And Now… The Big Lebowski

In late September we’re scattering my mom’s ashes.  We’ve decided to go to Big Sur, to Nepenthe, which she loved.  All that is a-okay.  Right?  I mean, family is going to get together, we’ll be maudlin as we probably should be, it’s a one year anniversary, and then we’ll scatter ashes… into the sea… which is both illegal and well…

This is what we all fear.  I mean, let’s just get fucking real about it, right?  Right now I have this box of heavy heavy ashes and since I have a little extra from getting our memorial rings made, I know what it looks like in there and it is freaky and not at all subtle.  Bone.  I have bone in my house.

So now we have to figure out how to get my mom’s ashes scattered in a way that doesn’t end in Lebowski.  Which is how I ended up having three of the oddest conversations of my life with three different “Captains” of three different vessels (one sea, two air) about the scattering.  How to do it.  Where to do it.  How I broke a federal law by having the cremains UPSed to me.  How much it would cost.  How maybe putting “notarized” and “scattering” in quotes on your website make it seem like you are just alluding to these words and not actually performing them.  Like “I’m ‘scattering’ the ashes” really means “I’m dumping them into the dumpster behind Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles and then using the box to store my collection of vintage porn postcards.”  That kind of thing.  This is what I think about when you use quotes.  I think about your plane and how it is used for dead people and your boat and the same thing and how we have to go deal with family and how I really just want to walk out into the ocean, on a grey September day and cast my mom’s ashes on the water and say a quiet little prayer for her and how because I don’t rule the world, that is basically impossible.

Also I think about Lebowski.


Ashes, Ashes, They All Fall Down

Delivered within 72 hours of each other: my dog’s ashes and my mom’s ashes.

I’m trying not to think about it, but it creeps in every once in awhile.  The whole process seems labored, heavy (like the box my mom came in) and filled with people talking to you carefully.

I was miserable yesterday afternoon.  We are have one car, and Ben had to work, and I was stuck at home.  I was hot and annoyed and hungry and PMSey and did I mention hungry?

On the way to the Dodger game, Ben was teasing me.  “Wait, are you saying it is your time of the month and you haven’t eaten anything and you are emotional?  Well that makes no sense at all.  That is just crazy.”

But all last night I kept thinking about it.  I mean, yes, it was crazy.  Low blood sugar and Schacters is a Defcon 5 situation.  Add some powerful lady-hormones and of course I went insane.  But did I?  Wasn’t it a valid reaction to my current situation?  I mean, really, aren’t emotions valid reactions to reality?  I guess if I wasn’t really hungry or hormonal or hot I could see how I might be considered nuts, but I was scientifically, legitimately all those things.

So what do I scientifically, legitimately know right now?  I know I have human remains in my house.  I know I feel responsible for them and also resentful that I have to deal with them.  I know that my throat hurts and that money is tight and that Harry needs to be walked and fed.

I also know that my mom is not acutely on my mind.  I miss the acuteness.  I miss holding that death in my hands and being able to see all sides of it.  I hate how random grief becomes, how it goes away and naps and recuperates and kicks your ass when it shouldn’t.

I have until late September to come to terms with the ashes.

Mother’s Day

This holiday sucks.

It just does.

Five Things You Don’t Know About Your Friend With A Dying Parent

1. They are dealing with crap.  And not the kind of crap that is ephemeral.  I mean, poop.  They are dealing with poop.

2. They laugh more than you think they should.  They laugh at inappropriate things.  They laugh at appropriate things.

3. They don’t know you are thinking of them.  They don’t have any idea.  It is okay, even helpful, to tell them you are.

4. They may not be thinking of you, cause they may not be able to.  But that is okay.  Cause you aren’t telling them you are thinking of them for you, you are doing it for them, right?

5. They are hungry.  And tired.  In body, in soul, in their stomach, in their bones.  When somebody in your house is dying you can never get comfortable.  Food is weird and foreign and comforting and alienating and sleep is something that the nice drugs bring if you are lucky enough to be able to take the time out to take them.

And just for shits and giggles

6. They aren’t saying a lot of the things you think you might say when you are faced with a similar situation.  Because in a certain world, in the world of death and bodies falling apart, in the hospice world — you don’t need to say a lot of those things.  Everyone knows.

Though This is a Blog About Death It is Also about Moms

Which is why I think it is only right that I share this:

One of my favorites is:

Are You Gay?

Yeah Chris is cute. Are you gay? I’d be all over him if I was your age. But then maybe you are all over each other and you are still just friends. Or that unrequited love thing. Sniff. None of my business. He seems like a nice guy. I always forget I’m wearing my prescription sunglasses. It is considered rude in some cultures to hide your eyes. By the way, if you are gay, no problems for me as long as you have kids

Which I didn’t know about until today.  The website.  I knew about gay people.  And moms.

I’m More of A Grief Stylist, Pt. 2

From Zubronie

I can’t watch an emotional movie either for fear of something dripping or honking
out of me. And what interests me most about this subject, how people deal with
grief differently, is how limited the range of reactions seem to be. On on the one
end, you have the super-stoic: a person who looks as though he/she wouldn’t care if
you told him/her that the world would end the next day. He’d just curl back up in
front of Top Chef and glaze over. And then you have the opposite pole, the (for
lack of a better characterization) “emotional lunatic:” the eyes of this gentle soul
moist up at the mere mention of a word like “love,” or “John Cusak” [movie]. The
type that fascinates me is the one who is probably more toward the stoic pole; a
person who has the compassion of the lunatic yet the composure of a zen Buddhist.
My friend Rich is a good example.

A close coworker died in November (lots of people die in November, I guess). He and
I worked on projects together for over two years, and his loss hit me much harder
than I expected. The funeral was an open casket. Forgetting the fact that I, too,
probably suffer from some kind of death PTSD–and so the mere mention of a funeral
is enough either to get me drinking copiously or running like hell in an opposite
direction–I particularly don’t like open caskets. I’m inclined to classify the
practice up there with self mutilation. But as a “mature adult,” I felt it my duty
to pass my respects. I did it quickly, and I tried to choke any emotional feedback
that might travel to my brain as much as possible (I was totally unsuccessful).
Back at my seat, wishing for sunglasses, I watched Rich approach John.

Rich was in the Navy. He has known lots of people, many of whom have probably died
(and a few in sudden, terrible ways). If you talk to Rich he wouldn’t strike you as
a particularly deep / zen-balanced man. But I watched him approach John, put his
hand briefly on John’s chest, looking into his face (as though he were trying to
retain the memory), pause, and then walk away. It was one of the most sincere,
“mature” (for lack of a better characterization) ways I have ever seen someone
grieve. I mean, Rich and John had worked together for almost 15 years; their wives
were friends; and they had done countless things together. Yet Rich wasn’t either
dragging a box of moisturized Kleen-Ex or listening to an iPod, bored as hell. He
seemed able to grieve with compassion AND dignity. I blown away. So I started to
bawl openly and noisily (and then I grabbed a toilet paper roll from the bathroom).

Last anecdote: I thought we were safe when the casket was finally rolled up to the
burial service . . . and then they did the flag ceremony, presenting the American
flag to John’s widow (John was a vet.). THAT (and hearing taps played by a military
band) is about as heart wrenching as it gets.

Thinking About Bunnies and Hot Dogs

Bernice Schacter, 1967, Mt. Washington

So I’ve been thinking about bunnies and hot dogs.  More specifically, how I hope that when our dog, Lulu, is euthanized next week, that she ends up in a field of bunnies who poop out hot dogs.  This would be heaven for her.  The days will be cool and sunny, the nights warm enough to sleep outside and every onece in awhile it would snow so she could show off her husky skills and mush.  Which is to say, I hope she ends up somewhere that makes her completely her, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for eternity.

We don’t talk a lot about life after death in my world.  We don’t because lots of people don’t believe in it, because lots of people believe what comes after death is some sort of one-to-one punishment for the acts in this life.  We don’t because believers believe in strict interpretations of their god and they don’t like questions.  We don’t because we don’t want to know the answer if the answer isn’t our answer.

When my mom was dying we took turns sleeping in her room, the family room, and being on-call to administer meds and tend to her needs.  I would close my eyes and picture Ravello.  High above the Italian seas, a mountain town perched on the side of the Amalfi Coast Road, the hotel was up from the town.  And in town, as you descended, there was a cafe that had a checkered front patio, and stone tables with metal chairs.  Umbrellas were distributed unevenly and honestly everyone wanted to sunshine.

I would see it, eyes shut, ears still trying to hear any sound from the hospital bed, and then I’d see my mom.  She’s wearing the white fisherman’s sweater and a pair of mom-jeans, walking shoes.  She’s drinking coffee.  An old Italian man smiles at her and she gives her kind but slightly tight smile back.  The real smile is for family only.

So I see her.  And I try to keep seeing her.  I try to project this into her mind.  ‘You’re in Ravello’ I say over and over again.  Now I don’t know if I actually believe in anything psychic but since it has never been proven I am cautiously optimistic.  Hopefully our brains are that powerful.  And I hope my mom could see what I was willing her to see.  Peace.  Sunshine.  And the most beautiful place we knew.

A dog is a completely different situation, and far easier.  A dog trusts you and accepts love and has no idea what is going to happen.  She knows that she can’t walk very far anymore and she knows the bumps on her are bad, but she can’t understand ‘tumor.’  She knows she trusts us and she knows we have steak for her for dinner every night.  It is simple, a binary relationship.  I can project anything into her sweet, mushy brained head, addled with age and who knows what else.

But it reminds me of how much we want to know and be able to help the dying.  We want them to be able to see something great as their body winds down.  We want it so much we think of it for them, and then we push it into their heads as if we had escaped from Witch Mountain.  I have no idea what my mom wanted to see, and what I was trying to do is tell her to go somewhere better.  Go anywhere you want.  I may not believe in religion but I’ve seen the absence of a person when they die and their body is still there and I’m cautiously optimistic that what was there has left and that some of it, in organic or inorganic form will end up in Ravello.  And Nepenthe.  And a garden in Shaker Heights, and a million other places I never knew about.  First kisses and first books and first words…

There is no advice today.  Nothing intelligent to be said.  Just that Everybody Dies and I thank you for not being an asshole.