December 09, 2006

Let it come down.

It wouldn't make any sense to post any of the things that I've written this weekend separately. I can only think to post them together and let you sort them out.

Friday, December 8th, 2006, 11:00 pm.

The only good thing about trying to write a paper at 11:00 at night after four hours of sleep and a half day of airport delays followed by a half-day of crying at the pre-funeral viewing for a beloved relative... is that there's no danger of falling asleep while writing because your eyes hurt too much to close.

Saturday, December 9th, 2006, 6:00 pm.

I'm a one-man (woman) catastrophe right now. It's 6:00 and I'm sitting in the terminal at Burbank Airport waiting for my flight home. I didn't sleep well last night â I doubt you'd believe me if I said there was road resurfacing going on in front of my parents' house at 4:00 this morning. But I'm saying it anyway. This morning was the church service for my grandfather. I'd always kind of liked Catholic services until this weekend; I think the obscurity and the constant affirmation of who is in and who is out makes the whole thing a mystery that I long to be part of. But when the purported reason for a service is to have a collective remembrance of a loved one and to reassure the people who loved him, being there and being out is much worse than not being there at all. We can all take comfort in each other's presence... so let's recite in unison the prayers that we all know because we're all Catholic. We should not let our sorrow at Lyle's death overwhelm us... because we all believe that he is in heaven now and our faith will let us join him. It was probably the most profoundly alienating experience of my life. It was followed by one of the strangest, creepiest experiences of my life, the cemetery service. Newsflash: cemeteries aren't the beautiful, flawless verdant paradises they're made out to be. They have dead grass and barbed wire and guys hanging out in their bulldozers waiting for the charade to be over so they can actually put the coffin in the ground, which is theoretically what the cemetery service is all about. Why not actually bury the person you've come to bury? Isn't it far creepier to drive him there in a hearse, hand the weirdly blank coffin to his sons and sons-in-law so they can carry it all of ten feet for a weird little symbolic show and then put it down on a couple of two-by-fours suspended over a cement box that may or may not actually be in a hole in the ground and may or may not, who knows really, be part of the burial apparatus, it's all kind of obscure and hard to understand, and cry and put some roses on the casket and say wonderful words about laying him gently in the earth to his peaceful rest and then walk off and leave him to be stuck in the ground by a couple of strangers with hernia belts and earthmoving equipment who never met him? Than to fucking get your own hands dirty by picking up the casket for real and shuffling it into a real hole in the real ground yourself, and understanding that if you tip the casket and jostle it around or even drop the damn thing it doesn't matter, he's dead, he's not going to get up and tell you you did it wrong, because he's a cold body in a wooden box in the ground and it's going to be that way forever? I have to be in the minority here, I have to, because if everyone else felt that it was disrespectful and undignified and emotionally distant to walk away from your beloved relatives before they've actually been put to rest, then the whole mortuary industry with its little green fake grass mats around little white boxes around little shiny wood boxes and tastefully bland brass markers that lay flat and discreetly don't tell you anything about the people under them and anyway aren't even there yet to tell you their discreet nothing while you're playing out your charade with your roses and your white gloves wouldn't fucking exist.

A couple of months ago I read an article for an anthropology class about mortuary rites in some group of people somewhere where the dead are held and touched and cuddled and cried on and handed around from mourner to mourner, because they're the bodies of our loved ones and we know them almost as well as our own and still find comfort in touching them, and then they're taken away and cut up and cooked and eaten, because they're dead and gone and we need to understand that they've been transformed into something we can't hang on to. And I have to tell you that doesn't seem nearly as creepy to me as the service for my grandfather today.

And then to cap off an ever-increasingly unlovely day we retired to my grandmother's house for food and awkward social mingling, and for all the talk about the value of having the family all there and how much it meant for me to have come for this nobody thought to get their hands on something that wasn't meat or cheese for me to eat. So I had a roll and a few strawberries instead of lunch and by the time I got dropped off at the airport, exhausted, tired of being herded by my mother's coping mechanism of micromanaging everyone around her, and far too early for my flight because of just that mechanism, I was already a blood-sugar disaster. I wandered up and down this ridiculously tiny airport looking for something I could eat for dinner, and by the time I'd done a lap of the terminal I'd discovered it wasn't possible. The veggie sandwich was discontinued. The pizza place could make me something with cheesy pesto sauce. I got a cup of tea and a couple of granola bars and sat down at my gate to have a long talk with myself and try to remember that this isn't the church or the chapel or the cemetery and the habits of the last 30 hours don't make it acceptable to sit down here and start bawling.

It didn't work. And that is how you came to be presented with these four paragraphs of anger and frustration and alienation and physical and emotional exhaustion and depression. This is not one of my more charming blog entries. This is not one of my more charming days. But I'm frustrated and tired and last night at the end of the viewing my youngest uncle came up to my sister and me, crying, to tell us that his 2-year-old son never had a chance to know his grandfather. I can't be charming to that.

Saturday, December 9th, 2006, 7:30 pm.

Between the gate and the airplane just now it was cold, and wet, and it smelled like rain on concrete. It was too dark to see the clouds that had been covering more of the sky every hour since noon, but I saw a few of them drift past in dark wisps as we took off. I hope it pours. I can't see any reason for it to hold off. Let it come down.

Posted by dianna at December 9, 2006 09:22 PM


(i'm not trying to be flippant. quite the opposite, i can appreciate your feelings of alienation, frustration, etc. (not the stuff in reference to non-veggie Bob Hope Airport food, but this is not the time.) i just said 'word' cuz i can't remember what the shorthand was for "i hear ya, preach on sista")

Posted by: Erik at December 9, 2006 10:13 PM

I'm around tonight if you want to hang out and talk. And if you want to get out of the house tomorrow, Jason and I will be wandering about SF from about 11-5. Just give me a call if you're interested.

Posted by: Jacob at December 9, 2006 10:18 PM

Jason left me a message about that, but I really couldn't figure out what he was talking about. Perhaps I will call you tomorrow to ask.

Thanks, Erik.

Posted by: Dianna at December 10, 2006 12:05 AM

My limited interactions with the whole funeral/casket/mortuary industry have convinced me that the entire thing is a scam perpetrated â even if in part perpetrated unknowingly â upon those who are at their most emotionally vulnerable, to guilt them into sparing no expense to make sure that everything is just so, lest they dishonour the memory of their beloved departed.

It saddens me that this took such a toll upon you.

Posted by: Ping at December 11, 2006 10:17 PM

What's interesting, I suppose, is that I haven't even gotten as far as resenting the business side of the scam (at least not deliberately). I'm still too stuck on resenting the cultural weirdness.

For instance, the Dignity Memorial network? Which I saw advertised with intrusive discreetness all over the funeral home, and had to look up when I got home because I was distracted by wondering what the hell it is? I know I should be creeped out by the fact that dignity is a saleable, advertisable, competitive quality. But instead I'm creeped out by the fact that by making a big point of the lovely idea of burying people with dignity the whole enterprise is in fact pre-emptively raising the specter (if you will) of the dreadful idea of burying people without dignity. And I suspect that only when I've gotten some good indignant mileage out of being creeped out by that will I be inclined to sit down and think about the slavering entrepreneurial inappropriateness of it.

Posted by: Dianna at December 11, 2006 11:54 PM

I've never been to a funeral, but I've always felt comforted when in graveyards. There is a dignity there -- the ones I've been in, anyway. Someplace quiet to go sit under a tree and remember. The burial, associated costs, religious services, etc., may all be a scam or at the least not comforting, but after that you have a quiet space and your thoughts.

I'm awfully sorry, once again, that you're having to go through this. If you are looking for a vengeful little laugh at the funeral industry's expense, you might pick up Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. (I am pretty sure this will make you feel better about the funeral and not worse about your grandfather; I could be wrong though.)

Posted by: didofoot at December 12, 2006 09:49 AM

D, that was one of the most beautiful things I've ever read, I hope your doing better now

Posted by: Tommy at December 16, 2006 03:28 PM