Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Excuses, excuses, excuses

Mountain Mailboxes, by my mom, Maggie Ott.
View more of her work here.
We plan to revamp and update her site this fall.


I don't even really have time to write today, but I'm tired and cranky and I need an outlet, and can't really focus on work right now anyway, and the work always gets done, so no biggie. It's a personal entry today, just to warn you. Anyway, I don't mean to be so angry, but I promise, by the end, I've got it under control.

My mother passed away unexpectedly at her home in Maryland, back in May, and she was opposed to having any sort of traditional end-of-life ceremony. I am not terribly traditional myself, but I will say I didn't, and still don't agree with her choice. The wake and funeral are for us, the living, and allow us a chance to stand together with family and friends and say goodbye. These traditional things can be scary, and heavy, and emotional, but I believe, ultimately cathartic. They provide a bit of closure and, in knowing that there are those who share your pain, lend some strength to help us through.

Instead, my mother wanted a party to celebrate her life: this is open, by the way, if you feel like making the trip to Maryland on July 19th. Let me know, and I'll send you the info. And working on elements for this party, like, what music to play during the service; and what sorts of images to display around the house during that weekend (we're leaning toward a combo of her huge collection of paintings, as well as some photos); and discussing what sort of disposable plates to buy; and whether or not to hire lifeguards for the pool so the adults can catch up without worry of drowning children; and talking with tent and table and chair vendors; and following up with people who have not responded; and figuring out what sort of meal, booze, and desserts to offer; and declining phone calls from relatives who feel the need to call me every few hours for an update; has not been therapeutic at all. It hasn't really allowed the idea of life without mom to really sink in. But we do want to honor her wishes, and can deal with the delayed grief processing. It's the least we can do.

But, this, coupled with the fact that I'm in the last weeks of what could/should be an incredibly stressful pregnancy, if I weren't kinda numb and/or overloaded from everything else that's happened, leaves me — and I'm guessing my sisters too — in a state of emotional suspension. It's weird to have so many huge life events hanging...hanging...hanging...

I think the Jews have it right: the dead must be buried as soon as possible, and the living spend the next seven days in mourning. It's just sensible, and honors the dead and cares for the living, all at the same time. The first few days after a death, as disorienting and painful and shocking as they can be, are also kind of sacred, as well. You don't get that time back, and to take that week, after a death, to mourn, to process, to put everything else aside, and to gather, is healthy, respectful. Alas, we're not Jewish, and I suppose, even if we were, my mom, Maggie, still would have wanted the big party. She was a big party sort of gal, she was. I think, for her, she didn't want people to be sad about her death, and again, this is another area where I don't completely agree: people need to mourn, to grieve, to feel despair, and must figure out how the hell to go on. It puts things in perspective. It helps us, I think, to ultimately live better, and love more, and try harder, for having known and loved the person lost. I'm not mad or upset with my mom about this lack of agreement on her end-of-life preferences; I do understand that she wanted to focus on the beauty of life, and fellowship, and community, and family. She wanted us to have fun, and maybe she figured with a bit of time between death and party, that would happen; maybe with that time between the two events, it would be more convenient for people to make it to her party. And that's what I want, more than anything: I want people there, for her. And, as selfish as it is, I want people there for me, and my family, because we didn't have that gathering when we were hurting the most, and we have done our best to put our emotions on hold to get this party planned. We could use the support.

And so, in these last few weeks, as we get everything together, I find I am stunned and intolerant and annoyed beyond comprehension about the excuses we've received. I'm not happy about that, and wish I could be more understanding. But it's hard, because I think there are an inordinate amount of lame-ass people out there who are only focusing on themselves, their dis/comfort, their in/convenience. They forget — or at least it seems — that my family just had the freakin' rug pulled out from under us, and we don't really need to hear their pathetic excuses. It's not about trumping anyone, or playing the "whose grief is worse" game, but don't we all attend these end-of-life things, ultimately, to support the ones closest to the deceased, who got left behind?

So, here are some of the most noteworthy excuses we've received to date (and I am not kidding, either, sadly):

"I'm afraid of bridges."

In order to get out of New Jersey, one pretty much needs to cross a body of water; and from most places in Jersey, to get to Maryland, one would take the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which is a glorious feat of humanity's ability to overcome obstacles...it's not a rinky-dink little bridge, I get it. But bridges are part of our history and humanity, and it's just kind of pathetic to limit oneself geographically, especially after all the ingenuity and passion and sweat and blood of the people who built that bridge; they built it for us so we could travel and gather. What a gift, and it's stupid to squander that gift.

"My toddler is nuts and it will be too much to keep an eye on it."
Whatever. This isn't about me, but it sure isn't about the people who come up with lame-ass excuses either, so I won't hold back: Glen and I should have a toddler now to chase after, but we don't, and it's not like we're bitter that some people can't appreciate what they have, but it's certainly annoying to hear about how hard parenthood is from those people. My sister, Jenny, has a toddler, Emma, who is not even human, but rather, Terminator, complete with exoskeleton. Endless energy. Emma does not sleep, either: life is just too interesting to her. So, Jenny's got a toddler on the go, AND Jenny will know more people than the person who offered the "insane toddler" excuse, thus making it a difficult balance to watch Emma, and catch up with other people. But Jenny's gonna do it, because what f'ing choice does she have?

"It will be too emotional for me."
Are you for real? WTF? My father has known my mother since Junior High. My sisters and I have known our mother our whole lives, and by the way, it's been a tough year for my family, even before we lost our mother. I'm not playing that grief card, but if you're too much of a wussy to stand with us at this difficult time, I really don't want to hear about how this is oh-so-difficult for you. Just stay home and leave us alone.

"I will be teaching a workshop at that time."
Guess what, waster? We can't help our nature: we are a curious, tenacious, and kinda distrustful group of people, and you're stupid enough to keep your schedule of events on your website. So we know you're not teaching a workshop until July 24. Even so, my mother canceled her classes and workshops (she taught, too, after all) for events lesser than end-of-life stuff, but she certainly would have canceled her classes for this particular liar, which just pisses me off, because he doesn't deserve it. She understood priorities, at least.

"I am in charge of my church's ice cream social, which is the same day as your mother's memorial, so, sorry, I won't be able to make it."
Hm. See above. Interesting that a) it's not listed on your church's schedule of events on your church's website, and I'd think most ice cream socials would be; and b) your church is around the corner from my parents' place. Ever think that maybe you can stock the church's freezers with the butter pecan, and put another person in charge for an hour or two while your run over to pay your respects? You can't? You're too important to relinquish control of the ice cream scooper? Sheesh. Now we're all talking, by the way, of stopping by your church for some ice cream, after the party. See you then, knob.

"I can't make it that day, but if you reschedule it for the following week, I'll try to be there."
Wuh? That excuse came from a priest friend of my mother's; my mother was the only one in the family who liked the guy: we all saw him for what he was: a douche in a priest's costume. Before you gasp and pray for my soul (considering I trashed the Ice Cream Social's CEO, above, too), I just want to say that I don't feel that way about all priests; I don't feel that way about all clergy. It's just this guy is a colossal, egotistical, self-righteous douche, and there's no getting around it. Ask my sisters. Ask my dad. Where the HELL does he get off with THAT sense of entitlement that he can actually suggest to us a new date for my mother's memorial, and mean it? Lay off the crack, Fr. Massengill.

There have been a bunch of other excuses, and while it's always a disappointment to find out that someone won't/can't make it, the ones I mention above are the ones who have earned my deep scorn, and a grudge that will not subside any time soon. Sure, some people booked their vacations before my mom died; and some people are old and rickety or in some other way, mostly dead themselves; and some people don't drive; and some people have debilitating diseases; and some people might have weddings or showers or whatever, which were likely planned before, or at least around the same time as we picked our July 19th date. I may not like it, but I get it — not everyone can make it. I am reasonable, most of the time, as long as I don't have to face too much unreasonable crap. Like this: Another excuse-giver, J, told my sister that my mother was a forgiving person, and therefore, it will be okay if J doesn't attend the memorial. Maggie will forgive her, after all. Despite the number of years J knew my mother, it's amazing she is able to come to that conclusion about my mother's personality. It's not like I inherited my deep scorn and grudge-holding abilities from my father's side of the family, for crying out loud. So, it does gives me pleasure to think that perhaps my mother will haunt the people who offered the lamest of excuses. If she doesn't, when it's my time, I might haunt them. I might haunt them, even if my mother already has. And I'm looking forward to it. This is about my mom, and I want my mom to have the party she wanted for herself, even if I would have preferred to sit shiva for a week, back in May. Ice cream socials and toddler-chasing happen all the time, that it's VULGAR to hear these excuses. We only die once. This is Maggie's Big Day, and she deserves the send-off she wanted.

I am focusing on the negative, and I hate that about myself. But it's hard to not feel like a loser, to some degree, in listening to some of these pathetic excuses. In several cases, I have, or Glen, or my sisters, or father, or mother has done something big and inconvenient to help the people above. And it's not about paybacks, but it's hard not to think "how did these relationships become so one-sided?" Especially when we're already feeling so drained. Personally, it makes me want to tell those people to fuck off (I may still yet, if they haven't read it first here), and then sell my beloved truck, as it has hauled way more shit than I ever needed to haul for myself, anyway. I won't though, because I know there are more people who do come through as friends, who are there when you need them most, who do take an interest in reciprocal relationships, or at least, in some other way, are "paying it forward," which I can live with.

There has been a positive side of responses we've received; a great network of friends have come out of seemingly nowhere, and it's been really nice to reconnect. For instance, I had a friend, G, from high school, who became really tight with my mom. G went off to the navy, and has been stationed in some far off place all these years; most recently, California. And he happened to be out on the east coast just last week, but because of his fondness for my mom and family, G is making a special trip, from California, with his wife and kids, to be with us on the day of my mother's memorial. We haven't seen him since 1987, and haven't had much contact with him, but that doesn't matter: he never said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I was just in Annapolis recently, and just can't come east again." Or "It's been too many years that I just don't care anymore." So, G's huge sacrifice to be with us on July 19th pretty much makes up for all the lame-ass shit above, doesn't it? (Lame-ass excuse givers should take notice.)

And there are some really, really distant relatives who are flying in from Georgia and Florida (it would never occur to me to think I was actually related to anyone that far south); and some of Mom's childhood friends who'll be making the journey, despite not having seen her in decades; at least one person traveling from North Jersey with a diabetic, neurotic, rescued dog, who found pet-friendly accommodations in the Salisbury, MD area, so he could take care of his dog, AND pay his respects. Plus, there are a couple of people who are battling illnesses themselves who will be making the trip. There's a small, but significant pile of people who will be making the trek from our neighborhood in Howell. These people are getting less ink, and I am sorry for that, but, I know the day of the memorial, I will focus on these people, their decency, their desire to stand by us and say goodbye to my mom. There are more of them than there are jerks with lame excuses, and they quietly, and without any bullshit, do what's right, and I suppose it's that quality that makes it oh-so-wrong that the wasters should stand out more.

So, I'm done bitching for now.

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