Thursday, May 14, 2009

One day we will all be at the farmhouse table, she hopes

"Does it take a death to learn what life is worth?"
-Jackson Browne

We're back from our journey to the Beaver Valley. It was an interesting time, with interesting experiences, and I'm not sure what happens next. A lot of things went through my mind and heart and I'm still processing a lot of it. Nothing bad, just deep thoughts. All told, I don't think I've ever been to a wake where there was more laughter and joking and happiness. And that is a good thing.

050709 10We left Wednesday night after dropping the dogs at the kennel and made it across the NY state line into Pennsylvania (Matamoras, to be exact).

It was pouring rain, we were hydroplaning and trucks were just spraying us with road crap and water and it just got overwhelming. So we stopped for the night. A nice slow morning and breakfast, we knew we were not in a huge hurry to get out there and we took our time. We stopped at a waterfall in the Poconos and really enjoyed the sites. After the horrible rain the days prior, the waterfall was raging and it was well worth the stop.

The hotel was welcoming and comfortable. We had dinner with Doug's parents and settled in. A quick check of Facebook revealed that my friend Mark was looking to possibly get together with us at some point. We crashed out, and made arrangements to get together with Mark and the fam the following morning with the (seriously) only free time were going to have for the weekend.

Mark and the Bionicle His house had burned down last summer and he and his wife bought a great big huge beautiful old house in downtown Beaver Falls and he wanted us to see it.

We were more than happy to come by and check it out. We had a wonderful visit, filled with college discussion (ours and Jess' upcoming choices) and lots of lovin' from the dog.

We ran back to the hotel and got ready for visiting hours. A little stressed and slightly late. Doug's mom told us were were supposed to be there at 2:30 for the 3pm start, and we got in the car at 2:45. I felt bad, but no one said anything or noticed so ... okay. Visiting hours were painfully long. Five hours. I spent a good amount of time watching my niece and nephew, ages 7 and 4, and some other family kidlins who were obliviously not interested in spending time next to the coffin the visiting room.

As always, I had my camera and took scads of pictures of the kids. I figured when are all four of cousinsthem going to be together and dressed well again other than another funeral.

One of the highlights for me was the time I spent chatting with Doug's great aunt Dove. She has been sick for several years, and here her sister goes before her, suddenly and unexpectedly. She told me she was shocked and knows that she won't be around much longer.

But she's sharp as a tack and loves to talk, doesn't have a hard time hearing even in a noisy room, and is very funny. I asked if Dove was her real name and she shook her head and made a face. "Doris. Which is horrible. Dove is so much nicer. They started calling me that when I was a baby, and it just stuck around."

So she's Dove.

She asked about our house, what the kids like to do, what I like to do. I've only met her once or twice since I discovered Doug in 1986... and she has a great memory of all kinds of things. She remembered one year when we came to the family reunion. The only year we've come to the family reunion. Geoff was 18 months old. "He's such a big gentleman now. Look at him," Dove said to me as we stood next to her sister's body.

"You need to come back more often. I need to get to know you better." She said that to me and it broke my heart. She meant it. She honestly liked talking to me about life and stuff, and we had a few good laughs, especially when I agreed with her not liking her name due to the fact I have a middle name I'm not at all fond of.

Visiting hours ended and we retired with pizza and Doug's sister and niece to our hotel room. Geoff swam for a while and Elyse watched him. We chatted until 11 or so and eventually got the room cleared out of guests and got to bed.

Morning came too soon. We managed to get ready on time and get over to the funeral home.

Dove told me that she didn't know if this was real or not, that sometimes she wakes up in the night and asks herself if the events of the day prior were a dream or reality, and she found herself doing that late at night after going to bed.

I told her I have the same problem sometimes and I was glad to know someone else does too. But this is real, and we held hands and just spent time.

The service for the funeral was very, very short. I felt like there was everything missing. It was held at the funeral home, not at a church, and the pastor was someone not connected to the family that I know of, which confused me. I'm including this photo that I took three years ago next week, it came to my mind as the pastor did his service.

Kitchen Morning 610amHe did a whole big thing about how Grandma was so family oriented, and how she loved being home. She often talked about her mom's house, and the farm house kitchen table.

There were 12 kids, 11 of which survived into adulthood (the first one died in infancy. A lot of people would not have 11 more kids after losing their first born, but this was the 1920s or so, and yeah, people did that...).

It was a place to talk, a place to gather, a place to wind down at the end of the day. So now, she's gone "home," and the pastor painted a picture of a sunny kitchen dining area with a big table, spread with good food and drink. Pappy and her son John who passed two years ago are first to greet her. Her mom and dad, and her brothers and sisters who had gone before her, each rise to greet her in love.

He said they were enjoying a good chat, and Mary walks into the room. They rise to greet her, hug her, kiss her and welcome her.

And that was where I lost it.

Imagining that sort of homecoming, that sort of welcome. Like coming home from college for Thanksgiving and a five hour trip took you twelve freaking hours. Walking in the door, finding your family around that table, talking politics or current events or reminiscing about things that had gone by and they rise to meet you... Or a soldier, returning from service with the duffel bag over his shoulder, stepping in and setting that burden down and getting that cup of coffee handed to him after all the hugs.

That sort of image of welcoming home just filled me with sadness and joy all at the same moment. I realized I won't be walking into her home ever again and getting that greeting from her. I wouldn't have anyway since she had moved into assisted living. But I have walked in on that kind of scene and been made welcome. Welcomed home. Welcomed as a part of her family.

The pastor kind of ruined it for me by taking this image a step further and imagining that the family parted and at the head of the table sat Jesus Himself, holding her baby brother that she never got to meet.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Jesus won't be welcoming saints who come into his kingdom of heaven but I don't know that he's hanging out at the farm house kitchen table holdin' babies. I think Jesus meets us at the door, gives us that big hug and points the way in to where the family is. He can't be at EVERYone's farm house kitchen table waiting for them, you know? And we can hang out with him individually or in groups... but that farm house kitchen table, that first moment and meeting? Not really sure he wants in on that scene. What do you think?

This image stuck with me and it made me think of my photo of our kitchen, a place I'm sure she would love.

She is home, welcomed by those who wait. Pappy went not quite 10 years ago (I can't believe it has been that long) and was the first to hug and kiss her. She was so sad for so long after John's passing, and I know she is joyful to be reunited with him ... And whether or not Jesus was sitting there with a nice cuppa or not is not relevant. She's there. And they await the next one to join.

Not sure if it will be Dove or another one of the remaining five siblings, but someone will pass.

They will gather again and ask "is this real? Am I dreaming this?" like Dove did, holding my hand and looking at me with big, loving eyes.

Anyway. Tito, hand me a tissue. I'm crying again just thinking on it.

We had a family meal at a local restaurant, and went back to the hotel to chill. Geoff had a long swim, met three young brothers at the pool and all four of them together did cannonballs and cheered one another. It was totally Boy Time, and it was refreshing. He needed that after being so well behaved for so many hours.

After the other boys left, Geoff and I were swimming and he said "I'm kind of sad that the service was so short. I thought people would get up and share what they thought about Grandma."

I told him that I was also surprised. All told, the service was about 15 minutes long. I asked him to go ahead and tell me what he would have said if he had been given the opportunity to stand and eulogize her. I asked if he'd written her a poem or song yet. He said he hadn't. He told me that he would have said that he loved her, and that she was always so nice to him. I don't think he honestly could say anything more than that, he didn't get to spend a lot of time with her. Whenever we came out we'd visit, of course, but he didn't get to have a close relationship with her. But his assessment is spot on. She did love him, and she was always kind to him.

Saturday night we went out with Doug's parents to an Italian restaurant. Ate too much and slept well. The following day we went out to Ohio to see Doug's other grandmother for Mother's Day. I was worried about "abandoning" Doug's mom on Mother's Day but she was relieved to have some time alone to herself. She doesn't get along with her mother in law, so she didn't accompany us to Ohio.

The FamilyDoug's dad took us to East Carmel to his Grandparents' gravesite. We then went to Grandma's new place at her assisted living home. She was in great spirits, and we got there an hour later than we'd anticipated and she said she was afraid we weren't going to come.

Now there, Middie. How would we not come to you?

Diane and J were there too with the kiddies and we had a lot of fun visiting. Doug's aunt came up from Virginia, and it was a regular Down Home family reunion. Missing only Doug's mom and Doug's cousin. So this photo is as complete a full Gary's bunch of the family photo as we're ever going to get.

It was a good long visit and the ride home was blocked by a car accident right outside Doug's uncle's house, two doors down from Doug's parents' house. We had to drive all over hell and Western Pennsylvania to get to the driveway of the house. And then, of course, we had to go find out all the details of the accident. So by the time we went out to dinner that night at it was about 9pm.

Geoff ended the visit to Western PA wonderfully with probably what has to be the funniest verbal mistake ever. He read from the menu out loud when ordering and said "Classic Black Anus Burger," instead of Angus Burger.

Damn if Doug and I didn't laugh ourselves into near heart failure. Geoff didn't flip out at his mistake and our laughter, but weathered it well. I don't think he thinks it is funny, but a year ago he would have flipped the table over in the restaurant screaming at all of us to stop laughing at him. And it is good ammo for us too, because he busted on me for making a verbal gaffe and Jess said "oh, so do YOU ever misspeak, Mr. Black Anus Burger??? Hmmm???" It will be used again and again on him I am sure.

We packed up Monday morning and headed home, getting back here with moments to spare to pick up the dogs. They were so happy to see us, and we them. It was good to be home.

I am thinking we may be back out there in the fall to visit University of Pittsburgh. It's on Jess' short list of schools, and so we may make another trip there. I'm hoping that we don't need to make one for another funeral soon. It does feel like we just go out there anymore for weddings and funerals. And that's sad. I want to see Dove again, just to chat and laugh and visit, at least one more time.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Aren't we all just actively dying?

We got a call this morning from Doug's mom. Seems Doug's grandmother passed away this morning. Doug knew it was coming. He counseled his mom last week when she called and described what was going on with her. He told her, "mom, she is actively dying." I had to go look it up. I learned a lot about my husband's knowledge of palliative care during the dying process, and how he was politely letting his mom know that it would not be long before grandma passed away. And Doug was right.

The phone rang at 6:50 this morning. Geoff being the only one up at that hour answered the phone, and chatted with his grandma for a minute before bringing the phone to us

"Grandma's on the phone," he said as he stood next to our bed. I was fast asleep but heard his voice soft and clear.

Here we go.

I got up and started the coffee, encouraged Geoff to ready up for school. Doug talked to his mom until 7:30. Grandma died at the hospital, in her sleep. Doug discussed our tentative plans, and left it with her that we would come down as soon as we could possibly do so.

It wasn't a surprise. This past month was hard on a body, and she bore it and let it go. I cried as I washed some dishes and listened to them talk.

doug and grandmaI was glad we got to see her in November at Sarah and Tom's wedding, but I'm also sad we didn't get a last real chance to see her or be by her side because we knew this was coming.

I think Doug was waiting to see if she made it through this weekend to maybe go make a visit, but he didn't get the chance to

.... and now we're going to go make a visit anyway.

Geoff knew something was up. He came in while Doug and I were discussing whether or not we should tell him now or wait until after school. "Um, so... what's going on?"

Doug opted to tell him. We sat here at the dining table and he bit back tears and his skin flushed as he started to fight the sad. "That's it," he pronounced, "I'm officially an unbeliever because God keeps killing my family." I guess Uncle John's passing in 2006 was still pretty fresh in his mind, fresh enough to feel God was ganging up on us and picking us all off.

We let him know that this was not unexpected, she was old. She had a good run. "Yeah, but the oldest person in the world is 114, so why couldn't she make it a little closer to that age!?" His cuteness touched me deeply, and he'll kick your ass if you say that he's cute so watch out. Doug encouraged him to recognize that great grandma had a really good run of things, a good family, she was good to us and loved us deeply, and she loved God very much so we are certain that she awaits us in Heaven. She'd be sad if she knew Geoff was giving up on God just because she had passed on. He seemed to get that. We gave him the option of skipping school but he went. I'm glad he did. I hope he had friends he could talk to in class who would be willing to hear what he was feeling, and gave to him the support he needs from his peers and friends.

Geoff, your GGS loved you. Please, do not ever forget that buddy. Follow her examples of loving God and family, and being a good listener, and you will do well on this earth.

geoff and ggs

I'm heading to work tomorrow, and we will leave after we drop the dogs off at the kennel at 4:30pm. Not sure how far we'll make it. I'm hoping maybe Clearfield PA. We shall see.

Hopefully it will not be anything like our last funeral related trip that we made out there in 2006. Fingers crossed and prayers go to God...

I've arranged for kenneling for the three dogs, babysitting for the guinea pigs and Geoff's betta fish Kevin the Red. I've let the right people know at both schools that both children will not be in school Thursday through Monday. I've got my work done to the point that it is under control and tomorrow will hopefully just be incidentals and some graphic work that I do weekly that is 99% done and just needs to be fully completed.

And when people ask Doug what she died of his answer is "she died of being 86." And that's the truth.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Escape From Bellevue and Other Stories... my review

A friend of mine from High School wrote a book.
Now, everyone's friend, uncle, dog and cat lately are getting book deals. Not sure how the publication industry is "dying" the death it is when I personally bought four memoirs of people I either have been reading for a while (Rob @ Schuyler's Monster) or I know personally.
In this case, the book is by Christopher Campion, and it is called "Escape From Bellevue, A Dive Bar Odyssey."
I enjoyed it so much I actually took the time to review it for, and what is extra frightening is I actually think my review itself is one of the better things I've written in my life.
I would encourage anyone to go read this book, whether or not they give a damn about an alcoholic out of control lead singer of an indie rock band, or the underground music scene in NYC during the late 80s/and most of the 90s... But simply because I'm nothing more than a pimp for all my friends, yo.
And I've got my boy Chrissy's back. After all he's been through, my brother Huntingtonian can use some serious love.
Here's my review:
Growing up a fellow Huntingtonian from a "Livers with Feet" family, I found Chris Campion's Icarian tale very compelling. Unlike Icarus, who was presumed drowned at sea, Mr. Campion gets the chance to swim to a metaphorical shore and fly again. And crash again, swim to shore. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Campion asks you to grab hold tightly to his pinstripe jacketed coattails as he runs roughshod (drunk, stoned and high) through Huntington's Stinky Corner, to Vanillanova, to the bright lights of the Bowery Ballroom, and then unfortunately the smelly gutter behind it.

With the gift of gab as if he'd been lowered by the ankles at birth to kiss our shared Motherland's famous Blarney Stone, Campion is "that guy" at the end of the bar in Finnegan's (actually, more like The Valencia); full of stories, full of adventures, full of booze and full of crap. He sets up hilarious vignette after unbelievable vignette, from high school garage band insanity, to a sister rising to his defense with a dairy-laden baked potato in hand, to coked-up rodeo clowns (seriously), to the straight jacket ... and then back to off-Broadway success. You almost get a "Malcolm in the Middle" feel as he sets things up for you, dear reader, and turns to the invisible camera addressing just you, to let you know in that same Frankie Muniz kind of way, "this is where it gets REALLY weird."

"Escape from Bellevue" is more than your standard Mr. Mackey "Drugs are bad, m'kay?" tale of rockstar self- and over-indulgence. This is the tale of a young man's complete loss of faith, not simply in himself but in his God. Combine that kind of existential crisis with a lifestyle fueled by substances not naturally found in the human body, and you get a rather volatile anti-hero of whom the Irish Poets would all be proud.

My only criticism of the book is that it is written too colloquially, with too many "oughta" "kinda" and other slangy words and terms used, and I found it distracting at times. It works at the end of the bar, but in a novel or memoirs, that sort of writing should be tidied up a bit. Campion confesses he has never thought of himself as a writer, but rather a songwriter... but this would have been the perfect spot for an editor clean up sloppy, easy writing and make it the work of a real "writer." Because Campion, whether he likes it or not, is a writer.

To take a famous quote entirely out of context "God watches out for little children, fools, drunks..." and at most times through this book your humble narrator is all three of those things simultaneously, keeping God quite busy. Whether or not Christopher John Campion finds that relationship with God again, I'll leave it to you to find out by reading the book. But as I finished the story late one night, the following morning I only had to laugh and thank Him that Chris survived to these days to tell his tales. I hope you'll pick up this book and feel the same.
Chris and I actually discussed at length my one "fault" that I found in the book. He said he wanted it to sound like he was talking, telling the story. He didn't want it edited down to take out the "am I right?" "ya know..." and other things one says when one is storytelling. His editors desperately tried to get him to change that... and he said it lost the humor, the story telling, the edge, and sounded too antiseptic.
I told him that it is really easy to make a narrative sound like it is still a storytelling piece by editing it up a bit. Really make it a story, instead of a very long anecdotal episode.
We agreed to disagree. And it was a beautiful discussion.
Also, I confessed to him that until I was 30 I didn't know there was a lighthouse in Huntington Harbor. I'd never heard of it, never seen it. In the book he outlines a very specific adventure he took out there the night before a family intervention with his father for his da's drinking problem when he was about 15. His Huntington was very different from my Huntington. We spent the better part of two hours going back and forth with emails, and it felt sooooo good to talk to an old friend, who is still the same, but different. And I mean it when I say I thank God he survived his darkest times. The would would be a less fun place without Chris Campion. I truly believe that. 

So go buy it on my recommendation. It might make you cry. It will make you laugh, and you'll say "there is NO way that happened." If you know anyone who is or was an addict, you'll totally get the story, the events, the reality of it all. If you're in a band, you'll totally understand Chris and his dreams. And if you come from a family of "livers with feet" you'll REALLY get it. And if none of the above... hell, just go buy the damn book. Thanks.
If I can help it, Chris and his band The Knockout Drops will hopefully come to Boston and do their off-Broadway show (which came before the book, and the book is based upon the show...) up here. We need the Drops! 

Anyway -- I will have the laptop with me on this trip (again, never ending thanks to you Linda and Ronniw! and that misspelling is intentional, don't worry!) I will try and blog something. Maybe. I know I'll have pictures. And I wonder if the same cookie monster blue seat covers will be on the chairs at the graveside service. Hmmmm. 

More later, vicious freaks.