Saturday, January 23, 2016

Auld Lang Syne




















I returned to school to find a chippy note in my box about requesting too many days for bereavement.  I tried to quickly get things together and went to my first class.  The students were very sweet, happy to see me and genuinely compassionate about the loss of my Grandmother.  I looked around the room.

"Where is Jaquey?" I asked his teacher.  "I feel like I haven't seen him in forever."
I saw her eyes dim a little and she looked down.
"He's gone.  They withdrew him....they are sending him back to his mom....they can't deal with him anymore, the stealing.....".
"I hope somewhere he is getting what he needs." I answered, feeling that he had been failed, that he was slipping through the cracks.
"I do too" she answered. 

I finished the week and our two week break began.  It was filled with shopping and Christmas trees and food preparation for the Christmas Eve event that is hosted at my house for my family.  My beautiful former student Dau came to town, only a year away from getting the degree she so fully deserves.  I got crafty and built my sister a little, free ADULT lending library to house porn in her front yard.

We quietly brought in the New Year, while I silently wished for a good 2016.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Scottish

The following days became more of a nighttime blur.  In the midst of my and my mother's bar crawl of some of the places my alcoholic father had preferred, I decided to tackle the issue of my brother.  But let me first add that my dad had excellent taste in bars.

We are estranged from my brother.  When I started traveling a lot, my brother's wife decided to attack my mother on my first long trip.  My sister stood up for my mom in the ferocious way that I would have if I had been present for the bullshit this woman was dishing out AT MY MOM.  When I returned nearly a year later, my brother and his wife were being very sweet and delicate with me and there was no contact between them and my sister and mother.  It always made me uncomfortable.  I felt like I was being used as a pawn, that the fact that I would speak with them was some sort of validation of their position against the rest of my family.  Against my mom, who single handed raised the three of us.  I did not agree with what they did, and did not like the perception that "Look, Hilary's okay with us.  The rest of those people are crazy."  My mom and my sister are not crazy.  My brother and his wife, are.  

My sister was voicing increasing anxiety about the prospect of my brother and his wife coming to my Grandmother's funeral.  The drama that would ensue.  The stress.  Sitting in a bar that had walls covered with Scottish kilt fabric, I texted my brother.  I felt like it was time for me to take the bullet, not my sister or my mom.  Me, the good one, the nice one, the pushover.  I was finally going to speak up.  I identified myself in the text because my brother doesn't even know my phone number.  I politely asked him to come alone to my Grandmother's funeral, if he intended to come at all.  I really didn't give a shit if he brought his kid, but didn't know how to say, "Can you at least leave your cunt wife at home?".  I asked him to do it for the sake of my mom, that it was her mother's funeral and it was important to me that she could say goodbye to her in a stress-free environment.  I really did not think his wife would be terribly heartbroken about not attending the funeral of a woman she had met a handful of times.  And, my brother is a big boy.  He can handle the funeral on his own.  The thing that was most important to me was my mom.

Somewhere in the blur of days we stopped by the hospice.  I went inside and delivered a large Poinsettia to the nurses and thanked them for taking such good care of my Grandmother.  Another group of people was standing in the hallway, crying.  Someone else had passed.  I knew I was going to cry again just from walking in that place and I quickly exited.

I wasn't going to attend the funeral.  The had to schedule it for the following Monday, as Catholics don't have funerals on Sundays and Saturday was booked up.  I had already missed a week of work; I knew I couldn't ask for anymore days, though my sick leave bank is so massive I could technically take the rest of the year off.  My niece and sister were on their way up to accompany my mom to the funeral.  I received a dramatic response from my brother about how he "broke the news to his wife and child that they weren't permitted to attend their Grandmother's funeral".  Wife and child.  As if I don't know their names.  Caveman style drama.  He thanked me for "allowing" him to come.  I didn't respond, as the end result of texting him in the first place was successful.  I still have the texts saved to my phone.  I don't know why.

On my last night in Saginaw, we ended up again around the table of my aunt and uncle, drinking wine.  My cousin and her partner stopped by a couple of hours after I probably should have stopped drinking. When I rose Saturday morning to get ready for my flight, my head was pounding.  As my mother drove me to Flint, I threw up out of the door of the car and in the process, down the front of my clothes.  I entered the airport.  There was one person at the security area.  I sheepishly went through and proceeded to the gate and sat in a chair crouched over with my head in my hands. I made a mental reminder not to touch anything except bottled water while at the airport.   I heard the flight attendants call my name and I feared they weren't going to let me fly.  To the contrary, they told me they had moved my seat to the emergency row. Yes, the passenger with vomit all over her clothes will be assisting you if the plane crashes.  I passed out before the wheels left the ground and only woke up when we landed in Chicago.

I made it back to Atlanta in the late afternoon.  That night as I slept, Lola curled up beside me.  She breathed heavily as she slept and for a second, breathed quietly.

I woke up, startled, thinking I was beside my Grandmother's bed in the hospice.  But I wasn't.  I was at home in Atlanta. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Far Out in the Red Sky


As we got in the car, I noticed a text message from my niece, Emma.  It was a heartfelt message to my mother about my Grandmother.  The time stamp said 10:37 pm.

It felt like we arrived at the hospice within minutes.  As we rushed to the front door, I saw a gurney being pushed by with a full, black, body bag on it. I had a rush of emotion.  Throughout the days in Saginaw I often thought I was okay with things, accepting them, but then something would happen and I would have to turn away because I knew I was about to cry.

We went inside.  A large family speaking multiple languages stood in the hall, crying.  We arrived at my Grandmother's room.  She was gone.  We did not arrive in time.  I overheard my Uncle Dick say that the time of death was 10:38 pm.  My Grandmother looked peaceful and I kissed her.  She was warm but I knew she was dead.  I again stroked her hair and hugged her.  It didn't seem strange to do this to a dead body, though I have never touched one before.  Her mouth still hung a bit ajar: I wanted to close it.  I didn't think she would like to be seen that way.  Relatives arrived and circled her bed.   Another vigil was starting.

One of the nurses came in and told us that the funeral home, located out in the country where my Grandfather farmed, could not pick my Grandmother up for a couple of hours.  My mother sat at her bedside, stroking her hand.
"I am staying with her." she stated.
I heard my uncle say the exact same thing, independent of my mother.
We all stayed.  People talked and laughed, telling stories of my Grandmother while we circled her bed and overflowed to a common area outside of the room.  It felt important, that we were ushering her out of the world.  I had the definite sense that she was in some sort of in-between moment and I wanted to help her through this stage.  The relatives from the farm area and those from the city, all extensions of my Grandmother's family, spoke to each other seamlessly and without judgement, though their accents and conversation topics were different.  She became colder and her limbs more rigid.  I noticed my uncle slip away to a farther common area, alone.

The driver from the funeral home arrived.  Everyone spoke to him in a friendly manner.  Finally, he told us to leave.
"You don't need to see the next part," he told us, "it isn't pretty."
I knew what he meant.  The black bag.  The zipper.  The end.
We left.

Thursday morning my mom and uncle were up early to meet with the priest and select passages for my Grandmother's funeral.  My mother and I went out later and had a tour of Saginaw's bars.  My mother has excellent taste.  We woke Friday morning and drove to my Grandmother's apartment.  I felt exhausted and surprised that our schedule was still so full.  We were going to help pack up my Grandmother's belongings.  I felt guilty, we had slept later than we should and I knew others were working.  My mom and I rushed to get ready and darted to the apartment with our drive-through, Tim Horton coffee.  We walked in to cheerful faces.  A cooler filled with light beer sat in the middle of the floor.  I realized why we were there.  My aunts and uncles, the stepchildren of my Grandmother, had done everything.  They guided us to small piles of my Grandmother's possessions, encouraging us to take things to remember her by.  One brought out a jar of change announcing that it was the inheritance.  My Aunt Peggy had already left and my Uncle Dick announced her "shit out of luck" for her inheritance cut.  I thought we would be carrying mattresses, packing boxes.  I opened a can of beer and selected a few things of my Grandmother's that I loved, putting them in an eight cent cigar box I found in her bedroom. 

As we walked out of the apartment, I glanced back.  The furniture was gone, a box or so remained and an old newspaper sat on the counter.  I though of Alec, Lola and I eating breakfast with her in the  summer of 2014 in an area that now stood vacant.  My Grandmother had insisted that we "sneak Lola in" to the apartments, though pets weren't allowed, let alone a ninety pound Pit Bull.  I suddenly had to turn again so that no one would see me cry.

She was gone.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Strange Days

I flew halfway around the world once, going west.  We spent days in darkness, basically chasing the sun across time zones.  Something about that flight reminds me of my visit to Saginaw.

My mother and I sat on either side of my Grandmother's bed, drinking red wine out of plastic stem glasses.  It was odd, as if the three of us were hanging out together, though my Grandmother was still unconscious.  A multitude of family members visited my Grandmother that evening and later, it was just my mom and me again.  The T.V. flickered through the night as we watched over her.  Donald Trump appeared over and over on the news shows as they all rehashed the same stupid things he had said that day.  I fell asleep a couple of times, only to wake and see my mom sitting across the room, eyes open, T.V. lights flickering on her face. At times my Grandmother's breathing would become shallow and I would feel startled, but then she would breath deeply again.

The hospice nurses visited routinely throughout the night to shift my Grandmother in her bed.  When they tried to give her morphine, she pursed her lips and made raspberry noises at them.  It made me giggle.  She looked like a soft, defiant little baby hell raiser, not like my Grandmother.

In the morning, family members relieved us and my mom and I went back to my uncle's to sleep for a couple of hours.  Clancy, the beautiful Irish Setter that I had been dying to meet, growled and barked at me again, and then ran and hid under the kitchen table.
"Wow," my uncle commented, "he only acts like that with the mailman."
I fired off some more lesson plans and checked my work email.  A snippy one sat there from one of my bosses, instructing me to re-submit a sub request "ASAP" because I had used the wrong reason code for it.
"Thanks," I thought "definitely the first thing on my mind."  I emailed my other boss telling him that there was no way I was going to make it to work Thursday.  It was Wednesday morning.  When I didn't receive a response, I called him.
"Put in for a sub for Thursday and Friday," he instructed "I am not sure how many days you can take for bereavement, but mark it bereavement."  I did as instructed and laid down to sleep.  I could hear the click click click of Clancy's toenails and occasionally opened my eyes to find his face inches from mine, staring at me.

We got up a couple of hours later and went out.  I bought some treats to bribe Clancy and we visited the hospice again.  My Grandmother laid peacefully in her bed.  My aunt and uncle that had spent the day with my Grandmother told us the nurses' latest reports of signs of imminent death.  The night crew arrived and we readied ourselves to leave.
"If, you know, the nurses say they think it's happening, should I call you?" my Uncle Dick asked my mother.
"It probably won't be that way....." my mom responded.
"But if it does, should I call?" he repeated.
"Yes."

My mom and I returned to my uncle's house.  Clancy was happy with me now that he had his chicken jerky and actually let me pet him.  He rubbed against my legs as I fed him piece after piece.  My aunt and uncle opened a bottle of wine and we sat around talking.  The mood was actually festive, we looked at old pictures, talked about travels and laughed.  It was very natural and relaxed.  It felt like being at a party with people you really wanted to talk to, not relatives you hadn't seen in a long time.  One conversation spiraled into another with talks of my mom and uncle's childhood, the wonders of France and Spain, how silly dogs are yet how much they mean in our lives.

The phone rang.
"It's happening" my uncle announced quickly, grabbing his keys as we all rushed to the cars and raced toward the hospice.

She was going.