I’m not entirely sure I should be posting about this at all, but here goes:

   My uncle has terminal cancer and is dying. He was given 3 weeks to live about 5 weeks ago, but he’s still kicking. Well, as much as one can kick while in extreme pain and slowly starving to death (which is what happens to most cancer patients, they tell me). So, my family is organizing a sort of non-traditional get-together in his honor this weekend. They’re calling it a “living wake”, but it’s mostly just everybody getting together in order to say goodbye.

   I don’t have a lot of experience with death, so I’m not sure how common this sort of thing is. When I told my mom about it, she kind of scoffed at the idea, chalking it up, perhaps, the the famed pretentiousness of my dad’s (her ex-husband’s) side of the family. Bullshit family circus aside, it strikes me as a very good idea. I mean, how many people actually have the luxury of saying goodbye? Not many, I’d wager.  I’m kind of struggling with the idea of going, mostly b/c it’s happening in a couple of days, and I was given NO advance notice about it. But, having to take off work seems a small price to pay in order to see a member of my family for the last time.

   “Her dad’s brother-in-law” my mom called him to someone who inquired about my news. Um, sorry ma, but the fact that he’s a relative by marriage doesn’t change the fact that he’s family, that he’s been around since I was little, that he used to pick me up & put me on his shoulders at Mardi Gras parades. I don’t know why my mom is being so antagonistic about this, but I’m starting to think that her resentment towards my dad has blanketed over her perception of half of my relations like so much whitewash on a picket fence. That’s life, I guess. In order to get by with as little pain as possible, you have to put up a barrier to keep yourself at a safe distance from feeling actual emotions. I can’t say I don’t totally relate to this. I’m not getting misty and teary over this death. Maybe it just hasn’t sunk in yet, but it needs to soon, b/c I’m starting to feel like some heartless automaton. I know in my heart that if I don’t go to this “wake”, it won’t be because I’m to busy or because I’ll miss work, but instead because most of my daily life is lived in the comfort of an electronic bubble, safe from messy emotions. It’s been so long since I’ve felt real hurt in my heart, and I’m so deeply scared of opening the floodgates of my own emotional stores. In my life, it’s always seemed like any show of vulnerablity is practically an invitation for someone to come along and cut you to ribbons. For no good reason. What kind of life is that, anyway?

   But, back to the point of the post, “living wakes”. I was waffling on whether or not to go, b/c the whole concept, while logical, seemed weird. Weirder still was the choice, my mom observed, was laid before me, “Look at it this way, you can either go down there now, or in a week or so for the funeral.” The choice is pretty clear, no? I mean, it just doesn’t makes sense to wait until he dies to go down there & pay my respects when just the week before he was actually around. In the living room. Propped up on a hospital bed. Next to the table laid out with pickapepper jelly and muffelatas. I dunno, the thought of my uncle in a limbo state of living-but-not-really is extremely sad, but there is a bit of humor there, too. Honestly, the whole thing is reminding me of ‘Waking Ned Divine’:

“Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend. But I don’t ever remember telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said, maybe say a few things yourself. Michael and I grew old together. But at times, when we laughed, we grew young. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”

   For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a beautiful film about life and death and friendship. I’ll try to keep it in mind as a positive focal point while I make my way down to my hometown this weekend to not bury my uncle. I just hope this gathering serves to ease some of his pain and make his last days of this life some of the most beautiful, if bittersweet.

See you all Monday, then. 

 

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