“…To say…I love you…”
There it was again, playing on the radio as I drove my grandkids to school the other morning.
“Have you ever been to a funeral?” my 8-year old grandson asked as we drove past the cemetery.
I’d just mentioned in passing, covering over the scary cemetary thinking, that I enjoy walking through cemeteries, listening to the quiet ones, reading headstones and sometimes making up my own stories of how some of those now dead people may have lived.
“Yes, I have.”
“Have you been to a LOT of funerals?”
“Well, let me see. There was my mom’s funeral, and my dad’s. Your Pop-Pop’s funeral. You were there, too.”
“I was? I don’t remember that at all.”
“You were pretty little then.”
A lot of silence coming from the back seat.
“And then there was your cousin Katie’s funeral.”
“I don’t remember that either.”
“Yeah, you were just a little guy. You wouldn’t remember. She was your mom’s age.
“She was!? How did she die?”
“She had a really bad sickness and she couldn’t get well. My best friend’s dad’s funeral – a long time ago – I was there for that one. That was even before your mom was born. Liz’s mom, and her dad, we were at their funerals. Oh, and your mom’s dad.”
Another long pause from the back.
Slowly drawing out each word, he asked, “What kind of suicide did he use?”
A sigh and a think, how to say this to a little guy. “He hung himself.”
We were both quiet then, in our own thoughts.
It got me to thinking. I hadn’t actually been to that many funerals in my several decades on earth. I can count them all on two hands. Had I forgotten?
Few school friends have died that I know of. A few years back, a good school friend was actually dying in the nearby hospital as many of my school buddies and I held another class reunion at the Lake. Now THAT was sad, and felt really weird. Like how could we be having fun when he was dying?
My brothers are still alive and well, and my Auntie. I thought back on the time I spent with my favorite Uncle, Dad’s brother Ridgway, when he was dying, holding his warm hand in mine, sitting with him and humming a little “hush little baby” as he passed on. There was no service later.
Whenever Wonder’s song pops up on the radio, one thing comes to mind. A moment, really, more than thirty years ago. At home, taking care of my little guys. Mom had died a few months earlier and I was still processing all of that. Each day unfolded anew.
Life is for the living.
Life goes on.
The song, high on the charts then, popped up on the radio station I was listening to at home one day, the station where my husband was the local DeeJay, flipping albums all day long. We were living in Titusville PA then. Old oil town. Our home after New York City and before Richmond VA.
The phone rang. It was Matt.
“This is for you,” he told me. My heart fluttered. It still does, in a much different way now. Happiness mixed with the sad.
This past year has provided so many opportunities to pick up the phone and call someone we care about. Maybe we haven’t actually said those three little words, yet we know that’s why we’re talking. Talking over the sadness of it all, piping up about good things like our gardens, musing over how much we miss seeing each other, how the families are getting by, that beautiful loaf of bread we just baked, or the anger we feel at the injustices of the world.
I called one of my best friends the other day. Friends since elementary school. We hadn’t connected in a while. Not all that unusual, but I sensed something was wrong.
Her step-daughter answered.
She told me her Dad, Lynda’s husband Michael, had just been released from the hospital, terminally ill, with hospice at the bedside. I’d known him over half my life. He was a good man, a loving partner and husband.
I called back the next day and chatted with Lynda. He’d died early that morning, with her and Michelle at his side, calm in his sleep.
She said that she’d started to pick up the phone so many times during the last couple months.
“I just couldn’t. I knew I’d start crying and blubbering and didn’t want to do that to you.”
“I know…” I, myself, never can pick up the phone and call someone when I’m in the depths of despair.
This past pandemic year of grief and mourning for people I don’t even know, it’s been life changing. Twelve months of being home, being away from crowds and people I care about, has set me back in my socializing.
I’m just now beginning to make plans, and I admit, they often fall through because some days I’m not really ready to go out.
It’s easier to just drive the kids to school, on past the cemetery.
Quiet. In my own thoughts. Wondering and remembering on I-just-called. Some days wondering who I’ll talk to next.
The sun is bright today, it’s warm outside, almost hot, my kayak is ready to go and I’m thinking ahead on good times to come. Time in the sun, in the gardens, at the water. Some days just me, and other times, hanging with friends and family.
I think I’ll go cue up that sweet song, grab a cup of coffee and get started on that next loaf of sourdough.