Apparently the Ocean of Sadness is composed primarily of gin and tonic with intermittent shots of tequila. Jack has also splashed around in there, not to mention the Captain and his evil cronies Jager and vodka in a variety of sweet disguises.
At this point, Justin and I are so blurred from the past couple of months that we can't really see more than that requisite foot in front of the car when you're driving through fog (metaphor credit to Anne Lamott).
And that's when we're sober--which is most of the time.
Today I woke up horrified that I had missed his birthday (June 25) because I remembered that it falls after one of the weddings we are attending this month. Fortunately, I quickly recalled that it is after the second wedding, so I am in the clear thus far.
Jason and Amanda got married... was it yesterday? Yes. Yesterday (today is Sunday, June... 17. Father's Day.). While any gathering involving their friends and family usually involves seriously heavy consumption of alcohol, weddings are not typically a time that Justin loses his composure. In fact, Justin rarely loses his composure. But Justin's mommy died 11 days before this wedding, and Sandi (Jason's mom) is Justin's Second Mom and Jason is Justin's "brother"--they've known each other since pre-pre-school age. So when I saw Sandi at the rehearsal dinner I started to tear up, and when Jason and Sandi did their mother-son dance at the reception Justin had to leave the room so no one would see him sobbing.
Then he got wobbly drunk.
As I noted previously, eating, drinking and/or procrastinating in large measure does not take away the horrible facts of any situation, and often makes things generally worse.
For example: Toni died regardless of almost everyone in the house maintaining a steady buzz (red wine for most of us, Bud for Dorothy) for most of the day, every day. (Horrible fact of death not taken away.) Any of us drinking to relative oblivion (I can only speak for Justin and I factually, but wouldn't put it past at least one or two others) only caused the day of and day after drinking to be marred by fighting words, puking and/or an awful headache. (Made things worse.)
Nevertheless, we are dog paddling and treading water in this alcohol-laden ocean, and the sharks seem to be circling.
Today was absolutely surreal. After comic sketches and reviews of the rehearsal dinner and wedding day, Justin and I went to breakfast. We were surrounded by Father's Day celebrants who despite their occasional charm further enforced our no-way-we're-having-kids attitude. Then we went to Mark's house to help him take down the old gazebo from the backyard and to celebrate Father's Day with him.
The mortuary had called: Toni's ashes were ready to be picked up.
So we did that first: Justin drove, I took shotgun, Mark sat behind me. For a while we were silent, then I said, "This is a really weird thing to be doing. What do we do? Strap her in on the backseat on the way home?" Conversation quickly moved into an odd topic of small talk--something from The History channel, something from the neighborhood, something about driving. Then we were There.
I followed the boys through the door. One of them must have told the man at the front desk that we were there to pick up Toni; he quickly ushered us to the room where we had picked out the cremation services we wanted and left us there while he went to get her.
I took quick glances at stationery to get ideas for the announcements I am mailing out. The guys just sat there, I think staring at their own hands fidgeting at the table.
The man returned with the box we had chosen and some paperwork. He counted out the death certificates, gave Mark papers to sign saying he had received the cremains ("Cremains?" "Remains, cremains.") and handed everything over.
Anyone ever signed for a package from UPS? It's like that. I am a little stunned, in fact, about how many times a human being can be "signed for" in one lifetime and death. Once for delivery and once for removal from every location she encountered beginning on April 29, 2007. Hospital. Skilled Nursing Facility. Home for hospice care. Mortuary.
Justin and I let Mark carry the box. Perhaps it was more like we made him--after the mortuary man stood up and left we all just sort of stood there like, "What now? Is that it? Geez." I picked up the envelope of papers (official note taker and all...). It was a son or husband's job, certainly. A man's job. Justin deferred to Mark and then opened the driver's side passenger door for... her. When we got back to the house we quietly walked in and Mark's mom looked at it, touching the box and opening it to see the jewelry box area, and commenting that the signature and dates plate was very nice.
Then Mark locked it--"I suppose I should, huh?"
"Yeah, probably," I said. It's not like she's going to jump out, but they do live with a little jumpy dog and Mary. Anything is possible.
"Where will you put her?" Justin asked.
"I guess in my room, right?" We watched as he put the box in the center of his bed.
Right in the center, like we used to, to make sure she wouldn't fall accidentally.
Then we looked at some old pictures and documents Mark found, and while I worked on the invitations to the wake the boys tore down the gazebo. I got them to help with adjectives for her--feisty, spirited, loving, compassionate, passionate, strong... afterward we went to Baja Fresh for dinner.
Conversation is now similar to the way toddlers play: parallel. They are in the same sandbox, but they aren't really playing together, just next to each other. As they get older there is some interaction--like they'll work on building one sand castle together, instead of just filling a bucket and dumping it out while the other kid messes with a little shovel.
I kept trying to organize the wake while Mark kept telling stories about pre-cancer Toni. I'd jump in and respond every now and then, but, kids, this wake ain't happening until it's happening. Sunday, June 24, 2007, 11 a.m.
We're back in one-day-at-a-time land. It's not as though the wake will be the end of the grieving process, it's probably only the beginning or one little marker, but these boys aren't going to face it until about 10:59 that morning. Somehow having the ashes in the house and the wake only seven days away makes Toni more.... gone. Maybe before we got her back it was easier to imagine she was away on business, or in the hospital, or on a little vacation. But now, there she is, in that box in the center of the bed.
When he lifted the jewelry top out to show Dorothy the plastic box inside... well, there she is.
Part of me wanted to see the ashes. You know, for sifting purposes.
I like to plan.
On the drive home Justin and I were talking about what a generally difficult life Toni had for so many years. "Man, it's really kind of amazing she lived as long as she did," I said. "And then to have the nerve to linger for eight days! I really thought she'd go after three."
"I thought she'd get home and just be so relieved..."
"Ahhhhh! I'm finally back. Good night everyone!" I bantered.
"Yeah, I only thought she'd last two or three days."
"I thought that night was it. But no, I think she looked around and thought her boys were too tired. Then she had to wait for everyone to be there, and for the three of us to finish breakfast... I'm saying all this fondly, you know?"
"I don't think of it fondly. It was the worst eight days of my life."
"I don't think of the time fondly, I mean I think of her fondly."
"I know, but I don't like to think about it. The last memory I have of my mother is of her lying there dead."
For a while we sat silently, then he turned on sports radio.
"Can I say something?" I asked. "I don't know if it will help or not, and you don't have to say anything."
He turned the radio off.
"I know the last memory you have chronologically is of her dead. But, you can pick your memory. I know a lot of other stuff happened in those eight days and after this, but I remember you kissing her on the forehead in the middle of the night (he had just given her meds and was trying to get her to go back to sleep) and she said, 'More!' and gave you kisses on the cheek too. That's the memory I try to keep. And washing her after, helping the nurse give her a bath, that was one of the most spiritual experiences in my life--and I was baptized as an adult, and watched you get baptised and got married in a church, but that was so amazing. That's the stuff I choose to hold onto.
I don't know if that helps, but it's what I've got."
"Thank you, sweetheart," he said and patted my leg while he drove down the freeway.
But I know nothing really helps. There's this gaping hole in our little universe and I can't fix it.
All I have is love and cheese and a vegetable platter.