When I was a little boy my Uncle John dropped dead running for the school bus. I remember hearing my mother cry. A deep soul felt sobbing that lasted for hours. Even as a child I recognized this as sincerity. I was not afraid, I knew this was something mother should do. Grief is necessary.
When my grandfather passed away the little boy watched his father entertain his friends and relatives in front of the corpse of his father. I did not know he was being brave. I didn’t want to see him cry but the laughing seemed out of place. Maybe he wept with my mother in the room where all the children were made.
My beautiful brother Hugh died after running, just like John. I didn’t handle this very well. I ran away. Seeing my family suffer was bad enough but I couldn’t stand the idea that they would soon recover. The fact that life goes on lacks sincerity.
I actually got to talk to my mother about her death. She said dying of congestive heart failure was a terrible way to go. I had to agree. Toward the end of her life she had a cleansing stroke.. She forgot a lot of negative things clouding her mind. While she was recovering from the stroke we met at the hospital and would bring her treats and smother her with kisses. One night I cooked lobster in her room, her favorite taste and she remembered the taste. Later as I was kissing her I whispered, “Mom, you didn’t have to do this just to get kisses.” The day she died I went to work and cried into the soup. The day we buried her I went fishing.
When my best friend died I fell apart. I cried for three days. It was the same sincere grief my mother felt. In losing him I lost myself.
Life is redemptive. Death diminshing. We must think of a better way to make space.
My grandmother Ruth Skidmore lived to the great age of 91. She outlived all of her best friends. She relished in their funeral celebrations. The good conversation, the tasty food, the solemnity, piety and sadness. We would listen to her funeral stories with rapt attention and share in the feeling of celebration. After her funeral, my brother Paul and cousin Kevin walked around the block, Ogden Avenue, to Catherine, to Bell, to Kensignton smoking a reefer. It was very good pot and when we arrived at GaGa’s house my cousin Wylie told a funny story about his dog. In the kitchen cabinets I found an old bottle of Scotch that I proceeded to polish off much to the chagrin of my Aunt Caroline, whom I loved dearly. On the way to the airport we stopped to get a Chicago hot dog. On the plane my older brother slept and snored the whole way home.
Everyone lies about dying except the dead.