Blog 2: The funeral
(Blog 2 aims to write the book from before the idea through the final work.)
When she heard the news, Leah was beyond angry. She trembled with it, although observers would mistake it for grief. Sure, that too.
She told Jacob, her 18-year-old, now fatherless son headed in a couple of weeks to college.
“I know, Mom.”
“Fuck. Him. I told him. So many times …”
“I know, Mom.”
“I told him.”
“At least he was the only one …”
She punched, then held her pillow and wailed clean from her gut. It was unearthly, unbearable. He cried, too, under the lamp, where his father would be lying on the bed in his boxers or worse, scratching his unmentionables or picking his nose or farting or … God knows.
No tears at the funeral, though. Leah held it together by reaching out to comfort everyone else. A nurse, a healer by calling as well as profession, she lost herself in helping the rest through it. And honestly, once the shock had passed, she didn’t quite believe he was gone. Denial, sure enough. But strange not feeling him gone. She always figured she’d feel it when the time came.
Hannah, at 15 at the apex of adolescence, took it hard. Her father, who infuriated her at times with his teasing, his baiting, his cussed dorky goofy self, left her in tears. Rivers of them. And she couldn’t stem the leak. In her lucid moments, this surprised her, this grief, this liquid testimony to her true feelings.
The funeral was small, so unlike nephew Jason’s Catholic blowout less than a year ago in Southern California, a mass of sharp suits and snazzy dresses and sunglasses overfilling a cathedral built to fit thousands. Jason’s personality was outsized, took in the world and touched so many in his huge, gregarious embrace of life. He lived large and was celebrated large.
Our Hero, friendly too, treaded softer, keeping the world at arm’s length as he observed it, pondered its turns, and wrote a punditry often calculated to provoke. He enjoyed people, to be sure. Just not all at once. He was a back pew type, not shy, but not the fellow who took willingly to the pulpit, either. This was probably why he wrote ” working a keyboard rather than a crowd.
He was not a believer in the organized religious sense, though Leah and his tastes tilted toward Protestant, as he was baptized while still in diapers, not exactly old enough for a choice in the matter. They liked things simple, small, no fuss, no trumpets, no fanfare. If he had his way, he would have gone for an Edward Abbey walk in the woods or desert, cozy wake in a pub to follow for the survivors. Lots of Guinness. Then back to life for everyone but the star of the occasion.
He entertained the meaning of eternity but never subscribed to a particular faith. They all interested him, though he believed none of their gospels, their myths. You could call him agnostic, as middle of the road, non-committal in faith as he was moderate in political view, crankily so at times, which seemed kind of weird for a moderate. When it came down to it, reincarnation made more sense to him than some damn test to get in heaven, with evil an actual entity rather than the concept it really is.
No wonder those faithful dopes in power thought they were waging a war on “terror,” as if a tactic were corporal and inhabited Iraq, a made-up nation. No wonder they couldn’t win. Fighting the air instead of an enemy. Using terror to fight terror. Fire vs. fire. That can work, if you know which side of the line to ignite and fully understand where the wind is blowing. But they’d confused all that in places like Guantanamo, Al Ghraib, Haditha, Baghdad, and who knows where else. Evil to combat evil? How did this creature come to infect the good guys? And did the born-again Bush blow his chances for the Great Beyond?
This notion that God put the answers for a relative few into one book, written in one language and translated into others, some chapters accepted and others tossed out ” yeah, right. This thing, life, is far bigger than a message in a bottle cast to the sea of humanity among a myriad of other messages, each insisting on the error of the other.
He respected the faithful for their commitment, but found their beliefs wanting. Way too simple. And way too fragmented. Even the faithful could not agree on their Truth, much less live up to it.
If he believed anything, it was that God was quite beyond human intellect and even imagination. Yet paradoxically, he felt the Father or spirit or whatever had a direct interest in him, in teaching him through this experience life. But for what? No answer there.
One of his preacher friends, a younger double of Don Imus, dressed all in black down to the cowboy boots but wearing a white Stetson, led the service. All told, he did quite an adequate job of delivering this blasphemous pagan to the almighty.
“… I can see him arguing with Saint Peter at those pearly gates. Not to get in himself. Oh no. He was too aware, perhaps, of his failings and too little aware of his gifts. He’s probably making the case for some money lender, or prostitute or maybe a Philistine who just didn’t take his editorials quite to heart. He might be vouching for the finer qualities of the Fallen Angel as I speak. Ah, such a liberal.” The preacher rolled his eyes, adjusted the hat back. “He probably should have been a lawyer instead of a writer. But then, maybe, he’d be convicted in that case instead of merely suspected.”
Laughter rippled through the pews like applause. His friends, preachers and otherwise, if they shared anything, it was a sense of humor, wry and sometimes wicked.
A friend from noontime basketball, where he had played religiously two-three times a week for years, recalled a not particularly skilled player who competed with intensity, sometimes ferocity, all the while cheering on teammates and congratulating opponents on good plays, even during league games.
“He didn’t care whether he shot the ball,” this friend recalled. “It was all about winning with this guy. He played hard every day, every play. Whatever it took. I can tell you he pissed guys off sometimes. He pissed me off more than once. But you had to love a guy who competed like that.”
A brother-in-law remembered a decade or so ago, back when the Old Man was still living and the families were back in Indiana for something or other. The golfers in the family were getting ready one morning and asked Our Hero, their youngest in-law, if he would like to play with them.
“No thanks,” he said, with a little smile he tried in vain to corral. “I don’t think I’m mature enough yet for that game.”
“We still don’t know take that,” the in-law said from the pulpit.
The extended families had come from both coasts and the heartland. A few made wry jokes about funerals replacing weddings these days. Great to see everyone. Only not like this. The bitter and the sweet, and so hard to admit the warmth of the latter.
Leah held together through all this. Frequently she wiped her cheeks, which glistened, but she could smile, too. Eventually, her forced good cheer slowed and then stopped her daughter’s stream of grief. Life does go on, and he would want that, after all.
Thank God Leah did not have to choose between a casket burial and cremation. The accident had pretty much settled that. The authorities were amazed at how little they found, actually. The biggest bit was the ring finger digit, a dollop of molten gold attached.
Leah asked for the precious metal, once the ring that bound her until death would this union part. She had it made into a necklace, the molten form eerily attractive, a flake from a rich vein, full of possibility even if you knew the morbid truth.
“I can’t shake this feeling he’s not really gone,” she confided in her sister, who stayed on a few more days after the funeral.
“Maybe he’s not,” Kathy said. “Maybe his spirit is up there, waiting for you somehow. Maybe he’s refusing to leave. You know, sometimes they say that about spirits who died suddenly.”
Leah nodded. “I know this is crazy. But I just can’t believe he’s dead. I can’t.”
This made life harder for her, and for much longer than it would have otherwise. At least she no longer felt angry. Still, and she smiled at this, a woman not really given to cursing as her husband habitually did: Fuck him.