[about the author]
i actually like speaking in front of large crowds. freakish,
i work crossword puzzles in ink.
i am the american nigella lawson. or maybe the american eddie
izzard. can't decide, really.
i would be a really good mom, but i'm cool with being a really
i am sometimes more perceptive than i would like to be.
i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.
i never play dumb. never.
i am way too hard on myself.
i am a change agent.
i sometimes cross that fine line between assertive and aggressive.
i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.
i am militantly pro-choice.
i am pro-adoption.
i know a little bit about alot of things.
i typically enjoy the company of men more than women.
i am capable of being really mean and nasty, but i fight it.
i am a lifelong cubs fan. do not laugh.
i have been known to hold a grudge.
i have hips.
i am not my sister.
i am lousy at forgiving myself.
i am an indoor kind of gal.
i am a bargain shopper. to the point of obsession.
i am 32 flavors. and then some.
this is how we say good-bye
my family isn’t big on funerals. i’m sure that seems like a rather stupid thing to say, since there aren't a lot of people who really like funerals. i mean, if there’s a funeral then someone died. and i don’t know too many folks who are fans of dying.
having said that, we just don't do funerals.
none of us has ever stood in the line of mourners to file past the dearly departed. we never say, “doesn’t she look good?”
no. no, she doesn’t. she looks small. unnatural. lifeless.
and we cringe at the piped-in music.
and we never read the cards on the flowers, in the tall white plastic baskets.
it's not that we don't understand, or have empathy for those who find these things comforting. it's just that, collectively, we’ve just never been comforted by these particular rituals.
i remember my first funeral. i asked my grandfather so many questions.
“why does everyone sign that book?”
“what will they do with all of these flowers?”
“why is everyone looking at her?”
his answer was, “well…this is how some people like to say good-bye.”
i told him that i didn't think i liked that way of saying good-bye. and, years later, i learned that he didn’t like it much either.
my grandfather and i were exceptionally close. it was my grandfather who taught me how to paddle a canoe. to skin-the-cat on the trapeze in the back yard. to play croquet. he introduced me to the simple pleasure of eating green apples off of the tree, with a salt shaker in your hand. he taught me how to change the oil in a car.
i was fifteen when my mother spoke the word: cancer. there were to be treatments and surgeries and consultations. we were all hopelessly hopeful.
after the first round of chemo, my grandfather said that his veins were on fire. he thought the cure was worse than the disease. he asked to be released. told us he wanted to go home and die with dignity.
my mother and i moved into my grandparents’ house. the emotional toll of caring for my grandfather was too much for my grandmother to take. so we spent our days, and our nights, watching the cancer consume my grandfather. waiting.
before my grandfather passed away, we spent an afternoon together, talking about funerals. his wishes were simple: no wake. no service. no body.
he was to be cremated. his ashes scattered across the ocean. he had been a sailor, and had always loved the sea. he felt that funerals were, excusing the obvious pun, rather lifeless. too uptight. and, too often they were not a reflection of the life of the deceased.
it was my mother, my grandmother, my sister, my aunt and me in the car with my grandfather’s ashes. we have always been a family of women, and it seemed fitting that we would be the ones to see him through to the end. we drove to a state park in south carolina with miles of pristine shoreline. my grandfather and i had visited it many times. it was beautiful. peaceful. not a single high-rise condominium in view.
our plan was to arrive at sunrise to scatter my grandfather’s ashes into the sea. it was grandpa’s favorite time of day. but, none of us are morning people, and we overslept. realizing our mistake, we threw on whatever clothing we had nearby and jumped in the car.
we arrived at the park to find that they were now charging a fee to visit.
“okay…fifty, seventy-five…anyone have a dollar?” my mom asked.
“hell, i don’t even have pockets,” my aunt responded.
“just tell her why we’re here…maybe she’ll cut us a break,” i offered.
so, my mother explained to the woman why we were there. that my grandfather loved this place and we had brought him here to lay him to rest. it was very moving.
“it’s illegal to do that. you cannot scatter remains here,” said the park ranger.
“oh shit,” my aunt said.
“mom, tell her you made that up! tell her you made it up to try and get in without paying!” said my sister.
“we are so screwed,” i mumbled.
“…ninety-five…got it!” shouted my aunt.
“okay, well, here you go, ma’am,” said my mother as she handed the fistful of change to the ranger.
“thanks for your help. and the information. we’re just going to take a look around. maybe do some fishing. we won’t dispose of any remains or anything. promise. anyway, thanks again!”
and we sped away in our volaré wagon.
we parked at the pier to devise a plan.
“ we can just walk up the shore a little bit until we’re further away from the campsites where no one is around,” suggested my aunt.
“he’ll just wash right back up on the shore if we do that,” i said.
“okay, we’ll rent a couple of poles at the tackle shop. and we’ll just go out onto the pier and pretend like we’re fishing. and then we’ll just wait until there’s no one around, and then we’ll scatter him,” suggested my mom.
“okay, let’s go,” my sister whined. “i’m getting hungry.”
my sister and i were still young enough that the five years between us seemed like ten. i don’t remember what started the ruckus, but i do remember that there was pushing involved.
“oh my god! oh my god! she spilled grandpa!” screamed my sister.
“well, if you hadn’t pushed me…” i started.
“well, if you weren’t going so slow…” she interrupted.
“well at least i’m not whining about food,” i shouted.
“shut up right now. right. now,” came my mother’s voice.
sure enough, i had spilled grandpa. not all of him, but i had definitely spilled him.
“holy shit. what the hell are we supposed to do now?” asked my aunt, as though any of us had been in a remotely similar situation.
“well…we have to get him up. together. i mean, we have to figure out how to get all of him back in there,” stammered my mother.
my grandmother lit a cigarette.
we stood there for a few moments, just silently staring at the small splat of ashes across the tan vinyl floormat. volaré, it read in script letters.
“okay. i’ve got it,” said my mother in such a manner as to really make you think that she had.
“mom,” she said, turning to my grandmother, “why don’t you go wait up by the pier. we’ll be there in a minute.”
once my grandmother had reached the pier, my mom opened the back of the car and pulled out a dust buster.
“oh god, i know you’re not serious” muttered my aunt.
“you cannot dust buster grandpa!” screamed my sister.
“i’m just going to empty this out, then we’ll…well, we’ll pick grandpa up, and we’ll take him out there,” said my mother.
and so, that’s what we did.
and so there we were, three women and two girls out on a pier with a bunch of old men. we set our poles against the end of the pier and waited until the coast was clear.
“is someone going to say something?” my sister asked.
“grandpa hated that shit,” i said.
“just tell him that you love him,” said my grandmother. it was the first time she had spoken all morning.
we all started to cry.
“okay, it’s clear…let’s do it.”
my aunt opened the lid of the small black box and my mother opened the dust buster, and amidst our chorus of “i love you”s, we let him go.
of course, the wind picked up and a good bit of him came right back on us.
and, when it did, our tears turned to laughter. and i realized that, in some sense, this was how we like to say good-bye. my wacky, amazing family.
and i think my grandfather was pleased.
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