Category Archives: Death

A Eulogy…Intensely Personal

(I had to add a link instead of uploading the video. My apologies!)

This one is a heartbreaker.

Difficult to make, harder to listen to again.

It’s about Erika’s brother, but it turned out to be about several people.

I remastered the music because it expresses everything that’s said in the words.

Love, X

Penni For My Thoughts

I never do the “memories thing” on Facebook.

I wrote the little bit below these words a few weeks back and was reluctant to share it. We weren’t real-world friends; we were weirdoes connected by only words. And maybe it’s arrogant for me to share it at this point. That makes me laugh because Penni would say, “Hardly anyone uses social media to talk about the depth of their life, the good and the bad. They’re going to think whatever they want to anyway, and that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?”

Penni: For Your Thoughts

I had a fan for years. She read anything I ever wrote across all of my platforms. One of the reasons I made an impression on her was that she, too, lost a spouse suddenly when she was younger. She encouraged me to share and overshare. To jump into being an imperfectionist and just write. She enthusiastically asked for and read many things that no other person had ever read. She often got amused because it was obvious she outclassed me in intelligence and humbly deflected my insistence that it was true.

Her burden must have been incredibly heavy. I don’t know how, at my age, I can still be shocked. But she would have laughed at that and told me that of all the people in the world, I should know everything’s eventual. And no matter how wild the stories sound, they were all lived and earned.

Her stories are over now. I don’t want to get deep into the thicket of what happened; truthfully, we found out about her death in the weirdest possible way. Her passing wasn’t in the news. It was an exercise in craziness just to get a confirmation of her death from the police.

It’s obvious that the only way to show my appreciation for her enthusiasm and support is to do what she always told me to keep doing.

I’ll include one of the few messages I kept of hers.

“…remember when you explained the 10% or the Bald-Head rule to me? People around you aren’t going to see the same light others do. Their familiarity with you and the idea of you they have in their head will blind them. X, you’re creative. And you are your own worst enemy. You already say you’re an imperfectionist. Run with that. Be weird. Write about whatever the hell you want to. With your heart on your sleeve and a curse word on your tongue. Just don’t stop. You’re going to do it anyway. Eff the critics who never take a chance. If I can appreciate you, others do too. You’re going to get into trouble with people if you do it right.”

Now, I note her absence in my posts and on my blog. Just silence.

Love, X

.

As If

As If

Note: this isn’t about me. I didn’t experience a loss, so save up your warmth and regards for the next person in your life who needs it when the wheel spins in their direction. 2023 is going to be a year like the rest: no matter what we think approaches, life always winks impersonally at us. We have to smile back.

Yesterday, as the new year swung into gear on a lovely, warm, and beautiful January morning, I left work. It wasn’t quite spontaneous, yet I accompanied Erika to a funeral for a co-worker’s father. Erika experienced a particularly harsh aftermath of her brother’s death last year. Such events often leave us raw, scarred, and vulnerable to the emotions welling up without provocation. It’s hard for some of us to feel free just to let our wellspring of hurt come out, even when it might not have its genesis in the moment.

I attended another funeral last Monday. The disparity between the two services astonished me.

Several of us took advantage of the odd holiday schedule and drove to support a woman who was lucky enough to have two loving parents until recently. The funeral home was packed. The family had arranged to have a photo memorial of their patriarch playing. The snapshots clearly defined a man who loved music and family. His casket was a beautiful and simple wooden one without polish or needless adornment. If anyone needed a demonstration of what he must have been like as a man, this served well.

The service was two songs, an obituary reading, and a eulogy from a friend whose hands had seen decades of work and life. His voice trembled with age, but his words were simple and direct. To be able to contain your message in such a way is a gift. Anyone would be lucky to have a speaker for the dead with such experience and love. I’m paraphrasing his message, but it was this: “His passing was tough. But I knew him and the family. He loved and was loved. And he wants y’all to go on like it was before.” Even with his broken voice, he said more than most people say in ten thousand words.

Like the man the family was sending off, the funeral was simple. It was finished in about ten minutes from start to finish. Ten minutes compared to the forty-two million he’d walked the earth.

Because of the incredible weather, we lingered outside in the beautiful January morning air. All of us knew we were experiencing a miraculous display of nature. Rain and storms were rolling in later. I heard someone say that God must have opened a window for the family that morning.

Our co-worker didn’t need us there for support. It’s obvious her family is more than equipped to do what their patriarch asked: live as if.

Love, X
.

Marcia

I have no claim to being the historian, the biographer, or the speaker for the dead for Marcia. I included the picture because it’s a rare one in which every person is smiling, all convened for a family wedding.

I arrived at the church early yesterday. I’d seen people outside and chatting as they always do before funerals. I took a few minutes to sit in the car, looking across the open area behind the church, my mind returning to the 90s and remembering another life. Not just the person’s life being heralded a few minutes later, but also mine swirled into a questionable collection of thoughts and memories.

Faces I hadn’t seen in well over a decade, some in fifteen years. I was once connected deeply to many of them. The children of the family? Some towered over me, their faces alien yet familiar. I hugged them all. I take my job as the Hug Ambassador seriously. I had to remind myself that I was in attendance for a funeral; the truth is that some of the warmth I used to experience with some of them came flooding back. Those who held a place in their hearts for me still told me plainly merely with their faces and enthusiasm upon seeing me. Seeing people after such a prolonged absence will gauge and plunder your feelings across a spectrum of emotions. All those lives, swirling inside and around a community we all share, were brought back together to send off someone who managed to make it to eighty-four years of age. She was the head of the family in what I call my Life 1.0. When I thought I was experienced and prepared for anything. Oof. Life reminded me that I was in store for a box containing both beautiful magic and dark shadows.

I remembered the first time I met Marcia. My deceased wife, Deanne, cautioned me, and she was right. Marcia mentioned the first time I met her that she wanted her large assembly of children to take care of her when she retired. We were sitting at Village Inn, having met her after our night shift. I had a lot better time than Deanne did. I acted like… myself: irreverent and fast-talking when her Mom veered into wild territory. Marcia had experienced a lot in her lifetime by the time I met her. It was written on her face and etched into her words even then. Deanne and her Mom argued often. It didn’t help things when it amused me when they did. Marcia didn’t quite understand at first how Deanne and I got together. So, I told her the truth: I was oblivious to Deanne’s attention, and Deanne took the reins and announced that I was coming over for dinner. Deanne was ten years younger than me and, at first sight, very outgoing.

The truth is that I had a lot more patience with her Mom than she did. I’ve found that to be the case universally. Most of us tend to grow too familiar with our family, and even the slightest oddness inspires us to imagine jumping into a well to escape them. It passes, of course. Especially when we realize that we probably irritate the blazes out of those around us equally. I know that Marcia hated that I took her baby girl away from her. But Marcia was also the one person we had with us when we married in Eureka Springs. As much as I unnerved Marcia sometimes, it’s hard to hold that in your heart when someone passes.

So, I hugged everyone in sight. I tried to avoid saying something stupid, including all the clichés accompanying death. I’ve continued to learn that everyone says something that rubs people the wrong way, no matter how innocent the intention is. I’ve said my share, and I’ve also listened as people said some incredible things to me while surrounded by death, grief, and discomfort. I watched most attendees respond reflexively to the litany of protocols of the Catholic church. Religious calisthenics, someone once called it. And I listened, my mind going back to the years my life overlapped with Marcia’s. As I sat in the pew next to one of Deanne’s brothers, I listened to the odd lilt of the priest’s voice and of the older male singer. The brother sitting next to me is much older now, of course. He was always irreverent. He and his sister Deanne used to annoy the piss out of each other. Older age suits him. Had Deanne still been alive and been sitting with us, I can only imagine the wild exchanges of inappropriate commentary we would have shared. Deanne and Joe would have traveled conversationally between insults and dark humor in a blink of an eye.

Marcia was cremated, a fact that surprised me. She was angry at me when Deanne died because she wanted her daughter buried. I pushed her irritation aside, maybe a little too confidently. Deanne and I had returned from a funeral in my hometown about a month earlier. We did what people do in those situations: we talked about what we wanted upon our demise two hundred years in the future.

I loved being invited yesterday. I made the picture for her obituary, one that was a composite of two pictures taken at one of her son’s weddings. That time frame was the quintessential “Marcia” most people hold in their minds. I realized I was a proxy for Marcia’s youngest daughter, the first to leave the family of six other siblings. That realization softened me more than I expected. It’s strange to think that if Deanne had not died so young, the arc of my life would have looped around to the same moment all these years later. All those experiences and years would have been replaced by the first arc of my life. Yet I still would have ended up in the same moment and place.

After the service, I went to Ancestry and closed out the chapter of her life by adding her date of death. Now, anyone looking for her will always find my family tree for her. It’s become a ritual for me. Closing out with that certain finality of a date and time. In a few days, I’ll add a hundred pictures to her tree to preserve them as long as the internet survives. 84 years is a long time to walk the earth. Yet it is also insufficient.

People, time, love, death, loss.

We march in time. If we are both lucky and unlucky, we will have enough life to see a parade of people precede us. It is both daunting and a gift.

It was a joy to see all the faces and to hug them. It also stabbed me a little because it was the life and family that I took for granted because the person connecting us was so young and left so early. Put aside were all the petty annoyances and dramas that characterize families. Just people, each trying to get through it and make sense of it in their own way. For me, it was literally another life ago.

Even when it’s truly someone’s time to go, it feels like a robbery. We’ll all convene and observe the rituals and expectations. But no one experiences a person the same way that another person does. Some experienced Marcia with both love and irritation, as a daughter, as a son, as an in-law, or as a friend. I don’t think I dishonored Marcia by saying she was brash, opinionated, and often argumentative. In her defense, most of her children inherited that predilection.

Maybe I overthink things, but I don’t think so. I think all of us have a long series of wild, contradictory, and disparate thoughts and ideas when someone dies. That’s probably an accurate way to go about it. Because people are complicated, and when we’re living a life that overlaps theirs, we don’t understand them.

I took time today to find more pictures of Marcia for her Ancestry entry. And I re-read Deanne’s calendar pages for her last year of life back in 2007. Even her short comments about arguing with her mom (and then mine) made me both laugh and remember her Mom truthfully, through both Deanne’s eyes and mine.

And to be remembered? That’s a feat all by itself.

Love, X

Dear Jimmy:

I have a surprise for you!

You’ve been gone many years. 2013 was two iterations of my life ago.

You left a legacy of which you weren’t aware.

You have beautiful grandchildren from a daughter you never knew of.

She found out today that you’re her father. That’s staggering news for anyone who wanted the simple truth and simplicity of an answer.

I’m sorry life took you so early. You’d be older and tired of the habits that deflected you from focusing on what makes you happy.

I can imagine you walking up to your daughter for the first time, seeing her children, your grandchildren. Especially if your smart and handsome son Noah were with you, each of you seeing a silhouette of yourselves in her face.

I’ve done the best I can to give your daughter some closure.

Your daughter will be able to separate what you call mistakes from the fact that you were in the world. She’s here because you were.

I’m humbled by the fact that science and DNA can unlock doors in a way that people couldn’t.

Knowing the past doesn’t change it. Judging it doesn’t color or discolor any of our previous chapters.

I didn’t find out my own dad had fathered a child until 26 years after his death. That I had another sister was a secret for 46 years. There’s no doubt that some of my family knew about her. They chose to rob us of the opportunity to know each other. I understand it even though I disagree. Age gives me the ability to dislike it but also to nod my head to some degree. Most of us are doing the best we can, and such decisions are complicated.

Jimmy, I know that your daughter would have brought you joy. She’s married and loved. She’s smart, kind, and the perfect complement to Noah, who is the embodiment of what you’d want your son to be.

Be proud wherever you are.

I sit in amazement at how life still surprises me, Jimmy.

I would give anything to have you here, even for an afternoon, to watch your eyes dance with joy meeting the daughter you never knew you had. To listen to your stupid, outrageous laugh.

For now, though, I’m still happy with this turn of events.

Maybe we will talk about it one day.

For now, know that you have a daughter who finally got a lot of answers. I’ve shared your pictures and stories with her. Her children can look at the family tree I’ve made and see through generations.

I used a picture of your daughter Brianna when she was 13. It was the month you died. It brings me to tears knowing you had such a sweet young daughter who was hidden.

With Love, X
.

Every Dumb Thing

I woke up around 3 a.m. and could hear the neighbors outside on the landing, their night still in progress.

I retrieved my trusty sheet, put it over my head, and knocked.

“Trick or Treat,” I said. No treats were forthcoming.

My brother Mike would have been 57 today. I don’t know what to say about that. He could have lived another twenty years had his choices been different. If he were alive, I’d prank call him and say, “Good morning, you dumb bast**d!” and then hang up. He’d probably call back and leave a message, “Sew any non-bunching pillows lately?”

The picture is one from Dogpatch: me on the left, Mike, my sister Marsha crouched on the bottom, and my cousin Jimmy on the right. We got to see a lot of things thanks to Jimmy. I restored the faces in the photo. Jimmy’s gone too, but I’ll take a few moments to think about him and my brother today. And I’ll think about my other sister, the one I didn’t know I had for another 40+ years after this picture was taken.

The nostalgia will undoubtedly make me more at peace as the world swirls around me today; my thousands of steps and interactions will remind me of the frozen nature of memory and time.

Each second carries me further away from that moment so many years ago at Dogpatch.

What a day it was.

What a day this will be.

Love, X
.

A Eulogy And a Joke For Jim



Erika told me that I MUST have more hair. She gave me some dubious “vitamins” with skull-and-crossbones on the bottle. The back label had testimonials from probable probationary or parolee people. I’ve been taking them for a week. I look like an aging English rockstar now that my hair is growing faster than the mustache of my neighbor Susan. Let me know what you think of my new locks – and the color streaks. It will probably grow past my hips in another week.

If you look closely at my goofy picture, you’ll see that my eyes are a little teary. A really good man died this morning. He has so many friends that I wouldn’t want to count the number of memories that will be retold in the near future. Jim’s sense of humor was different from mine in some ways, but the spirit of his humor was massive. We used to joke and speculate about what he might want to be told at his service. I’d write some of it here, but it would shock, amuse, and horrify, and probably some people simultaneously. When a force of nature like him dies, it is a sure sign that all of us will line up soon enough for our turn. No one can look at his life as a friend, pastor, chaplain, counselor, or husband and father and think he had anything other than an outstanding life. He was a rare mix of education, faith, music, and humor. He never once made me feel less than for my skepticism.

I decided to go ahead and post these words despite the fact that most people think they are so dissimilar and disparate.

Jim would appreciate and see the connection.

Life is both stupidity and solemnity, hunger and satiation.

If I had donned this wig and entered the church he founded, the one that held its last service last Sunday and the one I wrote about last Sunday afternoon, he would look up from the piano, smile, and then say: “X is a much better-looking woman than he ever was as a man.”

Love, X
.

Lost In Time 2.0

I’m not planning on dying. I penciled it in for 2034.

I’m planning on living.

It makes some people skittish when they observe a loved one or friend “suddenly” giving things away. Don’t be alarmed unless you turn your head as you read this and see someone wearing a unitard behind you. Unitards are universally recognized as sinister, much like the side-eye you get when you’ve annoyed someone just a tad past their irritation point.

I’ve never given away as deeply as this time. That’s true.

From ‘the nail’ to the hand-written Ecclesiastes, a Xmas ornament from my dad’s death, Grandma’s thimble, Grandma’s sewing box, a few special coffee cups, a lot of my artwork (I use the word liberally there), all but basically three of my books, and a slew of other things that had immense sentimental value. There were several practical things that were also beautiful that I rehomed and surprised people with.

The unique nail I attempted to send to my sister still hasn’t surfaced. It may never materialize. It’s easy to feel upset about it, given that it was my most special possession. To remind myself, I think about all the people in the world every day who lose everything – or the people most valuable to them. A nail is insignificant in comparison to such loss and absence. Erika gave me a really old unique nail from her house in Pennsylvania, a weird nail whose story is unknown. There’s a comfort in that, too. It sparks my imagination. That nail has borne witness to many decades, been held by strange fingers, and somehow found its way to me.

When I was mailing my Grandma’s old sewing box, it struck me that my nephew’s daughter is the great-great-granddaughter of Grandma Nellie. That boggles my mind, even though I have a decade+ of ancestry and genealogy experience.

My last remaining aunt isn’t doing well. She took over the mantle of matriarch many years ago, whether she wanted it or not. I love imagining that when she was about five, that she knew a couple of people still living who were born around 1837. All those intervening people had lives, homes, families, and keepsakes. Almost all of them have vanished through the waves of all those decades. No one alive really has living memories of them any longer. They are footnotes, pictures (if we’re lucky), and placeholders in our family trees.

One of the only ways I can appreciate this life is to share the things I hold most precious with other people. I wish I had millions of dollars to share. Some might pay off their houses, some might buy a new car, and some might even take that long-awaited trip to Poland. I hope my nephew appreciates my grandma’s sewing box. That box spans literal generations. I like to think I was just the custodian for it. Each time I took it out to sew, I couldn’t help but think of my Grandma patiently teaching me to thread a needle and do a stitch. Or of Grandpa telling her to stop harping on me about using a thimble. He was a tough man and knew I’d learn very quickly after a few sharp sticks with Grandma’s needles.

I know I’m different from most people. In many ways, I’m envious of people who have a treasure trove of things from their childhood. Birthday cards, letters, pictures, keepsakes, boxes and boxes of things they both love and dread. There is joy in looking through those things, no matter how nostalgic they might make you. People forget that I do very much appreciate the difference between having things for no reason and having them to revisit old moments and people. That some people still have those things has led to me reviving memories of my life that I didn’t recall. Sometimes, they opened new doors into my memories. I hope everyone with such a trove lets them breathe and takes them out from time to time.

Recently, Erika had to leave a mountain of her youth in her old house in Pennsylvania. A lot of it was taken from her without her consent during one of her cleanup trips. The people involved deserve some bad karma. One of the delights that emerged from it? The new owners of her childhood home have been sending her boxes and boxes of surprises left behind. They don’t have to do that. I’m sure they are fascinated by the range of things they’ve found. It’s been quite the treat to watch Erika opening boxes without knowing the depth and breadth of the things being returned to her. All could have been lost forever. Thanks to a good soul, she’s getting them back in waves and increments. It’s a bit of great karma to hopefully wash away the residue of the bad karma from before.

In my case, due to tornados, domestic violence, and burned-down houses, there was no way for me to have much from my childhood. Would I prefer to have a closet of such things? Yes! I don’t want anyone reading this to think differently. Almost all the pictures I have come from people sharing theirs. Just the privilege of sorting and reliving such things would be a cathartic experience for me. I’m a little jealous of everyone who has such an opportunity.

I love wild, colorful things. Not necessarily to possess them. It would be easy for me to fill my apartment with such things. To the rafters. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by beauty? The cliché response to this is that we are all surrounded by such beauty, both outside in the world around us, and inside the people we include in our intimate circles.

It’s still weird to me to be poor but yet still feel rich and lucky most of the time.

I’m still breathing, after all.

Take a moment and ensure that no unitard-wearing weirdo is in the room with you. Then, pause to think about whether all the things you own make you happy. If they do, you’re way ahead of the game. Likewise, if something you own and love would enrich someone else’s life, consider giving it away.

It’s all going somewhere.

Someday.

The picture is of two of my aunts. Because of the resolution, I couldn’t enhance it or color it as it deserved.

PS Since I can’t write a post like this without repeating my favorite mantra: if you have pictures of friends and loved ones, share them while you’re breathing. Pictures are the best thing in the world, comparable even to the sensation you get when you feel happy and satisfied.

Love, X
.

Moments.

Moments.

Though I am reluctant to compare my early morning to the prison yard in the movie The Shawshank Redemption… I felt a little like Andy Dufresne
as Paul Potts’ “Nella Fantasia” blasted at high volume with a haunting echo in the empty warehouse. “Duettino Sull’aria” had its place in the movie. All those trapped souls paused long enough to appreciate the melody. As did I, today of all days. If you’ve never looked at the translation for Nella Fantasia, today would be a good day to do so. It is a wistful and optimistic call for another type of world.

This one is pretty damn good most of the time. Why do we always ask for more?

I woke up this morning, almost embryonic -and warm. I’m not one to sit in melancholy. Standing there completely alone in the concrete and steel expanse, I let it wash across me. October 5th, another day and another opportunity.

Moments.

Not everyone is here to experience them. I remember because I need to be reminded.

Love, X
.

Two Years And Another Life

Something I wrote two years ago: “I don’t look for exoneration, though I want it. There is no one in this world who can be both aware of my actions and the reasons for them except for me. Since I don’t pardon myself, I expect no less from others.” -X

I’m nudging up on the two-year mark of my brother’s death, and the ensuring bell ring/vision in my head. I’m eyeless to some of the underlying nonsense going on in my head. I’m more convinced than ever that had everything not happened in the unlikely sequence it did that I would likely be dead. Weight loss was just one component of it. Two years out, my explanation is the same: I don’t get credit for it. Something broke, and the vision I’d seen of myself would be the end result. It made me rigidly hyper-focused.

I still tell people, “Don’t give me credit for doing it. I should never have let myself go to that extent. It’s like a meth addiction; no one should embark on such a journey. It’s good that I stopped overeating, but terrible I let it go so far.”

I fluctuate around the mid-160s for my weight. I feel lighter than air at 150-155 lbs. That weight requires devout adherence to a healthier diet.

The trick isn’t losing weight. It’s figuring out what works long-term. It’s relatively easy to commit to weight loss for a few months. It’s quite another to develop a different relationship with food. Food is the in-law that sleeps in your bedroom.

Food Satan is always on duty, attempting to pounce on you. When you’re tired. When you want that sublime sensation of buttery smoothness. Or salty starch. At 11 p.m. when you really should be horizontal and not sticking your head inside the fridge.

Delicious food is ubiquitous and calls our name from the other room wearing a negligee.

It pains me to see people struggle with their weight.

I’ve watched many people make a list of ‘the reasons’ they can’t lose weight, even if they desperately want to. It’s eye-opening and mostly rationalizations. Heck, isn’t almost everything we tell ourselves?

When I lost almost all my weight, I added no additional exercise. It was immediately apparent that I was consuming an awful lot more calories than I was burning. My life was already active because of my job. Because of that, I focused all my enthusiasm on eating differently while avoiding going hungry. Being hungry is a sign that you won’t be able to maintain any successes you might experience. Generally speaking, you must eat and eat often.

I’m at the two-year mark. I’m grateful for those two years, even as I’ve had other struggles.

Primarily online, I catch hell for the simplicity with which I explain the weight loss problem. There are exceptions for some people; most of us eat too many calories versus what we burn. There is no escaping the math of it. People berate me by making specious arguments about the complexities of healthy diets. It’s not complicated at all! Less sugar, less fat, fewer processed foods, more fruits and vegetables, smaller portions, and different choices. You don’t need to be 100% militant, but you do need to be 100% vigilant about your choices. Enjoy the allegedly ‘terrible’ foods from time to time, or otherwise, you’ll go bonkers. Especially if you sit and watch your friends and family eat an entire basket of buttery breadsticks or an entire large pizza.

I do enjoy the endless arguments online about the ‘best’ way, goofy supplements, energy drinks, and the myriad ways you can be made to part with your money. Whatever you choose, you must do it for the rest of your life. Find what works. It’s not a sprint. It’s a french fry-scented marathon.

I recently looked into the beer-and-sausage guy. He does a weird diet once a year, every year. He always loses weight because his caloric intake is less. His bloodwork also improves in tandem – no matter WHAT he is eating.

It’s not a comforting idea to know that we can probably only eat 1600-3000 calories daily. If your limit is 2500, a sugary soda contains about 150, which is 1/16th of your average limit. A 2 oz. Snickers bar is 280 calories, well over 10% of your intake limit.

The simplest way to say it: most overweight people eat too many calories.

I don’t blame them. Food is amazingly delicious and brings happiness.

Fresh french fries or pizza? Oh my god. You won’t find a bigger aficionado of some types of potato chips than me. Chips and salsa? Yes, please. Two baskets if you’ve got them.

It wasn’t hard for me to practice “Choose your hard” when I started.

My vision, or whatever it was, took control.

Afterward? Remembering that food choices now bring unwanted results or continued success depends on how strong the siren voice of negligee-clad food is.

As Fat Bastard eloquently quipped, “Get in my belly!”

X
.