I’m not really sure what to write about the last week. I started about ten different sentences, and all of them seemed inadequate. This may be a long entry.
The week was a flurry of activity, and much of it was either painful or surreal. Mom’s friend was with her overnight to hold her hand and get her through the worst of the tremors and fits of sadness that woke her in the middle of the night. The phone would start ringing early in the morning, and it wouldn’t stop until late in the evening. The three of us (Brother, Mom’s friend and I) screened all the calls and relayed the messages, but after a couple of days we let the answering machine do what it was designed to do. Everyone was very sweet and wanted to offer their condolences, but it was too much for Mom to deal with, so we handled them as tersely and courteously as we could. We made sure that one of us was with Mom at all times, because she had occasional meltdowns, and whoever was around would go and wrap their arms around her while she sobbed.
We each had a thousand different feelings about this whole situation, and we spent lots of time discussing them. We talked about the good things Stepdad did for us, the predicament he left Mom in, the personal quirks he had, and the mountain of tasks that lay ahead. Brother started going through her finances, and luckily she was well taken care of in that respect.
In his note, Stepdad said that he wanted to be cremated, and that he didn’t want a graveside or memorial service. “Cheap everything” was what he specified. I’m glad that Mom decided to have both services, though, because it’s been hard enough to make sense of it all, even after seeing him at the funeral home. In fact, when we arrived for the viewing, the woman asked if we were with the family, and we said we were. I stepped up to go in first, and the woman motioned for me to walk down the hall. I was expecting a chapel or something, with a little room on the side, so when I walked in to the tiny viewing room, I found myself right in front of the coffin and was very much caught off guard. Stepdad looked like himself, and they did an excellent job of restoring him, especially given the nature of his death. When Mom was able to go in, she made a point of touching his hair on the ‘natural’ side of his head that had been unaffected by the gun shot.
There were lots of family gatherings, as you would imagine. They went surprisingly well, despite the fact that some of us had not seen each other for many years. Times like those were when I felt the most estranged and uncomfortable, because some of the people there were ones I’ve made a conscious effort to keep a safe distance from. I have a pretty low threshold for intense socializing anyway, but I had to ignore my impulses to flee and had to just tough it out.
Stepdad’s daughters scanned a ton of pictures and made a great slide show for the memorial service, which was very touching and honest. They also had some pictures enlarged and placed on the table in the entry of the church, along with some things of his to remember him by, like his fishing equipment and tool bags that he took everywhere. That was a really nice touch.
The pastor of the church was friends with Stepdad, and he knew him well enough that the service felt genuine and unforced. The church belongs to a very conservative denomination, and until very recently, they believed that when someone commits suicide, they are instantaneously banished to hell. Thankfully for Stepdad, that belief has been tempered by modern knowledge of depression and mental illness, but I’m sure that some of the older folks in the congregation will be struggling to reconcile that. The pastor said that this was his first time dealing with a suicide, and he was very candid about the fact that he did some research and found that the banished-to-hell idea came from Constantine instead of “from God”, so he felt very sure that Stepdad was where he wanted to be. He spoke a great deal about depression being an illness that Stepdad struggled with, and that it wasn’t the work of evil forces or anything. The previous pastor spoke a bit as well, and there was a lot of talk about Satan and evil, in a way that left a bad taste in many of our mouths. That stuff is fine for a church service, but not for a memorial. Incidentally, I still remember the last time I went to that church (we sort of went along with my mom for a while), and the theme of his sermon that day – “We Think Too Much” – was diametrically opposed to my spiritual ideologies, which were (and still are) tenuous even in the best of times. The nicest part of the service, I thought, happened when they had an ‘open mic’ time for family and friends to share their memories. There was just the right blend of laughter and tears, and it was very beautiful. Brother read one of the Psalms earlier in the service, and I played cello during the slide show.
The rest of the week was spent taking care of Mom and of her house. We all pitched in to do some of the things that needed to be done, and Brother’s Wife spent a bunch of time cleaning the house thoroughly. We’d spent so much energy planning the service, and making the programs, and all the zillions of things that you have to deal with during the worst possible time, that by Friday, we were feeling a bit claustrophobic and needed some time apart, so Brother and I asked if we could have the evening free to meet up with a friend or two. She readily agreed, and we gladly took the opportunity for a night out. Brother and I went back to our respective homes on Sunday. My drive home was pretty scary, since northwestern Oregon got hit by a particularly heavy storm that night. It was so hard to see the road that I stopped in Cascade Locks to eat a veggie burger and calm my rattled nerves.
Since then, we’ve all been struggling to make sense of everything. It still doesn’t seem real. Both Brother and I have been feeling a distinct lack of motivation. I had a few things that were planned already, and I’m doing them all, but I’m doing them on auto-pilot, and I feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience a lot of the time. This is Halloween weekend, too, so there are a thousand parties and things happening, but my first inclination is to give them all a miss. This would ordinarily be a week of celebration, since my birthday was a week and a half ago, and the previous few birthdays have all been stretched out into two-week extended parties, but I’m just not up to that right now.
There are more things, good and bad, that I may add to this later, but I wanted to write a little bit and start the process of focusing my thoughts again. This kind of thing never makes sense, though, and many questions will always remain unanswered.