What happens when you spend every waking moment waiting for the moment when your life is about to change? That was the random thought that awoke me from my sleep this morning. These are just the types of ridiculously clever words that usually creep into a person subconscious only after spending a lifetime watching and absorbing the language of too many “hipster” indie flicks. The ones that explain a lifetime of circumstance in 20 words or less.
I went to bed watching Me and You and Everyone We Know. Almost every word in that film oozes clever.
This past year, among other things, I have been searching for clever: clever words and clever images; clever words and clever subtext; clever words and clever meaning; Clever words in order to figure myself out, and more immediately, cleverness in order to write this blog. Things, events and moments keep coming full circle, however fast and furious. My indie upbringing has left me with clever and for me, clever equals clarity.
A few weeks ago, I attended on of my favorite Aunt’s funeral. She was just shy of 101 years old when she passed. When I think of my Aunt Rose, the first thing that always comes to my mind is her voice. It was a very unique in tone and sound, almost too difficult to describe. I always thought it sounded like what an aged elf might sound like but not annoying in that helium, Wizard of Oz munchkin type way; more like a soft toned, closed throat sound, as if her vocal chords were struggling to get all the air it expelled. It had resonance but was still slightly muffled. Her laugh was similar. Both gave me comfort and made me smile. I was told that she was the only adult, other than my mother, who had the ability to quell me in her arms. I cried for almost everyone else. I suppose her amazing voice had something to do with it. I was deemed as somewhat of a “cold” baby because of my lack of calmness and inner peace.
I was compelled to write a few words in Rose’s honor due in part to this early bond. I wrote few random thoughts on some vacant scraps of paper. The pages were filled with scribbles, scratched out words and prose that, due to my penmanship, was quite indecipherable to most everyone else but me. After about 20 minutes, I was able to make my thoughts cohesive enough to complete my passage, so I folded the dog-eared, messy memoriam and placed them in my purse. The next day I walked into the viewing, said my hellos, gave my hugs, and handed the folded text to Rose’s daughter, Judy. My intention was have my words placed in the casket as a kind of silent remembrance.
“You should read these at the repass.”
Public speaking is quite daunting for me. I have done it on many occasions, but it is unnerving to say the least. I spent the whole next day thinking: people call me the Kim Reaper™, I am REALLY associated with death so I should REALLY feel more comfortable in this whole dearly departed/remembrance realm.
I am fascinated with eulogies. I am also a huge fan of pop culture. For a period of time in my youth, our household was subscribed to People magazine. I always jumped to the celebrity death/obit/remembrance section first. My two hobbies in one fell swoop. WOO HOO! It was always fascinating (and a little heartbreaking) to me how a writer, who probably did not even know the deceased, could sum up a whole lifetime of achievements in a few small paragraphs. That a lifetime of work filled with blood, sweat and tears could be condensed into a few hundred characters, in a column format right next to an ad for baby formula or shoes. It almost felt like a Greek tragedy to me. I would read and reread each death notice trying to memorize who they were and reflect on impact they left behind. I would ask my mother detailed questions about select dearly departed if it was an actor/artist from before my time or whose work I was unfamiliar with. For a time, I would even cut the notices out and save them in a folder. I don’t know why I felt so obligated, I just felt sad that after these words were printed, the forgetting would begin. I knew it wasn’t the celebrity thing that left the impact, it was the horror of forgetting or being forgotten.
These days, I no longer clip and snip obits manually, instead I inform the masses through my Facebook page, posting the death notices as I find them. I have a reputation as the “you heard it here first” merchant of death. I have been dubbed the Kim Reaper™ because of these posts. In fact, I have hopes that my “reapering” will be mention in my eulogy at least listed as one of my occupations in my obituary. How poetic?
I spent the whole night before the funeral reworking and agonizing over the honest words I had written in private for my Aunt. I was almost bastardizing the spirit in which they were written due to my insecurity over their weight. I felt that they somehow HAD to be changed, they had to be better, they had to have bells and whistles, they had to have more of an impact. I wanted people to remember. I wanted my words to almost rematerialize this person in front of the familial onlookers.
In the end, I found there were no better words than the ones I wrote for my Aunt the night before. The simplicity of them made sense. Relationships should be simple, honest, quiet and meaningful. The bells and whistles usually lack substance.
I read my words as my voice crackled and stammered and stumbled. My throat tightened as the prose spilled out. I spoke of endurance and perseverance. I spoke of family devotion and togetherness. I thought of how she called me “my Kimmy” every time she hugged me. Were these the right words? They lacked chutzpah, they lacked the cleverness-clarity. My aunt and I had not seen much of each other over the last few years. I said to my sister that something to the effect of, “there are so many more people here today WAY more qualified to honor her.”
The room was silent when I exited the stage. As I made it back to my seat, my sister hugged me with tears in her eyes. They meant something to her.
Despite the tears, I still debated in my mind whether my words were an adequate enough memoriam or even if I had the right to be on that stage at all. We began to say our goodbyes. The last hug I gave that day was to a woman, a distant cousin, someone who I had not seen in years. She grabbed my hands and uttered the phrase, “How beautiful.” I smiled. I think her words were one final gesture of love from my dear Aunt, spoken through my cousin.
I spent the rest of the day remembering. Scattered, lovely, sad, happy thoughts swirled around as I drove home:
We had to be in bed by 8 or so my mother and Judy could enjoy their nightly telephone ritual… Rose was widowed so early in life… There were no pensions in those days… She cleaned the neighborhood church to make ends meet because that is “just what you did”… The doctors feared Judy and Bob’s daughter’s leukemia may have been a result of the Agent Orange used in Vietnam… What would it be like to be drafted… Duquesne Rummy nights in our house were legendary… They always smiled. I knew all their laughs very well… I need to listen to the Rainbow Connection again… My niece called Rose her Uncle Rose. “If that’s what she wants to call me then I am ok with that”… They watched a lot of M*A*S*H … Bob, Judy and Rose lived in that tiny house in Duquesne for as long as I can remember. It smelled like cookies and a department store. That smell always reminds me of family.
I ended my remembrance with two statements I felt appropriate. This was the first:
At the end of Rose’s life, when she could no longer get around, my Uncle Bob had to carry her from room to room. Aunt Judy was worried that Rose was far too heavy for him to carry. To this Uncle Bob replied, “I will let you know when it’s too heavy.” I thought to myself, “How beautiful.” That phrase sums up everything you ever needed to know about Rose, Judy and Bob.
I realized on that car ride home that is was not important whether my words were significant or not. The significance lies in a life well lived. And my words, however unpoetical or unclever, couldn’t give or take away from any of the italics.
The second statement was this: I could not get the words of Robert Frost out of my head throughout most of the funeral service, so I decided to end my eulogy the same way I am ending this blog. These perfect, simple words that seemed to make all the sense in the world. The universe had been giving me cues all day, so I figured it was best for me to oblige.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down today.
Nothing gold can stay.
FAMILY PHOTOS, Courtesy of my cousin, Donna