February 12, 2012
What can you tell me about death? About dying?
This morning I read The Issaquah Press. I skimmed through the news on the first page about free health screenings at the Health Fair yesterday, Senatorial support for same-sex marriage bill; looked at the color picture of Julie Clegg, pet photographer on the first page of Community Section; noted Squak Mountain Nursery was having free seminars on pruning trees, planning roses and starting seedlings.
It wasn’t until I got to page B3 that anything really piqued my interest. OBITUARIES. There were three. Marcella Louise Antonich-Layman known by family and friends as Marcy. Marcella was your middle name.
She shared the obituary column with Richard Leander Ingertila and Laurel “Lolly” Anne Snedeker . The story of each life summed up in 6 to 9 small paragraphs.
I have read the obit Steve wrote for his wife.
I write you letters all day long on my heart. I try to remember the genes you took from me. Catalogue them. Sum them up into neat small paragraphs. A fitting obituary for you.
I contemplate death. Everyone around me represents potential loss. 6-9 paragraphs in the obit section.
Steve read me something he saw on his Facebook last night. It was a letter. It read Dear Pessimist and Optimist, while you were arguing over whether the glass was half empty or if it was half full, I drank it. Sincerely, the Opportunist.
Everyone around me represents a connection. Those I knew before you died. Those I have met after.
I could not write your obit. I could not sum you up in 6 to 9 paragraphs. Dean did that for me. I have not read what he wrote, studied it like I am studying Marcy’s, Richard’s and Lolly’s. After I saw your name under the heading, OBITUARIES nothing else would register. The letters did not fit together to form words, sentences, paragraphs, anything I could comprehend. All I could see were just black marks on a page.
Dean went out and bought a stack of The Olympian’s on the day it ran the picture and paragraphs of you. He was irate. The paper misspelled Lyme disease as Lime disease. I tried to get him to stop his tirade—“fucking morons, imbeciles, what the hell is lime disease, people are going to think Andrea died of too many limes, too many margaritas.”
I was crying, vibrating with all the pitches of sorrow wanting to escape from me. “Please.”
“Just forget it.”
“Fucking morons, imbeciles. How could they get that wrong. I specifically spelled it out for them.” He flapped the paper and it made slapping, snapping noises that hurt my ears. I was in so much pain it hurt to move from one minute to the next.
Jake intervened. “Hey it could be worse. I was watching this show and Aunt Mildred died. They sent her nephew to the paper with her obituary. On the way he read it. Aunt Mildred was remembered as a devoted wife, loving mother, sister, grandmother and friend. ‘Wait,’ the nephew thought, ‘they don’t acknowledge that she was also an aunt.’ When he got to the newspaper, he put a comma after grandmother, deleted friend, put a comma in after friend and added ‘beloved aunt.’ The next day a family member brought a stack of newspapers over so everyone could read the obit. They all sat there reading quietly until they got to the friend, and ‘beloved cunt.’
Maybe this morning I am looking for typographical errors.
Though I did not realize at the time, Jake’s story taught me I could find something hysterically sad and hysterically funny in the same moment. My first lesson, in death and dying. A lesson I wake up with every morning, it follows me through my day.
I refrain from counting all my losses. The ones I could see coming. The ones I did not.
I am trying hard to focus on what I have.
Marcy will be remembered by all for her love of family, friends. And laughter. She is survived by her husband, daughter, son, granddaughters.
Richard was a parachute jumper in the United States Navy. He is survived by his loving wife Marie, son and grandchildren.
Lolly was a Norwegian beauty. She will be treasured for her love, kindness, elegance, wisdom, endless patience and strength, and will be dearly missed by all who knew and loved her.
What could anyone tell me about death, about dying?
I am learning, even as I live.
I love you Andrea.
There are not enough pages, enough words for me to write an obit for you. Ever.