thinking of how we are all together alone until death takes us away from this life. I’m thinking about how this is the first of six parental figures I’ll grieve. I’m thinking about my relationships with all of them. All Six.
How greedy life has made me. Who gets to have three sets of parents? Four if you count Jim’s parents, whom I’ve only known a short time.
I recognize I’m processing my own grief on my own timeline and in my own way. I’m sure writing and presenting at my step-moms service will be therapeutic for me (as is writing these words). I’ve already begun to compose what I’m going to say.
There’s plenty of time left ‘till Saturday.