I find it helpful as I go about my daily ablutions, especially on days like yesterday as I made myself presentable for an event I dreaded attending.
No one likes going to funerals. Well, if there are people who do, I don’t get it. There probably are people who like it. If there are “extreme couponers” willing to spend hours preparing for and doing their grocery shopping, I guess it’s possible that there are people who like going to funerals. Yes, I can see how some people need closure, one of the most overused words in the English language. Ok, I can see how some people find comfort in the ritual that envelopes saying that final good-bye to a loved one. I also can see how some people enjoy the socializing that occurs before and after, in which people from near and far come together for a sad and solemn occasion.
But wouldn’t it be nice if we were spending time, good quality time, with our loved one, instead of saying good-bye to them?
I definitely needed an extra surge of power to prepare for Sophia’s funeral. And if that surge comes from a snarky piece of art in my bathroom, I’ll take it. In addition to facing my own demons of funeral-memory-overload from my mom’s event in October 2005, I also had the momentous task of getting my dress-clothes-hating son kitted out in appropriate funeral attire. Not that this task was on par with the Navy Seals taking down Osama bin Laden, by any means, but it was complicated and fraught with peril.
There were multiple-stage negotiations, some of which turned hostile; trial runs and practice fittings; surveillance to be done, and more than one recon mission to procure the necessary supplies to make this task a success.
With supplies gathered from multiple trips between our house and Amy’s house and two trips to Target and with fittings complete despite tricky buttons, we were good to go. My boy had the dress clothes he needed for two occasions. Back-to-back dressing up was torture for him, but like any good soldier, he dug deep and found the resources to stay strong and carry on.
He noted that Aunt Sophia was one of the few people on this Earth for whom he would subject himself to the torture that is dressing up. Not once, but twice, and not spaced out over the passage of time but one day right after the other.
He didn’t want to, but he did it. When I commented that while I know he hates it, he actually looked quite nice, his reply was “Your opinion.”
Back away slowly from the crazy boy.
As we saw our relatives gathered at the funeral home and then again at the church, I murmured, “Don’t comment on his outfit. Pretend everything is normal.” His smartened-up look was duly noted but not commented upon, and peace was restored in our little kingdom.
The memorial service the night before the funeral was sad, very sad. But good. Lots of reminders from the priest to remember the good times, to not let our sadness override our happy memories. A whole lot of talk about Sophia being in a better place. While I can’t deny that her being free from the horrors of a brain tumor is a good thing, the “better place” idea is cold comfort to me.
I certainly don’t want her to still be here, suffering and unable to communicate, a prisoner in her uncooperative body. I most definitely don’t want her to be subjected to living a life devoid of independence, something so very important to her. I don’t even want her to have to live in a skilled nursing home instead of her own neat & tidy, cozy home that was so much a part of her.
What I want is for her to still be here, healthy and vibrant, with no trace of glioblastoma or any other disease. What I want is to be sitting at her kitchen table, watching her fold tiropitas as if it’s the easiest thing in the world (and knowing that I’ll be going home with some of those little yummies). What I want is to be in her pool, watching the delight on her face as she presents my kids with their own individual pool floats: a huge, inflated baseball glove for Payton and a hibiscus-flower decorated inner tube for Macy. What I want is to walk into her cool, dark garage, with the musty smell I remember from childhood, to grab a popsicle from the deep freeze. What I want is to be calling her on the phone to tell her we’re having a family party, after the kiddie party, for one of my kids’ birthdays, and to listen to hear volunteer to make the cake. What I want is to see her walk through my door and to hear her say, “Hi, Nance.”
What I want, I guess, is to stop time. To freeze our lively interaction. To halt the passage of time and the acquiring of diseases that rob us of our health, our independence, and our lifestyles.
And while I’m at it, I sure would like to have the same thing for my sweet mama. To have her sitting next to me at Sophia’s table, assuring me that folding the perfect tiropita is easy. Just pinch and seal and brush with melted butter, and the filling won’t leak out during baking. To have her in the pool with my kids and me, mediating their squabble over whose turn it is with the blue pool noodle. To be grabbing her a Diet Coke from the fridge in the musty garage. To hear her voice on the phone, even if it’s the 11th time she’s called me today. To know that she’ll be at the family after-party, scurrying around my kitchen and telling me how to do a task I’ve done a thousand times, but which she thinks still requires her expertise.
Is that really asking so much?
It has been suggested by the author of this little beauty that I orchestrated the death of Osama bin Laden as a bookend to my cancer-versary celebration. He suggested that while I am “a bad-ass bitch” and have kicked cancer to the curb, this may be taking the celebration too far.
Oh, if only I had that kind of power. Oh, the things I could do. And really, who’s to say how much is too much when it comes to celebrating? I was going to write about our trip to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the National Gallery’s Impressionist exhibit yesterday, but this is way more important. Art can wait; the idea of me having that kind of power is intoxicating!
Although I don’t actually have the power to hunt down and kill the mastermind behind our national tragedy, the idea does appeal, and believe me, I have a lot of pent-up energy from my “cancer journey” and would have loved the chance to spew all that on Mr. Pure Evil. Well, it does at least give me an excuse to take a leisurely stroll down memory lane, to the days after September 11, 2001, and the events that changed the world. I’m glad that President Obama finally has some good news to report.
Many things changed when bin Laden brought his personal brand of evil to US shores. The idea that the most powerful nation in the world was not immune to an attack by a crazy man with far-reaching power and an army of jihadists was foreign to us before September 11, 2001. Our sense of security was shaken, and air travel would never be the same.
I imagine everyone has a “where were you on September 11th?” story, much like recollections of where one was when JFK was assassinated. For me, I was chasing a wildly headstrong toddler around and expecting a second bundle of wildness.
Here I am with Wild Thing #1 in my arms and Wild Thing #2 in my belly at the Sesame Street exhibit at the Houston Children’s Museum. Yes, I notice that the 2-year-old child is almost half as long as me. That 2-year-old is fixin’ to turn 12 and can look me in the eye without a step-stool. But this is what he looked like in the days of the terrorist attack on these United States.
Wild Thing #2 turned out to be even wilder than her predecessor, and has shaken things up to a degree not even I, with my wild imagination, could have predicted. We should have known we were in for a wild ride with her, when she caused some much upheaval from the git-go. Her time in utero was not uneventful, and when she deemed it time to come into this world, she did it with a bit of an explosion. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. With her chubby cheeks and impish grin, she fooled us into thinking we were in control.
On the day before the terrorist attacks, I had a sonogram to get a glimpse into Macy’s world. She afforded the ultrasound technicians some beautiful pictures of her swimming around in her own private pool. We didn’t want to know her gender before she was born, preferring to be surprised like we were with Payton. There are so few great surprises in life anymore, and to us, the idea of being able to tell our friends, families, and loved ones “IT’S A BOY!” or “IT’S A GIRL!” was pretty special.
We wanted to have that chance again the second time around, and told the technician and the doctor emphatically that we absolutely, positively did not want to know this baby’s gender.
Sure, no problem, they said, and proceeded on with the sonogram, talking in code to describe what they were seeing without giving it all away.
Everything was working beautifully, until they slipped, and ruined the surprise.
I thought this was the worst thing ever! The end of the world! These idiots had ruined my surprise!
I cried my eyes out that afternoon, and while I knew I was fortunate to have a healthy baby growing inside of me, I was inconsolable about having my surprise jerked away from me. The pity party was in full swing, and all the pregnancy hormones associated with Wild Thing #2 raged on through that evening.
I went to bed on September 10th with eyes swollen from crying, and awoke to the news that terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center. My pity party came to a screeching halt.
In the days that followed the attacks I was tense and restless. Rumors abounded of more attacks, and of Houston being a target because of its energy industry. I was glued to the news and gobbled up every human interest story that came my way. Three days after the attacks, in the midst of so many thousands of lost lives, we suffered another loss as Big Ed, the patriarch of our close family friends, succumbed to the ravages of pancreatic cancer.
The two events will forever be intertwined in my heart and mind. The images of September 11th are burned into our nation’s collective conscience, and the despair of cancer claiming yet another one of the good guys brought my aching heart even more sorrow. US flags flew from buildings, homes, firetrucks, even baby strollers. Patriotism had a renewed vigor, and our nation pledged to never forget the victims and the heroes of 9/11/02. Our smaller circle raised a toast to Big Ed and vowed to remember him always. If he hadn’t been stopped by cancer, I could imagine him packing all his tools and a thermos of Dunkin Donuts coffee into his pickup truck, and driving from Massachussets to New York City to lend a hand. That’s the kind of guy he was, and like the victims of the terrorist attacks, he is sorely missed, all these years later.
It took nearly a decade, but the great karma wheel finally caught up with Osama bin Laden. A lot has changed, in the world and in my own little corner of the universe, since the terrorists came to town. My firstborn continued his wildness, but eventually settled down into a quiet, baseball-loving kid. My second child was born, and the chaos that is Macy still ensues. We moved from Sugar Land to Durham, NC, for a 2-year stint. My sweet mama joined Big Ed in becoming yet another victim of the vicious beast we know as cancer. Maddy, the best dog in the world, thumped her old, white tail, winked at me one last time, then left me forever. My own home was dive-bombed by cancer, and my life and that of my family changed forever. While my “cancer journey” has a happier ending than my mom’s and Big Ed’s, it’s left me shaken and uneasy, constantly searching the sky for approaching planes.
I shudder to think at the number of lives lost and the huge amount of money spent on this war on terror, so for today, I will celebrate the triumph of good vs evil.