Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Cold Windy Day with Snow on the Way

Today is OK.  Temps dropping, the wind is howling and maybe some snow.  Typical Okla. winter.  The wind storms of the past week are probably a blessing in disguise, they'll knock down any loose limbs that they ice storms of last year didn't get.

Between the wind and the sadness, I didn't sleep a whole lot last night, and I really didn't try very hard.  Sleep will come again, it always does, and fighting to sleep when you can't sleep just makes a person miserable.

The hospice chaplain called promptly at 9 this morning-I am sure designed to make sure I was up and moving and facing the day and my grief.  I was awake and arguing with myself about whether or not the dogs really needed to go out yet.  Oliver was cooing softly to himself, he doesn't crank up big time till the covers come off his sleeping cage.

Oliver was somewhat subdued yesterday because I was, however, he doesn't have a lot of time or patience for grieving people, and one quiet day is all he can manage.   I welcome his noise-he's so alive on this gloomy grey day.

John's death was so awfully slow, that a lot of the true grieving has been done already.  I've grieved daily for the past year, and in the past few months have agonized over every decision.  When he gave in and was ready to go a few weeks ago, I tried to go along with it.   I amended my prayer from "please don't go" to "I understand if you need to go"...but I never could get to the hearty "run free, go with joy" phase.  I'm imperfect, but at least I felt guilty for not being completely willing to let him go, for all the good it does.  His dying is his, not mine.

I thought about the antibiotic decision, and I'm not going to second guess it.  It gave him another week, but it gave ME the peace of knowing he went because it was time, not because I with held something that could have saved him.  When I was speaking to him after he died, I wondered if I should apologize for keeping him here, but I realized immediately that the John I loved would not have wanted to burden me with the extra guilt of deciding to let him die.

Ironically, once dead, you have to get in line.  He's at the funeral home, but the first appointment to make final arrangements isn't until tomorrow.  A lot of people go right after a major holiday, so this isn't unusual and I'm not upset.  I really think it's just, well, funny.  

The military burial is even stranger still.  They will call Fort Sill, and the cemetery will give him a time to report for his final duty-and he'd better be there spot on, ready to go into the ground.  I know this would seem right to Uncle John, but to me it is very bizarre, and fortunately for everyone I will not be driving the hearse.

Hearse.  Funeral car-such strange terms.  Service.  I service my car, a stallion services a mare....funeral service?  There isn't going to be one.  John didn't go to church, the two aunts (my Mom and her sister) are old and before John got sick he hadn't been back to Oklahoma in 20 years or more.  So, who would come?  No viewings, no open caskets.  He had no opinion on it, and my opinion is shared by the rest of the family-it's not a comfort.  In fact, we, the living, are pretty appalled at the thought of someone staring at us when we are dead.

We, the living.  Apparently there are two kinds of us in the family now, the living and the dead.  John is now an ancestor, which in some cultures is seen as kind of a promotion.  I'm surprised Hallmark doesn't have a card that says "Congratulations, you're an ancestor."...but then who would you send it to?  "Congratulations, your Uncle is an ancestor" doesn't work any better than "Congratulations, you finally married off that ugly daughter of yours...."

For years (wow, it's been years) when I'd visit the facilities John was in, I would mentally gird my loins to go do battle with death.  I'd walk in projecting confidence and energy-pushing back the gathering gloom with a booming voice and a smile.  Yet, sitting next to Uncle John's body, I didn't feel that I had lost a battle.  One, it wasn't MY battle, it was his to win or lose.  And he didn't lose-he moved on and left behind a body that no longer worked for him.  As I stared at what remained, I thought to myself "that is not John at all, that is a carcass...Death, are you happy about that? "  Ok, "Oh Death, where is thy sting" is more poetic.

But, more than just the lack of loss or victory, I got the sense that Death, the big D with a capital letter and everything, was really an illusion.  There was no Death, nothing inhabited that body at all.  Death did not take over as much as John, like Elvis, just left the building.


studio lolo said...

I'm pretty sure Uncle John knew you were there every step of the way. Your devotion to him can even be felt through the internet. Every time you write anything about him it pours straight from your heart, and many of us have been on the journey with you. I wish I knew him. He sounded like an amazing, kind man.
In the midst of my tears you once again managed to make me laugh out loud. This time it was the Hallmark cards. You're something else, and I mean that is the best way.
If you ever write a book I'll be the first in line.

Sending hugs and prayers and whatever else you need to get you through. I'm so glad you have the critters to share it all with. And they don't care when we do the "ugly cry." They love us anyway.

Mim said...

Lot's of thought to share...but to start, I love the last line - it's so true.

I have some very strange feelings about death and afterlife - and frequently have to stop myself from asking others "have you heard from Isabel" (and Isabel has been gone for 10 years). Perhaps because I truly believe that they are living out different life fantasies, meeting "people" and learning new things.

Anyway Deb - you are so insightful, and thoughtful and are/were such a wonderful niece. I wish I had one like you to be the conscience and friend that you were to John.

My word verification is Domier - which sounds very French for "long sleep" or something like that.

studio lolo said...

I thought it was Animal Wednesday so I put an angel on my blog for you and a couple of other friends having a hard time. Even though it's Tuesday, it's never too early to do something nice...so HAW early.

kj said...

debra kay, when my father died, i realized i will never be afraid again in the same way. i'm not very religious, but i knew my dad had safe arms around him when he left. your uncle john also.

bless you.