pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: The wave

12 December 2014

The wave


Off Guernsey
11 July 2012

Tuesday morning. I sit in my proper black sweater dress and stare out the window. The window is glazed in such a way as to make it look old, and though I can clearly see sun on the trees through the glass, it looks as though rain is running down the panes. The red brick is far too red, far too new to be representational of a Northeastern church. The Hollywood version, really.

Years ago, during this season, I would look up from the backlot as I walked from this office to that office or just to get out of my own office, and I would see the sun glittering off headstones on the gently rolling hills here. It was oddly pretty, and intensely incongruous. But extremely memorable.

Tuesday was such a day: warm, even by the standards of December in California, and the light scattered and broke all around us, glittering in that odd way it does sometimes during the autumn, when everything is clear and clean. I was clear and calm, too, except for the one moment when the spouse's uncle tried to cajole me into having my photo taken, and I'd barked at him, really laid into him for behaving so badly as he always does. My patience stretched to point of the breaking, my strength in the face of adversity deserted me.

My brain went elsewhere and I thought of other things as the service droned on. I thought about his likely response to the New Age-y minister who meant well, clearly, but would not have been his style. He would have tried to sound...positive, but his words would have carried a faint condemnation.

"This is why I will never have a funeral," the daughter told me later, clearly shaken. I understand the point, and it was all nicely put together, but horrific just the same.

At the close of the proceedings, the director announced that committal would be private, and that was the cue for the audience to head on to the reception, while the family went to the crypt. We drove, and I was grateful that everything was being done on the grounds of the cemetery. I remember the procession from the church to Arlington with my grandmother, and how it was faintly embarrassing that the police held up traffic on the Beltway so that the funeral procession  had priority.

As we followed the casket to it final resting place, my mother-in-law clutched my hand like a child, holding it so tightly. I guided her carefully, and warned her not to catch her shoe in the grooves of the pavement. We repeated again and again what a beautiful day it was. I passed out Kleenex from the enormous handful I'd stashed in my handbag before leaving the house.

En route to the reception, I told the spouse that one of his colleagues, a long, long time friend of ours, had shown up and I'd given him directions to the reception at the country club, encouraging him to attend the reception. The spouse sighed with relief that someone was there for him, someone he could talk to without being always on guard.

As a family--and by that, I mean my own little immediate family--we are quite private. We don't care for pomp and circumstance, or show. I steeled myself for the onslaught of people; at the service, I'd already seen many people I'd not seen in years, accepted sympathies, performed the rituals. Funerals are not so different from weddings, and as hard as I tried to merge into the background, I knew was a representative and had to act accordingly.

As soon as I set foot inside, I signaled a waiter and requested a stiff Bloody Mary. Liquid courage, a dose of steel for my spine. And I accepted the kisses and hugs, said the correct words, did the necessary duties on behalf of our lost family member.

For now, my grief takes the form of small services, of ensuring that those around me have what they need to move forward. As I do, I will eventually take stock and say goodbye in my own heart, though even now his loss hits me from every corner, in small memories and funny stories.

It's possible that a life can be quantified by the void it leaves when it ends, in much the way a wave leaves a void as it recedes into the ocean.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.

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