Thanksgiving is in just a few days, but I’m in the mood to talk about death. It’s probably because I keep thinking about dead loved one’s recently. It’ll probably be a morbid post, but certainly not macabre. I suppose I’ll be talking more bit points about when they were alive, however, death is a natural part of life and it’s not something that anyone can escape. When you witness it, no matter in which way, it stays with you.
I had experienced death early in life, but did not understand it really until later, in the start of my teen years. Our Aunt Mildred (whom I talk about later in this post) lost her husband when I was rather young; about six. He had been ill and passed away at home, in their bed. She was so distraught that she dragged my sister and I back there to see him. She needed some sort of community, some validation, witnesses to her grief and to the fact that he was different from whom she had loved; frailer, weaker. It all happened so fast that I was more concerned with how she was acting than what I barely saw of a dead person. I didn’t understand what was happening until I was much older and reviewed the event again in my mind. So, really what stands out is our Aunt Mildred’s odd behavior.
About the same time my great-grandmother passed away. She was my paternal grandmothers mother. She was nice, but I barely remember her. I also remember nothing of the funeral except moving from the kitchen onto a small back porch and off of some stairs to go outside, standing by a car with my family and our picture being taken (above), and then seeing a man walk towards us and my great-grandmother walking away with him. I’m pretty sure it was a spiritual thing, but I wrote about that experience in a previous post.
No, the first death that I actually remember and which effected me was my grandfather; Merrell Herbert Roberts (that’s merr ull, not mehr ill) on 06 October 1993. My dad’s father who grew up extremely poor in Arkansas and had to quite school in the 8th grade to help on the farm. I think that’s important. He only had an 8th grade education, but I felt he was the brightest man in the world; quite intelligent and brilliant, but perhaps I am just biased. I was also only thirteen when he died. I’m sure he didn’t know all of the royal families of Europe since the beginning of time or how much the Yen was worth; nor quantum physics or possibly even what the word ennui meant. But, I’m not even certain that any of that matters when it comes down to it. At least not for him.
He was a giant of a man, well… at least to a little girl. He seemed like he was at least seven feet tall, but as my family is not all that blessed in height, it was probably more like 5’7″ or 5’8″. His skin was extremely dark and leathery and he smelled like motor oil and dirt. That seems weird, but it was kind of nice. But, then I suppose that makes sense since he was an auto mechanic by trade and kept a vegetable garden and compost pile. He was also really loud and made odd faces, like he was caught unawares while in deep thought, or was in the middle of saying something, probably, “Huh?” (see above photo).
When we’d arrive at my grandparents house they’d be waiting inside the back door and once he saw my sister & I he would make an odd face of great delight and bellow out, “MAH GRANDBABIES!!!!” and then lunge at us for an embrace. His sternum was extremely prominent and stuck out of his chest. It was not a comfy or squishy embrace. He was a little terrifying in those moments. Because his spirit was seven feet tall and we’re pretty sure he was from a planet that was not the same as ours and he was so loud and lunging. But, his hugs were full of love even if they were bony, and after that we weren’t scared. But then after that our grandfather was not overly excited again and would revert back to his stoic mountain self. Even keel; very calm.
Everyone in my family were late sleepers, except for myself… and my grandpa. I’d wake up at six am when we were visiting them and he’d have already been up for two hours, enjoying coffee, checking on his garden, and watching the news on the telly. However, when I woke up, he would feed me. While my grandparents did sometimes have cereal in their cupboards and there was Roman Meal wheat bread, I wasn’t served cereal or toast. My grandpa made me hot buttered rice, because that’s what his family had eaten when he was younger and thus it’s what he associated as a sensible breakfast. It’s comfort food to this day.
I did look online once to see if anyone else was accustomed to eating it for breakfast. A few people were, but they were making rice with butter and sugar… perhaps also milk. What is that? Rice porridge? Oh, no thanks, none for me. No, it was boiled rice that when it was finished he’d scoop some into one of their melamine bowls and put some butter on it. That’s it. Nothing fancy.
We had the entire morning to ourselves. We’d go and look at the garden, compost a little or pick things that were ripe. I’d help him work on cars, because he still did that with family vehicles though he was retired. Or we’d go to the market to pick up things for breakfast or else go to parts houses. We never really talked and that was fine by both of us, but if I did ask a question or was excited by something I saw, he would answer my question or be tickled at my enthusiasm.
He ended up dying because he went in to see if he had cancer and a technician burnt a hole in his lungs. Anyone under twelve (so my younger cousins and I) were worried about him because he seemed faded a little and coughed a lot. The adults didn’t seem worried. I’m not sure if they were worried, but were hiding it, or if they actually believed what they told us; that everything was fine. He ended up in hospital for a while, and I wasn’t allowed to go simply because my mother said no. He was on life support after months of hospital stay, but was already gone for about a week, but my dad and his siblings just couldn’t let go. Finally they did.
My dad had just gone through surgery in August when his father was admitted to hospital. Open heart surgery. Major stuff. As soon as they officially released him, he went to his dad’s side. I barely saw my parents for two months. That was also the year they weren’t there to celebrate my birthday. And my poor grandmother was here for my dad’s surgery and so upset because her husband and son were both in hospital and both things were sketchy. My dad, actually died on the table several times and the doctors were surprised he survived it. My grandfather was not so lucky.
It was my first experience with a death, and because the situation was kept from me and not talked about until years later, I didn’t really understand. I hadn’t seen him dead, so to me death wasn’t anything. So, I was perfectly content and satisfied to tell people at school that my grandpa had died and I would be out Monday and Tuesday; to me they were just empty words like Hallabaloo and I just knew I’d be skipping school and was happy about that part. It didn’t register until we walked into the church and his oddly strained and wrongly coloured formaldehyde form was propped up at an odd angle in the casket. It wasn’t right. He didn’t look right. And having to walk up there and see him so close and that he looked pulled and weird and wrong that I realized my grandfather wasn’t coming back. Not ever.
When we got back to my grandparents house I locked myself in their bedroom with the telly on and refused to come out during the days, for the entire weekend. My grandmother did bang on the door once all angry and fussy, but when she realized it was, she said I could stay. The morning after his funeral, I woke up at six am. I hadn’t woken up so early for a few years now. I could swear I hear the telly on and it smelled like someone was cooking. I crept out of my bedroom and into the kitchen. No one was cooking, but there was a faint scent of hot buttered rice. But, I did hear noise coming from the den and the blue and white speed flashes told me that the telly was indeed on. It was set to the news and my grandfathers recliner was moving just ever so slightly. I crawled in that chair like a lost four-year old and cried for an hour.
His death still hurts as I’m crying as I type this. It’s been twenty-three years and it hasn’t gotten better. I mean sure I don’t think about him all of the time, but it still hurts just as badly as it did all those years ago. I cried in a yoga class the other night because we were supposed to be thinking about what we grateful for and my grandfather and grandmother came to my mind. And it made me very sad and I had to try really hard not to cry.
I don’t know why it hurt so much to lose him. He wasn’t my father and I didn’t see him every week. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t grieve “properly” or if I shouldn’t have grieved alone? Or if I missed time with him that I felt I should have gotten. Or was it because I never had my room clean when they’d come to visit and he would look disappointed and help me clean my room. Do I think I didn’t deserve to be sad over it because I was a disappointment? Because he was not one to shy away from saying that he was proud of you when you did deserve it. And he vocally let me know that he was proud of me a lot. Is it because of that dream I had in my twenties where he showed up and was disappointed in me? Would I have been as angry and bitter had he not died? I mean, I was starting into my teen years, so who knows.
The second person was my high school theatre teacher, Hoagan Bramlett. It’s not like we were close as I never worked as her AD and I’d only had two years with her as a student, nor did I get the chance to come back to school once I’d graduated to see her; but close enough since she was my teacher for two years, and I always did well in class, and I did really like her, even though she was gruff. But, upon returning to school in my junior year, she wasn’t there because she was in hospital. Then on my birthday, all of the theatre kids were herded into the library and there were sombre adults milling about. The type that try not to look sad, but fail at it completely. She had passed away early that morning. And these were therapists on hand to deal with the grief. I don’t grieve well with people, as you previously read. While everyone else was sobbing and holding each other and reaching out to the therapists, I left. I walked down the hall of L building to the toilets and locked myself in a stall to cry. Only to have a teacher and therapist keep coming in there, forcing me to open the door to make sure that I wasn’t killing myself. How, ya’ll? By drowning myself in a toilet? Come on! I wasn’t going to kill myself over someone dying, I just needed to cry alone and you were making it far worse.
I tried going to what ever class I had second period, but I just couldn’t be at school and just left. I didn’t check myself out, as I’m sure they wouldn’t have allowed it thinking I’d go kill myself. But I just left and drove around a lot to then end up at my sister’s house and taking a shower and hanging out with her roommate and our mutual friend, Jr. It was a terrible birthday.
Then there was my Aunt Clarine. She was a younger sister to my grandpa. At his funeral, in the cemetery, I had a start because my grandfather was walking up the hill dressed in drag. So, yeah, she ended up looking just like him. But I’d never met her, or perhaps once when I was really young. My parents and I drove up to Arkansas to attend her funeral. I didn’t mourn for her because I’d only, briefly, met her once. But I did end up mourning for my own grandfather, again, and also because of missed opportunities.
Her grandson was at the podium speaking and he was a year younger than me. I had cousins my age and I hadn’t know that they existed until this very moment. But twenty-one years is too long, you can’t start a relationship up with someone at this point. It’s because we always went to see my grandmothers relatives and only once, on they way back from her family reunion, did we stop at a Roberts family reunion. I have no idea if those boys were even there; he and his younger brother. It’s just an entire section of family that I never had the chance to know.
In my early twenties, perhaps twenty-three or twenty-four, I lost my Aunt Mildred. She wasn’t my Aunt. She was an older lady who lived next door to my parents at their first home on Grace Avenue. But my sister & I were allowed to call her Aunt; in fact it was insisted upon. Though I never lived next door to her and her husband, we were always over there visiting or staying with her. She really was like an aunt. Some time after her husband died though she ended up moving away, so that when I was nineteen and working as a barrista at Books-A-Million, I hadn’t seen her for ten years. She came in and I could barely contain my excitement and ran out from behind the counter and almost assaulted her. In true Aunt Mildred fashion of being flustered she said, “I know you! Rachel! No… Rebecca! No… Sarah.” And smiled broadly. She was always getting names mixed up just at the get-go. We saw her again once after that encounter and then learned the news of her passing. Of course we would go. We drove an hour away for a funeral for a non-relative, because of course we would. It was Aunt Mildred! I don’t grieve for her like other people, but when I do remember her, I miss her fiercely.
In January of 2005, I lost my maternal grandmother, Mary Katherine Summers. She was my only grandparent on that side, and also my namesake, as we both share the same middle name, though that is the only name she used informally (so not on documents and letters.) Her’s was a bitter-sweet passing. She’d been in a home for a few years already and I didn’t go to see her, which I’m not upset about. I did go once, and it made me cry and try to leave a place that’s locked up so the patients don’t wander away and out. That was upsetting because I was trapped until the nurse realized I needed to leave immediately.
She was still my grandmother and looked the same, but she was highly agitated because she didn’t understand the situation. I’d already gone with mom a year before to move her from the assisted living facility next door to this place, for people whose mind is gone for whatever reason. It broke my heart then that she wasn’t allowed to have anything except one book, one photo in a frame and a few sets of clothes. On this visit, they were taking away a necklace. She was highly upset and frail and they were taking the necklace off of her while she stood there and shrilly told them to leave her alone. All I wanted to do was go to her; to embrace her and cry. But, she didn’t know who I was, and knowing how to calm my grandmother down is completely different from calming a mad stranger down. So, I just left and it broke my heart to see her in such a state and be powerless to stop any of it.
Then my sister and I were returning from a trip to Disney World and on the phone mom mention that Aunt Jan was there. It was weeks away from being Christmas and we knew something was wrong with grandma, though mom would not say. She’d ended up having surgery which was terrible for ninety-six year old woman, but something had to be done. Her entire body was riddled with cancer and they did the surgery to ease her pain. They took out all of her bowls, so that now any waste would empty into a bag which had to be changed every half hour. She was still in great pain. She was still suffering.
Mom told me later that Hospice basically gave her morphine so she’d die. And you know what? I was perfectly OK with that. I actually said, “Thank God! I’m SO glad they did!” My mother was not impressed and wanted to be outraged. My grandmothers quality of life went downhill after she was put into a home, but she was a schizophrenic, and really couldn’t take care of herself anymore at all. But, her quality of life became non-existent with that surgery. She was just lingering on the brink of life with so much pain. I was glad she was free and I don’t care how they did it. Because I care more about my grandmother than a selfish attachment. People have them, people don’t want to let go. It is selfish. My mom would have rather had my grandmother suffering than to lose her because she wasn’t ready to deal with it. I kept praying that God would take her quickly. To end her misery, because I loved her and would rather lose her than have her suffering just so I could wait to deal with it.
She was also the first real dead body that I ever saw. Sure I’d seen people embalmed and basically stuffed, but that is completely different. I did say my goodbye to her on the telephone. Mom called to tell me it was the end, and I didn’t think I’d make it across town, so I said to put the phone up to her ear. My grandmother was in a coma by this point, or something akin to it. I don’t know if she understood my words, but I think that somewhere in there on the edges of her dying mind that she knew that I was her granddaughter and it gave her comfort. Mom said she smiled, but only while I was talking to her.
By the time I made it there, it was over. The people who work there were just cleaning her up. By this time I knew what happened after a person dies, so I didn’t need to ask why. She was at a slightly odd angle, when they let us back in to view the body, but she might have been sleeping; her long white hair cascading past her shoulders and a calm expression on her face. It was actually quite peaceful to see her this way and not embalmed. It actually made me feel slightly better to see her, though that might sound odd.
A year later, my brother, Rusty, died. Formally Russell Allan Herbert/Summers. But he was always Rusty. He was found in mid-January. He’d been dead since the 26th of December. He’d fallen into a diabetic coma and that was that. Incidentally, on our drive to see our paternal grandmother, we called him. In hind-sight he did sound odd, like he was sleepy, but at the time we didn’t think anything about it. We were probably the last people to talk to him. It makes me sad in that “Oh GOD! We should have known! We should have done something! “Rusty! Drink juice! Take some insulin! ” or called 911 on his behalf. But it also gives me comfort because we were there for him at the end, in a weird round-about way.
It is also at once horrifying and wildly amusing that in that time, two guys broke into his apartment and robbed him. They robbed an apartment where the corpse of my brother was… well, I won’t get graphic. It’s funny, because if our brother was a ghost looking on that scene he would have been LAUGHING! And since we know that about him, we think it’s somewhat funny.
His death, though was traumatic for all of us and conspiracies spun from it like crazy. See, considering he’d been dead for almost a month, even if our aunt wasn’t into cremation, there would have been no way that there would have been an open casket funeral. So… there was no closure with his death. It was far from finite. I say our aunt, because he was her son; our cousin. But really he considered us his parents and sisters, and we, my family, considered him our son/brother. And you don’t want to think badly about Aunt Jan, but then… Rusty was thrown into an asylum and left there by his birth father once. What if it happened again? What if he’s locked up somewhere? Would Jan do that? Her new husband certainly would! What if something’s wrong with him and he can’t communicated? What if someone died in his house and he just left town and he’s really out there somewhere trying to find his son (who is the baby pictured above that he wasn’t really allowed to see because of his ex girlfriend)? What if… and they continue into infinity because he was too young to die, because we didn’t see anything with our own eyes; no death certificate, no body, not his apartment; nothing.
It was too difficult to come to grips with the fact that Rusty was dead; gone forever; that we’d never see him again or hear his zany laugh… that he died and no one noticed for almost an entire month. That we didn’t notice that it’d been too long since we’d heard from him. That we didn’t call him. That that was unfair to a boy who’d always been forgotten and left behind by his own parents; that he had to die in that fashion too; like no one ever loved or cared about him. That he was easily forgettable and just didn’t matter.
Of course none of that is true. He was loved and most certainly did matter. My entire family held him in high esteem. We practically worshiped him. While he was pretty geeky, he was THE coolest thing to ever happen to this family. People get busy, life goes on, hind-sight is 20-20; shoulda-coulda-woulda. But, I’m pretty certain he knows that we cared and didn’t forget him. My own father, who tries his damnedest to never cry in front of anyone, sobbed like a baby at Rusty’s funeral. Like he was a scared five-year old boy whose heart was broken far beyond repair and all hope for any good in the world was lost. Actually we all sobbed like it was the end of the world. It’s actually the most difficult funeral that I have ever had to attend. It was the most difficult death that I have had to endure.
The only bright spot about it that we can look back on was that the funeral directors placed this easel with photo’s of him directly over the hole where his ashes were to be buried and had his urn on a table there. Everyone kept tripping in the hole (thankfully not hurting themselves) when they went up to look at the photo’s. And the little kids kept opening the lid to figure out what magic the vessel contained; wanting to stick their hands in there. My brother would have laughed at both of these things and so, they are bitter-sweet, amusing moments for us.
Then that following April, my mother’s birth mother died. I was not close to her at all. She was not a nice woman. I felt that it wouldn’t be proper to sit front row for her funeral, seeing as I didn’t like her, however, my sister said that we were to sit there because Stephen, our mom’s step brother, asked us to; for him, not for her… so I agreed. This death did not have an effect on me in that way that you would think, but there were far-reaching parameters that effected me. My mother had issues with both of her mom’s. To lose them so closely together sent her in a downward spiral, which landed onto the rest of my family as we all live together.
On the 26th of February 2012, I was informed that my friend Luke Covington passed away. He was not the first person my age to die, but the others were weird, after the fact incidents. One was a guy I’d known all through school. We were enemies in Middle School just because he was an ass; I think he just had a hard life and was taking it out on people. He would just pick verbal fights with me at recess. One day he found out that I knew Sister Carmelita. He lived next door to her and he adored her. After that I was alright by him and if he saw someone messing with me he’d tell them to stop. I actually was rather fond of him in a friendly way; John Damiens. Then my dad asked if I knew this person who passed away because for some reason he loves checking obituaries and it said the guy had attended my school. When I read the name, my heart sank. But he was being buried in another state and so all I had was a passing exclaims of his demise. The saddest part was that I tried to inform old school mates who I was still in contact with. I even showed a year book photo to some of them. None of them knew who he was. That’s just not right to go out of the world and people who should remember do not, and they don’t care.
The other was a girl, Amber Moe. She was prickly and snarky, but underneath it all, she wasn’t really. We weren’t best friends but I was always there for her when it counted and she couldn’t begrudge that of me. I found out of her passing years after the event. Her sad and bitter passing in another state, far removed from me. A humble demise from a cruel life.
However, Luke, well, we were friends on Facebook and actually spoke. It hadn’t been too long since I’d last seen him. Eight months, or a year? He died thirty minutes from me, in a fire. Well, actually he was helicoptered out to a hospital several states over where he died, but the grievous burns that he sustained happened close to me. I had intended on going to the funeral, but decided against it because our friendship was separate from everyone that he knew. We met because he was dating a friend of mine. But, I didn’t know his family or his friends, though we had met in passing; where that ex-girlfriend did know them all. I felt that I’d be intruding. So, I intended to visit him after the funeral to say my goodbyes. One never thinks that people their age will die, though the Universe knows how many times my dad’s stories of old friends ended, “Howie Pinterlew and all our fun shenanigans… he’s dead now. Died in this horrible way when we were younger.” But this was the first one that really hit because though I decided against going to the funeral, it was feasible for me to do so; and he was someone who I was still in contact with. It’s shocking and tragic, and I do miss him and think on him fondly.
Then our California Mom, Juli Arenson, died on 01 September 2014. She was born and raised in California and was my sisters roommate for a time when she lived out there. When I visited my sister, Juli took me under her wing and exclaimed herself my California Mom. But she was in poor health and we hadn’t seen her for a while until she wanted my sister to be executrix of her estate, so we visited her in July of 2012. Her passing was bitter-sweet because she was making changes in her life and was wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time in a million years; but also she was very, very ill. It was sad because she’d made my sister and I her family and we were really the only family that she had, because her sister was crazy and her niece and nephew only cared about her stuff, which she no longer had prior to her death.
While her death was sad, it was all the BS that I took away from it. Having died in North Carolina, they make you jump through tyrannical hoops for no reason. We will never live in North Carolina now. We had to leave immediately after hearing the news to be there and help execute the funeral. Then we had to come home and go back up at the end of September to jump through more hoops and clean out her estate… and had to come back home and go back up there in October to finish. Oh, but did it finish? No. My sister spent a year and half wrangling through the post with North Carolina so they could get every cent they could from her, when by their own laws, Juli’s estate had nothing to give. It was a long, drawn out process, for nothing. And it was terrible.
My last remaining grandparent, my maternal grandmother, Betty Roberts, had been very ill and in and out of hospital. Dad kept coming and going back and forth between her and us. I planned on going up there, but when I called dad he was coming home and wouldn’t go back until after Christmas, as it was, perhaps the 22nd or 23rd of December. We were getting ready, all of us, to go up there, currently packing, when we got the call from dad’s younger brother that we needed to go now. Not even half way to our destination, just next to the Liberty Inn on the side of the highway, dad got the call that she had died. It was 29. December. 2012.
As I hate crying in front of people, I turned my music up very loudly and cried a little while Chevelle was screaming, much to everyone’s dismay. But it seemed pretty accurate for how I felt, and as the driver, I think I’m allowed that, bit of music. We went straight to the hospital because they said we could view her before the funeral home came to take her away. I thought that was odd because we still had a little over an hour and a half before we’d get there, but it is a hospital, so OK. Also I had seen my other grandmother, so I could handle this.
I was very wrong. We walked into the hospital room and there is my grandmother, propped up in bed, her eyes open, her mouth was gaping wide with deep lines and crevices around it from where the oxygen mask had been on her. And my Aunt Debbie was in bed next to her and my cousin, Claire, was practically sleeping in her lap and there were about a million people in there. My aunt married into the family, though she is a nurse. Is that why she was up in the bed, stroking my dead grandmothers hair? Had she been doing that the entire time? My extended family thinks that since they were all there and caressing our dead and very scary looking grandmother that I should buck up and be OK with it. Nope. I had not been expecting her to look like a creepy dead version of the salt monster from Star Trek when I got in there. Did my family say no to them fixing her? Like closing her eyes and mouth. Maybe laying the bed down? Perhaps my family didn’t want her touched?
Anyways, my eyes watered, I’m sure my face was a screwed up mess, and I turned and fled from the room, desperately seeking a bathroom in which to cry in. I didn’t know this hospital and tears were blurring my vision and I couldn’t find a goddamn bathroom. I passed a nurse or orderly and tried asking where the bathroom was, but my breath was coming out in short bursts and it took several times before he understood me. I didn’t go back in that room. I sat in the lobby and stared at the Christmas tree decorations and felt bitter and tired about it all. My grandparents were raised poor, they weren’t high falutin’ fancy people, but my grandmother would have been horrified at the lack of dignity and grace that was afforded her in those moments. To have been sitting there like that for almost two hours. She would have died all over again. My grandfather would have felt sad that she had to be like that.
The funeral was delayed for family from Arkansas to arrive and to not coincide with New Years. My sister & I went home to get things for our parents and funeral clothes and such. While I do like to grieve and cry alone, it didn’t mean I needed to be alone. But I was. Alone for five days. Drove back alone too, as my sister’s boyfriend at the time drove her up there. I pulled into the driveway of my grandparents house and when I entered the always unlocked back door my cousin, Martin, was there waiting for me. He is three years older than me, our aunt’s son, and we were pretty close as kids. He just grabbed me in an embrace and I cried into his shoulder for what felt like forever. I could feel all of the sadness emanating from his heart, though in that moment he shed no tears. Though he did cry a lot during the funeral, especially during his eulogy. It was extremely, heartbreakingly sad; the entire affair. I cried more at her funeral than at my grandfathers, mainly because this was the absolute end. I mourned for both of them and for the end of everything. I think that’s what everyone mourned that day.
However, it was a bit calamitous too, because women who were not my mother, my sister, or I chose her funerary clothing. I had no idea what they chose until the day of the funeral. It was a pink silk nightgown from the sixties with matching robe. It was lovely, sure, but it’s tacky to choose night-clothes for an open casket funeral. Again, my grandmother would have died all over again at being dressed in such a state. Also, she detested her middle name, but plain as day in big bold lettering on the front of her memory pamphlet was BETTY JO ROBERTS. So far my grandmother had died five times… that I know of. Sure everyone knew that her middle name was Jo, but didn’t they realize how much she HATED it? It’s rude to put that on there.
Next up (this seems terrible, but I’m unsure how to lead into another death), Ken Watson in mid January of 2013. I wasn’t super close to him, though I’d known him for ten years. He was a Yankee and an English professor at the university. He was very much like my maternal grandmother just in how he was raised and how he treated things. It was odd, but also comforting at the same time. He was extremely intelligent and I mustered up to his standards and I was polite, so I was very welcome in his home. He was a very affectionate man, though not in a creepy way, he just liked to give hugs or a kiss on the head or cheek when greeting or seeing people out of his company. I slightly worry that he might have felt that I didn’t like him at all because I would shy away from these things. It’s just my nature to not be very touchy-feely. Or that one time he invited us to stay for dinner and I made us leave, only because he had very delicate antique chairs and I’m a large girl, and he would’ve hated me had I broken one. But we should have stayed. I should have probably just hovered above it, using my thigh muscles. I thought I chose the lesser of two evils, but I think I might have chosen poorly.
He had been in poor health, though he could have lived. It was a difficult death because of circumstances. A mutual friend of ours found him and she did the shoulda-coulda-woulda about his death. She’d been on the phone with him, buying him things at the store. She “shoulda” just stayed with him. You know, that whole thing. And everyone’s different ways of mourning hit me. We also had a memorial for him at a bar we all frequented, which every one of those people drank and would have met anyone there at one of those times, I just went so I could see them, but it was a place that Ken went to a lot and a place we were all together with him. And it was difficult to hear at the next table over people bad mouthing a dead man; and someone who didn’t deserve to be bad mouthed. And because a few of us loved him in our own ways, we cleaned his house for him after his death, so that his son would have an easier time of going through the estate.
Then there was Mrs. Ainsworth in April of 2013. Her and her family were our next door neighbours while I was growing up. She was always really nice, as were her daughters, though her daughters were much older than us. I might not have known about her passing, but I was working for the oldest daughter at the time. I was picking her daughter up from school and driving her to an after school volunteer program. I felt weird about going to the funeral, but we went for the graveside service. I would have gone anyway had I known, but I definitely felt that it was warranted to be there because I was working for the daughter. There’s not much I can really say about it because I hadn’t seen Mrs. Ainsworth in about twenty years. We felt very much like outsiders, but I still think that it was important that I went, for myself and for her two daughters.
In March of last year, Margie Parish, passed away. While my mother had been friends with her for years, and she had been my sisters 7th grade English and Speech teacher, her and I didn’t really know each other until July of 2007, which is when I started working for her as housekeeper. Over time I was more than simply a house keeper. We took smoke breaks together and talked. I helped her put away groceries when she came back from the market. She gave me small momento; one of which is a small vase from Germany, that her husband brought back as a gift for her, when he was stationed over there in the fifties & is a cherished gift of mine. She gave me the secret recipe for her Persimmon Cake, and I’ve never given it to anyone, just like I promised. She’d tell me stories about what she did before marriage or how she met her husband, Al. I would celebrate her birthday with her. She became like a grandmother to me since she was in her seventies, but to her I was a female friend whom she could talk to. She ended phone conversations by saying, “I love you” and they weren’t the slips of mistakes that sometimes exit people’s mouths. She meant it every single time.
I worked for her for seven years, but was let go because her grandson (also adopted son) came to live with her and would do the cleaning and would take care of her. Reluctantly she dismissed me from service. She hadn’t been doing well for a while there. She could no longer take care of her husband and he had to be put in a home, and they hadn’t ever really been apart before. She wasn’t taking that well. She stopped eating. She was developing dementia. She could barely take care of herself. Our friend called to tell us that she’d had a stroke and was in hospital. Her own children, who knew me, didn’t bother calling. They only called her, our friend, because she works at the local church and they wanted the priest to come and see Margie.
I purchased the largest bunch of flowers that I could find and was hopeful of her recognizing me, of her seeing me again. I walked into the hospital room only to find that things were much, much worse than I’d known. Her stroke had been so severe (and it hadn’t been the first one since I left, though when I went to see her for her birthday, no one mentioned it to me), and she was in a coma from which there was little hope of her coming out of. I asked for some privacy and cried over her small, somewhat twitchy form, like she was a little puppy having a serious dream. I told her that I didn’t know or I would have come to see her sooner. That I would miss her and that I loved her and that she’d been a really great friend. I also felt bitter and stupid for thinking that flowers could fix things. She passed away the next day.
I did go to the funeral, but I didn’t go to the viewing the night before the funeral. I didn’t think I could handle that. Her funeral was a very high Catholic affair with this hand stitched casket covering that looked medieval and probably was sewn by tiny blind nuns or something. There were several Bishops and a whole slew priests in all of their finery and they broke out the gold swinging incense burner; a lot of pomp and circumstance. And only to find out that her daughter was having her cremated. Besides the fact that I can not pay my respects to Margie, cremation was something that she felt would damn her soul. She probably didn’t care, considering that she was dead, but it was in poor taste, I think.
Then at the end of October who very dementia’ed husband, Al Parish, shut up in a VA home finally passed away. I didn’t think Margie would go before him because he was really bad off even when I first started working as their house keeper and just progressively got worse. I feel like he was too addle brained to know it was time to let go; lost in his own diseased mind, probably not even realizing if he was still alive or not. I went to his viewing (which wasn’t a viewing as it was closed casket), but not his funeral, as it was on Halloween day and I had a friend coming into town early. I wasn’t as close to him, but in some strange respects he was somewhat like a grandfather to me. It was sad that he was gone, but mostly I found it a relief because he could be with Margie and wouldn’t be rotting away in that home without anyone there, since all his children live several states away.
Then we come to June of this year, the last funeral, for Hank Glass. She had lived down the street from my dad’s jewelry store, so she’d known him for years and years, but her daughter, Wendy, and my sister became friends at university. Her’s was a very sad and senseless death. She was in the shopping center up from our house and crossed from the sidewalk to her car and was hit. Then once she was in hospital they did things wrong and some ribs were broken and they didn’t bother x-raying her first and by moving her, they popped her lungs. She stayed in hospital from October of 2015 until her death in June of this year. She was in her seventies and her lungs just wouldn’t heal properly. It’s just terrible.
I’d only met her once before, though there was that time years before when Wendy did stop by her mother’s house once while I was in the car with her, but she said I should stay in the car. I also went with my sister to visit her once in the hospital in March. Her funeral would have been nice, ya know for a funeral, had some crazy Mormon lady not shown up and kept talking about Christ and trying to convert all of the Jewish mourners at a Jewish funeral in a Jewish cemetery. Beyond tacky. Wendy was mad. That woman was told not to speak, but being one of those Christians, she felt it was her duty to speak, so she did; fuck the mourners and the protocol of such things.
And this is where I will leave things.