Family Ties.

My whirlwind trip to Michigan for my mother’s funeral was surreal in many regards. I must have gone at least 48 hours without sleep, but much of that I blame on the airplane. Ask the poor passengers next to me – I’m a goddamned Mexican jumping bean when there’s even a hint of a mild spot of turbulence. Loss of control, you know. I spent most of the flight ruminating upon my own doom, leapfrogging scenarios of plunging to my death as everyone else sat calmly and read and slept. Should have hit the diazepam.

It was a time to be strong – not as much for myself, but for my grandmother. This is a woman who wracked herself with guilt for my mother’s illness, who has gone out of her way to be there in every manner not just for me, but for everyone whom she calls friend or family. She was my solace during the most difficult times of my childhood, and my support as I grew into an adult. She still helps me grow. And though no parent should have to bury their child, sometimes the cycle of life takes some wicked turns, and the result can include great pain and sadness for those that are left behind. She’ll go on, as we all will. She’s seen death many times before, this old woman, and through it all, no tears were shed through her grief. But the loss of her daughter was the toughest of all, and this time, she cried.

During my brief time back home, I was re-introduced to many family members to whom I had almost forgotten I was related. Some of them were strange and coarse, and many nearly enveloped memories of childhood experience fluttered back to cognition from time to time. I was quiet through most of it, drinking in stories and recollections, doing my best to graciously accept mostly heartfelt condolences. I’ve always got every sense open to input, wide-eyed and sponge-like. New environments confound my output, so much do I soak up outside information and stimulus. My quiescence was not founded in mourning so much as the queerness of envisioning myself watching things from above. I kept seeing myself from the distant memories of my childhood, so strange the gap between then and now reduced to nothing at all.

We ate many times throughout the day. A private breakfast with my grandmother; I made toast and eggs and enjoyed a few quiet moments at sunrise between just her and me. It felt good to be there, and to mock taking care of a person who takes care of everyone. A quick bite with my uncle, ironically at the last place my mother and I dined together. We didn’t eat during the service, of course. But I bet my family was thinking about it. And then after the burial, there was literally six feet of chicken to be had. We were honestly giving away garbage bags full as people left.

The strangest part of the experience was being in the cemetery on a blustery Michigan winter’s day, all of us swathed in bundles, myself scarved and gloved and fedoraed, gathered around that gaping hole in the earth, just down the way from other former family members no longer fleshed enough to feel the cold. The skeletal trees provided a feeble shield against the chill wind: dead people amidst dead foliage in a dead city. My grandmother sat in front of the casket, between myself and my brother, her large, bony knuckles held tightly within our gloved hands. We watched the gorgeous mahogany being lowered into the ground and I gave every ounce of my silent love to Grandma as I tried not to watch her cry and shake, instead focusing on the relentless descent. That’s my mother in there. I can see her if I squint hard enough. No use. It’s just a box, just a shell. There’s nothing now but atoms. We stood in line and each of us heaved a shovelful of grave dirt onto the casket. The tomb lid was lowered, and that was that. Closure, somewhat. Never closure enough.

Who was my mother? She was a young bride, perhaps too young to have kids, certainly too young to impart her meager life experience upon my brother and me. She was given so much of what she needed on the outside, but she never found what she needed within. My mother was proud of us in some ways, jealous in others, and she didn’t hesitate to make either known. My mother was beautiful. But she was hyper-concerned what others thought of her, vain to the last minute of her life. This was born from an insecurity that she was never able to defeat. She was sure of her emotions, and sure of how to express them, whether they be up or down. Mom gave us the basic tools that we needed to live life and be good people, but that wasn’t enough. The rest is us, and that search still goes on, now without her.

I’m not devastated by her loss. We haven’t been close for years, and I don’t believe she ever considered that my lifestyle was legitimate in her eyes. She never had experiences like I did; she wasn’t an academic, didn’t have incapacitating passion for artistic pursuits, never had friends she was willing for die for. I think she regarded my existence as a marginal part of her own. When I left her and Detroit at the age of twelve, she always told me that I’d be back. I don’t know if she still expected this, but the last card I received from her this Halloween had a gentle, humble plea: “Any chance of visiting before Christmas?” Yes, in fact. A good chance. Not what either of us expected, though.

I’m lucky enough to have many mothers, so I still feel very full. I have my step-mother, Valerie, who is a real blessing in my life. I have my Grandma, even as she gets older, older. Christine’s mother has always been there for me, even beyond my vacillating relationship with her daughter. My friends are paramount and absolute. Even in loss, I have gained so much. Thank you kindly for your e-mails, calls, and votes of support and warm thoughts. There’s no need to offer further condolences in this post; reading here is more than enough, and even that part is more than I would ask. This reflection is really just for me, and maybe, somehow, also for her.

20 Responses to “Family Ties.”

  1. psymbiotic Says:
    December 8th, 2005 at 9:49 am

    You have my deepest condolences my friend. I'm truly sorry to hear about your loss.

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 10th, 2005 at 12:37 am

    Thanks, Egan.

  3. scothen_krau Says:
    December 8th, 2005 at 9:53 am

    Thoughts and condolences.

  4. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 10th, 2005 at 12:41 am

    I appreciate that.

  5. podle Says:
    December 8th, 2005 at 10:10 am

    My family does the same thing, foodwise. All can be solved by a hot meal. Every family funeral, memorial and/or wake I've been to has left us hip deep in chow. My sister and I affectionately call it the death casserole (which has led to many bad Star Wars jokes in the past) – because no matter what, someone will bring it. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, the giant steaming dish of noodles and ? – usually containing cream of mushroom soup, sometimes topped with canned fried noodles or mashed up ritz crackers.
    I've been thinking a lot about mortality lately – and about the aging of my own folks. And while it scares the poop out of me – I find also that I become more aware of who the people are in my life I truly value are. So while I am getting a preview of my future role (via my mom's knee replacement surgery and spending lots of time getting her in and out of clothes, fetching and feeding, etc.) I am also comforted by a vision of each of us, friends and family, reaching out to each other and providing comfort and support. Strengthening the ties and coming out stronger and more whole.

  6. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 10th, 2005 at 1:03 am

    Oh my gosh – I've seen those casseroles do some pretty terrible things to small children and dogs when the relatives aren't looking.
    Watching your tides during your own mother's recent health issues has been sobering and also heartening. You've got a gentle, genuine nature for caring and providing. Next to your seasonal depression, it's the other big thing I love about you.

  7. thistlelurid Says:
    December 8th, 2005 at 10:28 am

    breathing and being and thinking about you, hoping youre doing the same!
    (whoa, Im writing a song here! quick, grab a guitar!)

  8. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 10th, 2005 at 12:53 am

    Actually, I stopped breathing years ago. Lately it's mostly about gasping – from shock, horror, joy, delight…

  9. scotis_man Says:
    December 8th, 2005 at 11:05 am

    *Hugs from all of us*

  10. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 10th, 2005 at 12:47 am

    Thanks. Right back at you.

  11. defenestr8r Says:
    December 8th, 2005 at 11:38 am

    this was somehow peaceful. i feel peace for having read it.

  12. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 10th, 2005 at 12:49 am

    That's saying something powerful. You just made me realize that it's hiding right in there.

  13. rachel_eurydice Says:
    December 8th, 2005 at 11:47 am

    Even though you say there's no need for condolences, I can't help but respond.
    I can't believe how well you're handling this–you're really an amazing man and you impress me endlessly. Reading this, I really just wanted to give you a big hug. Whoever your mother was, YOU sound like a wonderful son (and grandson).
    You're right–there's never enough closure for our parents' deaths and the effects on us of who they were in life. All we can do is love our families the best we can and keep moving forward to make our own lives the best possible. It sounds trite, but it's the truest thing I've found regarding family.
    I have to say this, though it may be really crass–the amount of chicken surrounding funerals is obscene. Add in the casseroles and you could feed a small country for a week or two at least.
    *hugs and love*

  14. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 10th, 2005 at 1:17 am

    Wow, Rachel. Thank you for these very heartfelt and kind words. I appreciate them greatly, and also your own resilience to unfortunate situations of this sort. Grief can eclipse the best of us, but as you've pointed out, there has to be forward movement to live a beautiful life. It's the one constant ideal for which I proudly continue to wave the banner, even into my adult life. And I'm surely a lot less agendized than I used to be.
    But that's it. Live Beautifully. Like we do.

  15. sibelian Says:
    December 8th, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    Dearest man, your honesty, clarity and humanity are always breathtaking to see, hear or read.
    Best wishes and sorrow for your loss and thank you for your tribute above, it takes me to the strange place I went to when my grandmother died, *her* life had been so full and complete I couldn't somehow be entirely sad.
    I wish I had your brain, or you had my life. Then you/me could have told me/you what was really being felt.

  16. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 10th, 2005 at 1:27 am

    I can't imagine a greater compliment, Sandy. Thank you so much, and thanks also for reading.
    I trust that if you had my brain, you'd feel short-changed. And if I had your life, I'd want a smoke.

  17. peasweet13 Says:
    December 11th, 2005 at 9:52 pm

    Much love to you, sweet man. Wolf and I are always thinking about you.

  18. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 12th, 2005 at 12:38 am

    Good to see you here, dear! Thanks very much for your love and support – now and always.

  19. dougygyro Says:
    December 12th, 2005 at 10:25 am

    I similarly cannot help but comment in spite of your indication not too.
    I've not been online much in a few days, so I missed the post until now. I'm sorry that I didn't contact you earlier to check in. I'm know that you are loved, so I am confident that you have enough support from the others in your life. However, I want you to know, brother, that you also have my love and support.
    I'll call later today.

  20. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 12th, 2005 at 10:36 am

    Good to hear from you, D. I know you've been a busy Dickens, so no worries there. Thanks very much for your offer of friendship.

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