Those are people who died, died

The first to die was my father, in the aughts, age 73. Ten years younger than my grandparents, my mother’s parents, not my father’s. It was the cancer, took my father. The cigars and Manhattans hastened it, that was whence the cancer, you’d think. His choice, in the end. In a way.

Grandmother passed soon after, in her 80s. Dementia. Horrid to watch, to listen, to watch her mind go. She was a hard talk in good health, too, that accent so thick. And with her decline, no hope, not much to say, can only ask her to repeat so many times. When she repeats in her language not ours, well I only knew a few words, and she never used them.

Grandfather went next, three years later. Wanted to be with ‘mama,’ his word for his wife, his partner, 68 years. He wanted to go before his daughter, my aunt.

My aunt went a year later. Same thing took her as my dad, the cancer. Never lived a moment for herself, never left her hometown except to visit us. Drove down in the Astro Van with her family, stayed a few days, drove straight back. Traveling wasn’t safe, she said, best to stay home. That’s where she died.

I drove to New Orleans for every funeral. They were all in the same home, same guy, that bald guy telling me turn and face the casket, place my gloved hand on the casket as we lift and hold while the gurney is placed, removed, place the casket gently, glide it into the hearse, gentlemen, and remove it from the hearse, gentlemen you may face the casket, gentlemen you may remove your gloves, your grandmother is dead, grandfather dead, your aunt is dead, gentlemen, your father is dead, your mother will die soon and you wake at night considering your own death, which is coming. Your uncle is dead, now too. Gentlemen everyone is dead. Gentlemen? Hand on the casket, please.

The bodies went to different resting places. Grandma and Grandpa went to one cemetery, graves in the ground, yard full of wooden boxes, full of bodies that looked nothing like the ones I remembered, dead wax hands clutching rosaries that may or may not have been rosaries that were clutched in their lives depending on which dead body we’re concerned with. Some of them were more or less Catholic than the rest. Some of them weren’t at all. Some of them rest in peace and one is spinning in his grave from the choices I made or didn’t.

Uncle Charlie went next. He was 97, older brother-in-law to my father who died 22 years younger, having partied alone too many nights with the cigars and Manhattans mixed in the kitchen alone, near tears, passed out on the floor with the tv on and alone when I rang the doorbell wondering if tonight was the night I’d find him dead.

I left the house late, after the girls were in bed, after my wife came home from work having driven one hour west to the lake with her open container and wishing she wasn’t my wife for reasons I still don’t understand and can’t say I don’t disagree with, though. She came home and said you can go, and I did. I drove east, farther, kept going, didn’t stop till I found the grave of my aunt, the most recent, easiest to get to. The earth was still wet and soft around her, no one around. My fingers found the top of her coffin, the earth seemed to move on my behalf, doing me a favor. It moved so easily, like potting soil, and the box floated up like they do in the swamp. I pulled it onto harder earth above the grass, moonlight reflecting on its smooth, curved oak. Soon, I whispered, soon we’ll all be together again.

I got her in the truck and drove north. Uncle Charlie was next. We’ll all be together soon.

*

***

*

38 thoughts on “Those are people who died, died

  1. Excellent. You have an obsession with coffins and graves. I wonder where it comes from?
    My favourite line: “When she repeats in her language not ours, well I only knew a few words, and she never used them.” Terrific!

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    • I guess I do have one, don’t I? Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, so that accounts for some of of it. And maybe the rest is due to my finding myself smack-dab in the middle of middle-age, not quite sure how I got there (here). I thought about saving this one for my October Halloween-a-thon, but then I thought…what the heck. Thanks for reading!

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  2. What accent, please? It’s important for visualizing this. Glad I read this in the morning vs. in bed before lights out.

    I hope I go quick. If I get smacked by the crosstown 42nd Street bus, that’d be fine with me.

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    • You know, as this went through several revisions, at one point I added a line about it being an eastern european former-soviet-buffer state accent. But my revisions seemed to be killing the piece, and I went back to what was more or less the first draft. Hence the line about the accent was lost. And that was the only thing I regretted losing. Maybe I’ll add it back in.

      Quick is the way to go, I think, for sure.

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  3. Prose like poetry. Wonderful descriptions, Walt. My favorite line:

    “I left the house late, after the girls were in bed, after my wife came home from work having driven one hour west to the lake with her open container and wishing she wasn’t my wife for reasons I still don’t understand and can’t say I don’t disagree with, though.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank ya, dd. I like that one too. This was very stream-of-conscious for me, which I haven’t done much of in the past, but seem to be enjoying of late. It’s less stressful, though than attempting to polish something to perfection, which is never possible anyway. But also a little scary sometimes, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I like how this seems to pivot, starting at paragraph five, then six. The voice throughout, great…and deliciously odd at the end, well done sir!

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  5. Love this. That last section, that feeling that if you could just get them altogether, maybe things could go back to the way they were, some happier time before all your loved ones had drunk and smoked themselves to death. Grasping at human straws.
    You certainly feel that way as you age, don’t you? We’ve had an river of death flowing through our extended family in the last few years. You begin to wonder who’s next, watching older family members for signs of infirmity. Though it kind of helps normalise death too. When my dad died I finally realised – ‘yes, this is normal’ – which sounds stupid, but my brain only registered it at that point.
    A wonderful litany of death, Walt.
    If we’re talking ‘favourites’ I love the ‘Uncle Charlie went next’ paragraph, the thought of your narrator waiting outside, ringing the bell, wondering if he’s dead. Marvellous, haunting work.
    And roll on Halloween – last year was brilliant fun 🙂

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    • Thanks, Lynn. Yes there’s no point avoiding the unavoidable. My cousins have about 10 kids under ten years old between them who have all been to several funerals already, mine have been to zero. Part of that was due to the difficulty of traveling, but part of it also came from saying let’s not expose them to that unpleasantness. In hindsight, I’m not sure that was the right call. Coincidentally, they will be going to their first tomorrow, and I don’t think it’s either good or bad, it just is.

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      • It’s a difficult one, kids attending funerals. My son’s been to four and he’s only 12, though the first three weren’t people he was close to – we perhaps morbidly saw them as dry runs for when someone really important to him died. That happened 2 years ago, when my father in law died. My son was adamant he wanted to go – he adored his granddad – and I’m glad he knew what to expect. You don’t want to dwell on these things, but as you say, it just is.

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  6. Death is a biggie for us humans. Your post caused me to think about this issue, among others. Sometimes I wonder if things like cigars and Manhattans kill us, or just some lifelong baseline view of life or negative outlook or whatever. Can a ridiculously persevering positivism just will a body and soul to live on and on until the heart just can’t keep beating anymore? I’d like to think so, assuming I can do that!

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  7. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.” (John 11:25) The Bible teaches that the dead will live again.* While Jesus was on earth, he showed that he is able to resurrect the dead. On one occasion, he resurrected a 12-year-old girl. How did her parents react? They “were beside themselves with great ecstasy.” (Mark 5:42) Under the rule of his Kingdom, the heavenly King Jesus Christ will resurrect untold numbers of people to life here on earth—but under peaceful and righteous conditions. (Acts 24:15; 2 Peter 3:13) Imagine the great ecstasy when the dead come back to life and are reunited with their loved ones! I would like to help out more. Here’s my email wanttohelponesthataresad@gmail.com and text 919-561-8472

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