Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"With each new day that passes, I'm in need of thicker glasses..."

Hello my dears, I'm back.

You know, it's funny, no matter how much you know a dreaded event is coming, no matter now much you think you're prepared, that you've cried yourself out dry... when it comes, it is still a shock, and it still hurts an unbelievable amount, and you will say and do things as you blunder about in your grief, trying to force your brain to keep functioning, that will make you blush with embarrassment later.

I wasn't alone when I got the call, for which I am grateful. My mother had called much earlier in the day to let me know that Dad wasn't doing well, and she thought it might be that day, and I remember sitting in a stupor for some time before getting up and trying to do something to distract myself, like... washing dishes, cleaning the living room, and so on. Then I got another call telling me I'd better call THO and speed toward Houston, because Dad was failing. So, I called him and started ticking off things in my head that needed to be done. Arrange to have someone pick up the kids and keep them overnight (I wasn't exactly thinking straight), how long would it take us to get to Houston, etc... and I called our friend, E, who said quite sensibly, "Would you like me to come over and help you get some things together for the kids, in case you have to stay for a few days?"

I almost said no. I am absolutely terrible at accepting help, I really am. I always say, "No, no, I've got it, but thank you for offering, I really appreciate it," and I do! I do appreciate it, but I never take it, and I have no idea why! I was already running over a list of people in my head to call, and I really really wanted to call my best friend, but... I didn't want to disturb her at work (yes, that is absolutely stupid, and I know it, but there it is). But, I was very aware of her presence, and of THO's, standing next to me and both of them poking me and saying, "Say YES, you dunce!"

So I did.

And I am very, very, very glad I did, let me just say that now!

It took E some time to get here, and thus I had a chance to grab a shower, and feed the cats before the phone rang again, and it was my mom, and she was crying, and she said, "Your daddy is trying so hard to hang on long enough for you to get here, Jo, he really is, but I don't think he can do it. He keeps saying it, 'I won't leave until Jo gets here, I'll wait for Jo,' but it's so hard for him, it's so hard..."

So I said the only thing I could. "Mom, you tell him to stop. Tell him that I said to let go. Tell him that Jo said it's okay for him to let go, that I understand. Tell him I love him, and it's okay."

And I hung up, and sat down, and bawled.

By the time E got here, I was up and frantically busy. You see, as long as I was busy, I didn't have to think about it. THO was already racing home, but it takes 45 minutes to an hour to get home from where he works at the best of times. E held me and let me drip tears all over her, and fill her in on what was going on, and then, just when I'd gotten my composure back... the phone rang.

And I knew. I just knew. And I said, "Oh, I don't want to answer that, but I have to."

E said gently, "Do you want me to answer it for you?"

I said, "No. I already know what it is. I'll answer it."

And it was my oldest sister, very calm, very peaceful. She didn't even say hello. Just, "He's gone."

I don't really remember a lot after that, beyond howling with grief. I do know E tucked me in bed and started making phone calls for me, calling THO, and Char, and the school, but not a lot beyond that.

As it was, we didn't leave for Houston until Friday, because after I'd recovered a bit, and the kids had come home from school, we noticed Miss Priss was flushed, headachy, and sore-throaty, so I got her in to see the doctor pronto and hello Strep!

Didn't that just make our day?

So, the weekend has basically been full of spending time with my mother and sisters, making phone calls, looking through old photo albums and telling funny stories, having the oddest things happen, and all that goes with it. THO, the kids, and I stayed with my mom, looking after her without her noticing. Instead of urging her to eat, we'd simply prepare food and let her follow her nose into the kitchen, offering her a plate when she came in licking her lips. Instead of urging her to sleep, I'd just chatter on about nothing at all until her eyes drooped, and then let her lean on me as I walked her to bed and tucked her in. No, "Please, Mother, eat something," or "Mom, go to bed, you're about to drop in your tracks." Because she'd dig her heels in and refuse. I just... let her figure it out for herself. She got three full nights sleep... without medication... because we didn't make her nervous and worried before her own fatigue knocked her out.

One of the WEIRDEST things to happen, though, nearly sent my mother into hysterics. She and my dad haven't gone to church in yonks. Not since... well, geez, I must have been about seventeen or eighteen. The minister at their church had left and the guy who replaced him made Dad nauseous with his beliefs. And I admit, the guy creeped me out, big time. My parents could have gone back to the downtown church they'd belonged to before, but by that time, I think both of my parents were a bit burned out on it. So, when the funeral home asked who would officiate, Mom automatically said, oh, whoever's pastor of First Methodist Church downtown, because my dad, who had been raised Southern Baptist, was adamant that he did NOT want a Baptist minister to do his eulogy.

Well, First Methodist turned them down.

So Mom asked if there was a Methodist minister available through the funeral home.

There wasn't. There was a Baptist minister, who was rather moderate, if Mom wanted to just talk to him...?

So, Mom said, okay, have him call me.

I was starting a load of towels in the washing machine when the phone rang and turned to watch Mom answer it. She looked at the Caller I.D. and went absolutely white. Her mouth fell open, her hands flew to her mouth, and she gave a tiny scream before grabbing the phone shakily as I hurried up. She lifted it to her ear and said shakily, "Hello?"

I looked at the Caller I.D. It was my DAD'S name. Spelled exactly the same way, full first name, middle initial, last name, just the way my dad has always used it. Different phone number, but the same name.

It was the Baptist minister. He had the same name as my dad, though he went by his first name, where my dad always went by his middle name. And what's even creepier? When Mom handed the phone to me, the man's voice was just the way I remember my dad's sounding when I was a kid!!

We were all rather nervous about having him do the service, because of having to sit through many other funerals, with Southern Baptist ministers officiating, and getting varied versions of what we all started calling the "Fire and Brimstone/Convert the Family and Get Them All to Belong to My Church" speech. It was always less about offering comfort to us, the bereaved family, and more about letting us all know we were going to hell unless we were all baptized in this particular preacher's church. It was always more frenzied when the minister realized half the people in the room were Catholics.

This time, though, the minister with my dad's name actually seemed to realize we were all grieving and could really care less about whether or not we were going to hell. Though we were rather worried about whether or not Dad was going to sit up in that coffin and start yelling at us for disobeying him and having a damned Baptist giving his eulogy after he'd TOLD us specifically NOT to!

My sense of humor just can't stop asserting itself, can it?

Dad was a World War II veteran, so he had full military honors at his funeral, with a flag draped over his coffin, and 3 Marines there to do him honor in full dress uniforms. While "Taps" was played in the distance, his flag was lifted and reverentially folded...

... the wrong way.

I watched this, as did several others in my family who are familiar with the proceedings, with raised eyebrows. I even caught the poor private's eye and helpfully gestured with a jerk of my head how to fix it, but the poor thing was too terrified, and his gunny just muttered, "Keep going, we'll fix it later."

I leaned toward Mom, who was clinging to my arm, and whispered, "Daddy would have started growling and muttering at this point,"

She blinked, then leaned back and whispered, "How do you know he isn't now?"

It was folded, then presented her with appropriate words, and then, with a voice choked with emotion, the Gunny informed my mother that my dad was being buried on the birthday of the Marine Corps.

Daddy would have loved it. And you know, I'm not sure the stinker didn't plan it that way.

Of course, after the funeral, the Marines gently took the flag from my mom and folded it properly, and I'd like to thank Gunnery Sergeant Hernandez for keeping everything smooth, steady, and calm, and for giving Mom that little tidbit about the Marine Corps birthday. It made her smile on what was otherwise a very trying day.

And so we are all home now. My kids handled hearing about Grand-Daddy's death fairly well, and handled the funeral beautifully. They weren't as close to Grand-Daddy as they are to Grandma, and they were more worried about how Grandma was handling it than they were about anything else. She got a lot of hugs, and cuddling from her grandkids, which I think helped her more than anything else. She's tired, but she's relieved he's no longer suffering, or in pain. And even though she's grieving, by Monday, she was looking much better than she had on Friday, when we arrived.

So, while we're all a little worse for the wear, I like to think that we left her a little better off than when we'd arrived. Because life goes on, and no matter how much you wish time would stop, it doesn't.

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