Tag Archives: family

The Unbearable Heaviness of Bearing Pall

I’m sure there were a lot of other thoughts that should have been running through my head at that moment. Thoughts that probably would have been a lot more appropriate. But that’s the thing about thoughts.

They don’t really like to be controlled.

“Don’t drop her. Oh god, please don’t drop her. Please, please, please. Just concentrate. And whatever you do, don’t trip Adam in front of you. He goes down, we all go down. He’s, like, seven-feet tall. Tiny steps. Baby steps. Careful. Don’t drop her. Just don’t drop her.”

There were eight of us. Five strapping young male grandchildren, two of us more solid-looking female grandchildren and one longtime family friend with the broad shoulders of a linebacker. I have no idea what they were thinking at that moment, but judging from the fact I was the only one who seemed confused by our instructions, it was probably something much more dignified.

“I’m worried,” I said to Peter the Linebacker right before.

“You’ll be fine. It’s fairly self-explanatory. We carry her in and then carry her back out,” he said.

“I know, I know. It’s just…I’ve never beared pall before,” I responded with a weak smile.

I knew it was a stupid thing to be worried about. I knew I should be thinking other, deeper thoughts, like how I had just lost one of my heroes. Or that being a pallbearer was actually a great honor. Or even trying to ease my fears by realizing that the seven others beside me wouldn’t let anything happen to the casket or the dignity of the moment should my feet suddenly forget the mechanics of walking forward.

But I couldn’t stop.

A similar thing happened when I first got the news that Grandma had cancer a month before. Of course there was the initial burst of sobbing while sitting cross-legged on my kitchen floor, but shortly after I remember thinking how dirty it looked underneath my stove. It was a place I had never thought to sweep before. The realization that things could happen in my own kitchen without my knowledge or consent was actually mildly shocking. Of all the hundreds of times I had stood in this kitchen, I had never seen it from this vantage point. And then I remember thinking I should really clean it. And then thinking of logistically what would be the best way to go about it since the stove was so low to the ground. And then thinking “Grandma is dying.”

It happened again when we got the news she had died. My mom and brother were inconsolable and I just kind of stood there (oddly enough, in another kitchen) thinking how I didn’t bring clothes for a funeral with me. And then just where the hell was I going to be able to buy appropriate clothes in this small town. And then that it would probably have to be Wal-Mart. And then how much I hated Wal-Mart. And why it was always so crowded. And loud. And then “Grandma is dead.”

It was like my brain wasn’t able to process all this horrifying news and so it dealt with it in small bursts, in-between mundane thoughts of dirty floors and evil corporations that make cheap and poorly tailored clothes and whether or not a casket would fly open should it fall because some idiot forgot how to walk.

So while I was carrying my Grandma to her final resting place, it was just easier to focus on the actual task at hand (or not royally screwing up the actual task at hand) than it was to realize that I was carrying a woman in death who had carried me, both literally and figuratively, throughout my entire life. Or that she had also carried eight children, 16 other grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren despite having the body frame of really, really slim hobbit. Or that when things got really bad toward the end, those same children (and their spouses) and grandchildren (and their spouses) and great-grandchildren were all clamoring to help carry her to the bathroom because she was too weak to walk herself.

Or that the last time I saw her and it took all her remaining strength just to lightly rest her hand in mine, she looked down at one point and said “Oh my, I must be squeezing your hand something awful. I’m so sorry.”

I can think about this now. I am thinking about this now. In-between thoughts of “despite its cheesiness, the show ‘Victorious’ on Nickelodeon is actually quite good.”

Because that’s the thing about thoughts. Sometimes they can’t be controlled because they know our hearts need a break from breaking.

On the ninth day of December, Christmas gave to me…

A 14-hour road trip.

Across five states.

With a dog.

Who may or may not secretly be plotting how to take over the world.

Believe it or not, this is actually really good news. I just found out my husband gets the week before Christmas off, which means we can now spend the holidays with my family in Ohio (something which I have not done for five years). And although it would seriously make my writing so much better if they weren’t, my family is highly functional and loving and supportive and all that crap you’re not supposed to be when you are the family of a writer, who needs dysfunction to thrive.

But I’ll forgive them for their supportive and cynical-crushing ways because this trip means I can spend Christmas the way it was always meant to be spent: opening presents and then getting drunk and then eating a dinner you did NOT prepare and then dozing off on the couch as someone else does the dishes.

See, depending on your age, the holiday season can mean many different things.

As a kid, it’s all shiny, shiny lights and cookies and presents and big, fat men with beards whom you’ve never met but nonetheless are guaranteeing to do everything within their vast magical powers to make sure YOU personally have a very merry Christmas.

As a teenager, it means three weeks off school, the anticipation of your mom finally buying you those “ridiculously over-priced” (her words) pants with the vaguely suggestive word on the rear that you’ll just DIE without and hanging out with your cool, older cousin with the tattoo at grandma’s.

In your early 20’s, it means one month of never-ending rounds of eggnog and wine and seasonal beer and reddish-looking cocktails with cutesy names like North Poletini and Santa’s Sleigh Bomb at hip holiday parties and festively decorated bars. And then going to your parents where they feed you and give you lots of presents and do your laundry if you ask nicely enough and then give you all the leftovers to boot because you “look too skinny.”

But then, one day you’re married and 30 and BOOM! You realize it’s December but you wouldn’t know it from YOUR house, which still has up an odd mixture of Fourth of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving decor. And it’s all because YOU are suddenly in charge of MAKING Christmas happen. And that’s when you cross the threshold from “this is most wonderful time of year” to “no wonder there are so many suicides this time of year.”

Because now when that massive ball of Christmas lights roughly the size of Utah needs untangled, that angry, throbbing vein is appearing on YOUR forehead, and not humorously on your father’s. And now when you hear “Silver Bells” for the fourth time before you’ve even had breakfast, it is no longer “festive” but some sort of sadistic audio torture.

Suddenly, you’re Googling how much the going rate for a semi-decent kidney is on the black market in order to afford gifts for your husband, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, in-laws and even your stupid dog because your husband thinks it’s mean if little Buffy doesn’t get at least one chew toy. Not to mention, now it’s a faux pas to not buy gifts for your mailman, hairdresser, neighbor, boss, co-workers, cousin’s baby, mother-in-law’s dog and the barista who serves you your Peppermint Mocha every morning.

And while before you always insisted that artificial Christmas trees were just so “bourgeois” and that when you had your OWN home, you wouldn’t be caught dead without a real pine tree, this year your corner is inhabited by a $19.99 three-foot tall fake tree that looks like it died of some horrible fake tree disease in 1974. And then you stuffed it with some pine-scented air-freshners from your car.

And even though you swore you were going to make gingerbread cookies from scratch this year, two minutes inside the store made you grab the closest pre-packaged desert-like item and SPRINT back to your car out of a not-entirely-unreasonable fear of being stabbed by a soccer mom with a candy cane.

But not this year. No. No, this year, I will be reverting back to my teenaged/early 20’s Christmas self. Complete with (fingers crossed*) the gift of pants with the vaguely (or even outrightly) suggestive word on the rear.

(*HINT HINT, mom)