Ways we mourn

On Monday evening, someone I don’t know called, asked for my father and asked him out to lunch. Not someone from church. He tells me that he met her at the infamous Christmas party and they joked and even danced.

“You danced?” I say.

“That was your mom, who was against dancing,” he said. “It was fun.”

“Oh,” I say.

“I think she was trying to pick me up,” he said.

“Oh,” I say.

“I’m gonna have lunch with her next week,” he says.

“Oh,” I say again. “That’s good.”

“Is it?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “You need more friends.”

“She wants to be more than friends,” he says.

“You can start with friends,” I say.

“I don’t know how to date.”

“Well, you used to date, like–”

“In 1959. That was the last time I went out with anyone other than your mother. The rules have changed.”

“I don’t think there are necessarily any rules,” I say, “especially for people your age.”

“I only–”

I wait.

“I don’t really know how to–”

“Uhhuh,” I say, trying to sound encouraging.

“A nice lady like that–”

I wait some more.

He looks at me helplessly.

“Are you asking me for romantic advice?” I say, finally.

“I only ever … with your mother,” he says, and looks down.

I know this to be true.

“I mean, what do I say?”

“I’m not sure,” I say, “but I think if you get to that point, the words probably say themselves.”

“I have to get out there, okay?”

“You don’t have to convince me,” I say. “I think you would be happier with a woman in your life, and mom thought you would be, too.”

He waits.

“Maybe I have to convince myself,” he says.

“Make sure you get your beard trimmed,” I say.

***

On Tuesday morning, I suggest to him that we prioritize buying their burial monument. He pushes me off till tomorrow, then he offers me an opinion on the design. I pull up the website while he’s right there so he can’t get away from the conversation. We chat a bit about the design, and I say I’ll call the stonemason to talk about it. He says, okay, and then wanders out the back.

Around noon, he tells me that he’s driving out to the farm with a bunch of stuff that needs to be stored out there. He does have a trailer full but this is also code for “I need to be by myself.”

I call the mason who says he’ll mail me a few more pictures. Then I stand aimlessly in the basement for a while. I’ve just boxed up ten computer boxes of old magazines and am feeling somewhat triumphant when I notice that the next boxes of things are souvenirs and mementos and photos from family vacations we went on in the 1980s.

I realize I’m about to go mad. I look at the movie times, and then put a box of canning jars I’ve found in my car and drive them over to a friend’s house, it being the height of canning season. And then I go to the movies.

I get home about half past eight and all the trucks are here and all the lights are off. This could be bad. I drive into the backyard and come in the house through the deck. No noises anywhere. This is bad. Dad does not go to bed quite this early. He sleeps on the sofa with Family Feud for a good two or three more hours on a normal evening.

I turn on the light on my desk, go to the bathroom, and then walk down the hallway to dad’s room.

“That you?” comes his voice out of the dark.

“Yeah,” I said.

“The mason called,” he said. “He said he emailed us some pictures.”

“Uhhuh,” I say. “Did you take your pills?”

“Yeah. But I forgot my password,” he says.

“It should be stored automatically in the computer,” I say.

“I forgot my password,” he repeats.

“OK.”

“And also, the cable isn’t working,” he says, and I realize he’s drunk enough that he probably pushed some combination of buttons on the computer that locked him out of his email, and on the remote that have completely flummoxed the cable system.

“I’ll look at it,” I say.

“And also,” he continues, “your mother died a year ago next week.”

“Yes.”

“And the cable isn’t working, and I forgot my password.”

“You should go to sleep,” I say. “I’ll play with the cable a bit before I go to bed.”

“And also,” he says, “I called that lady up and told her I can’t go out with her because your mother died a year ago.”

I sigh. “You don’t have to go out with her, just because your friends are pushing you to,” I say.

“I don’t want to get my beard trimmed,” he says.

“You don’t have to.”

“And also, your mother died a year ago.”

“I know, dad.”

“And also the cable is not working.”

“Go to sleep, dad,” I say, and retreat down the hallway.

***

This morning, I’m awakened by the phone ringing and dad talking to the mason. He tells them we’ll be there in the afternoon. Why not, I think, storing the energies I’ve planned to expend on the box of souvenirs and reassigning them to buying a tombstone.

We drive a half hour in the other direction to the man who’ll make the monument. He dated mom’s goddaughter in high school and went fishing with her brothers and dreamed of being a game warden, it turns out, but he decided to stick with the family business. He tells me a story about my mother’s uncle poaching game that I did not know.

“When Clayton went fishing,” he tells us, then, “everyone watched to see where he was going. So he’d haul his shanty out on the ice a few days ahead of time and then people would put theirs out by his, and then in the middle of the night his shanty would disappear and no one would know where he was fishing.”

“That’s how he got so many,” my dad laughs. We are silent about how Clayton died.

“Does Chuckie still live in that house?” the mason asks.

“Yes,” I say, and remind myself that there are other children in my family, living in their parents houses without their parents. “All by himself.”

Despite the familiarity, so many contradictions in this conversation; dad does not come from people who can spend the money to buy the kind of monument he thinks he might want and with someone who’s practically a relative, he’s embarrassed to admit that he can afford to fulfill his needs. Granite from Minnesota or Pennsylvania or granite from China, a marker that fits with the others in the cemetery out by the farm or a more modern one, a slab or columbarium or bench, a design that’s in the store already or a custom one.

The mason is a patient man and listens to all dad’s stories as I try to steer him through the flow chart of decisions. In about two hours we have looked at every slab of granite in the shop, modified a design that dad liked, settled on a letter style and a Bible verse, and written a contract.

“Just sign here,” the mason says.

“What do think, honey? Is that what your mother would have wanted?”

I don’t know what to say because I do not believe my mother is in those ashes and what I believe my mother would have wanted is to be alive, still, and I do not know what to say. I think, as many conversations as we had about other things last summer, she would have told me if it had been important.

“Sure, dad,” I say.

***

We walk out of the shop into the sunlight. When the truck radio turns on, it’s “Keep On Loving You.”

I sort of hum along at the beginning, and I realize that is humming it, too.

I look over at him. “You like this song?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Turn it up?”

His humming turns to singing. He knows all the words.

I turn it up higher. He pushes the button to lower the windows. I sing along.

He turns it up higher. He floors it, and we both sing the song, as loud as we can, as we speed out of town, back toward home.

~ by Servetus on August 21, 2014.

33 Responses to “Ways we mourn”

  1. That was really beautiful.

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  2. I’m thinking of you as you move through this time of life. Your story is heart-wrenching.

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  3. Very touching. Sehr berührend.

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  4. You both seem to have changed. Your Dad seems less angry and you seem more patient. I love your family stories even though I realize they must be so difficult for you to live through. You write so beautifully–I hope you will publish these as short stories or a novel some day.

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    • I agree with Phylly3

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      • I agree with Phylly3 too! These stories never fail to bring a tear to my eye but at the same time are a pleasure to read in that they are touching and moving and emotional. And they are so personal and I admire Servetus for sharing her writing with us and from it I am trying to be more open and honest and expressive of my thoughts and feelings. It is quite a journey shown in these short stories/reflections.

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        • I know, and her earlier family posts are killer too…. I haven’t been with Serv this whole journey and only begin to appreciate more fully what she and her dad have been through together and with her mom.

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    • Not to be flippant but I think it’s easier to be patient when no one’s dying. Impatience is still a serious problem with me 🙂

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  5. Beautiful and very moving.

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  6. Peace and love Serv’, peace and love, it’s all anyone can do. Thinking of you.
    Joanne.

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  7. You were born to write, and I love reading you. Take good care.

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  8. Blessings and comfort to you. Serv.

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  9. Beautiful…and maybe too early for your Dad…but
    its nice to know he’s still got it!

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  10. You have me in tears (again) over breakfast. Thank you for sharing this: there is so much comfort to be had from a shared experience. I think this post is actually very positive, and I’m glad for you. Supportive hugs from Yorkshire. X

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  11. Thank you for sharing Serv. So heartwarming and moving. ❤

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  12. Sending both of you hugs.

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  13. So lovely, this post. The anniversaries are so hard. I’ll be sending bright thoughts your way. Virtual hugs to you.

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  14. Please write the darn book. I can’t wait to read it. So well written. Writers struggle months to pull together a scene like this and you do it so effortlessly. It kills me.

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    • I know, right? ….. Serv, this post and the one last year planning your mother’s service with her….. I just felt like I could see all of you. “Being there” is not easy to pull off. I hope you will think about the book, either this story or some other that you have in you, if you can’t do this one now. Maybe this is your time, I don’t know.

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    • This doesn’t really feel like fiction writing. It’s like something I have to get rid of so I can write something else …

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  15. Your “family” posts are so powerful. Beneath the simple back and forth dialog lie so many unexpressed and complicated feelings. Thank you for sharing them. I agree with all your “fans”, your writing deserves a wider audience .. a book, story, ???

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  16. {{{Hugs}}}

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  17. 🙂 Take care (((Serv))):*

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  18. Thank you for sharing this. You had me smiling through my tears reading this and I agree with the posters above about the book that needs to be written and published. How one mourns is so personal and does not, and should not, adhere to any rulebooks or time frames. Hugs and love to both of you.

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  19. Thanks to everyone for all of the kind words, kind thoughts, hugs, and prayers. You are wonderful readers.

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  20. touching as always. thank you so much for sharing these moments with us.

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  21. Thanks for everyone’s support last week. I sincerely appreciated it.

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  22. […] On the 20th, I finally convince dad to buy the monument for mom (and himself). […]

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  23. […] they’ve gotten past first base, though, if what my brother reports is accurate. Then again, as dad was saying this summer, he hasn’t dated anyone since 1959. He needs physical affection, someone to hold him. He always has. I never know what to say. I […]

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  24. […] message this morning was from the people who installed my mother’s monument (dad custom ordered it so it took a long time to get it done, though I guess they got it in the […]

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  25. […] of the need to chew through the Crucible problem silently and independently of the blog), and the need to try to continue to try to find a way to let go of her. [Promise of a placeholder publication some day.] This post is to some extent provoked by the […]

    Like

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