Updates and Stuff

Things have been crazy for the last few weeks. Quick snapshot – I may elaborate on some of these things later:

  • Mom’s health: still a mystery. Another trip to Mayo, another frustrating round of no answers. She’s on a super antibiotic now (just in case it’s an infection), and she’s made an appointment to see an OB/GYN (just in case it’s a female issue). She’s moody, short-tempered, and not a lot of fun right now. All of which is understandable, given the intense pain she’s been experiencing for nearly six months now.
  • Lauren’s speech: She has a handful of words that are clear and understandable to non-family. It’s an interesting mix of vocab that she’s using now. And some words, we’re not sure where she heard them (like, “b0ob” which is not a word we use in the house but she can use it and point to the appropriate place on her body).
  • Ethan: He’s looking forward to starting school next week. He’s finished with camp – the last week at camp was not a good experience. He had to change locations (all summer he attended camp at his school, which is now being cleaned so it’s not a viable camp location for the last few weeks). This brought about a whole new mix of kids and counselors – including one super mean kid named Pete. First day of camp, I arrived just in time to see Pete THROW Ethan into a steel pole. Ethan’s forehead and cheek hit the pole hard, leaving red marks and bruises for days. Pete’s an older, bigger kid – probably 11 years old, so it’s a little suspicious that he’s playing with the 7 year olds. (I expect it’s because kids his own age would kick his ass since he’s obviously not a nice kid.)
  • Mike: His ashes are finally buried. I didn’t invite his parents – it was just the kids and me (and my mom). We had a few minutes with one of the priests from my alma mater. Ethan struggled a bit with saying goodbye. He had some private time at the gravesite, and from the car, I could see him crying, holding his hands to heaven, and talking (but couldn’t hear the words). He spent about 10 minutes at the site, I sat with him for another 10, then he had another few minutes alone before deciding it was time to go. E seems to be in a good place since then. Hoping he found closure and peace, too.
  • Work: Started a new job yesterday. From agency to corporate to academia – lots of changes, but hoping that THIS is exactly what we all need. I’ll have a lot of flexibility, which I’ve NEVER had. I have a lot of work to do in the next two weeks before classes start, but I’m looking forward to it. I really think this will be the answer we all need.
  • Life insurance: Related to making the new work situation possible, the final life insurance check arrived. Now I just need to find a financial planner to help me sort through what to do with it. It definitely eases the financial hit of this new job, but I also need to be responsible and invest a substantial portion of it. Figuring out the money stuff remains on the to-do list (but now there’s hope that I can actually DO my to-dos!).

 

The Last Decision

I heard from the cemetery guy this week. He picked out a “nice” spot, near a new walking bridge, close to the river, on the side of the cemetery closest to campus. “You can walk to Saint Joe’s from there,” he told me. I’m sure it’s a lovely spot.

We even settled on the date to lay Mike’s ashes to rest – August 17.

In my mind, I envision this as a very private moment for the kids and me. Maybe one of the college priests. And my mom, of course. In a way, I just want the closure. Just want it to be done. The bigger a deal is made of this, the harder I think it will be for Ethan, and that won’t be good. And, I really don’t think Mike would have wanted this to be a spectacle.

But…

I’ve thought a lot about if I want to involve Mike’s parents. They ignored me at the showing and the funeral mass. They haven’t reached out to me or the kids (other than sending the kids each very impersonal card for birthdays). There’s no relationship between me and them or them and the kids. Hell, Mike didn’t even like them and made sure I knew it every time I talked to him.

Honestly, his parents were always assholes. There was a deep-rooted, one-way hatred toward my dad. (And my dad was the most laid back, likeable person you could EVER imagine.) It made my dad laugh, when Mike’s dad would start something with him. The laughter and trying to blow off the situation only infuriated Mike’s dad more. Which just continued the cycle of my dad irritating him and laughing. Over and over.

Things didn’t warm up with Mike’s “condition.”  They refused to come to St. Louis when I called them during Mike’s last binge. The blaming that started with the phone call telling me Mike died. The way they acted toward me, the kids and my family at the funeral. The planning of the post-mass lunch against my direct orders to NOT have a lunch.

I’m sure there’s NOTHING harder than losing a child, especially one who refused to get help. One you watched waste away, knowing there was nothing you can do to stop it, to change it. And I can’t imagine talking to my child, then finding him dead in the morning. That has to be the most difficult, awful thing imaginable.

Have I reached out to them? No. We didn’t talk when Mike was alive. They would call his cell phone – not the house phone – to make sure they didn’t have to talk to me. (Sidenote: when I say Mike hated them, this is a good example. He would let their calls go to voicemail every time. He would have to work up the strength to call them because he knew it was such an ordeal to have a conversation with those people. He usually wouldn’t return the call for two or three days, and when he did, Mike was a grouch in the hours before he placed the call and for hours afterward.)

I have no reason to reach out to the former in-laws – I am the mother of their only grandchildren. I am the keeper of the ashes. I hold the cards. And, I don’t have anything nice to say to them.

Still…

The question remains: should they be invited to the, what should I call it?, the ceremony (seems too great for what I’m planning), the event (again, too lofty), the burial (um, maybe). Involving them would only make a difficult day more awkward and painful than it needs to be. Ethan and Lauren really don’t know these people, and involving them would be weird. I don’t know how they would react to being there and part of it, so I can’t prepare the kids for what would be an amazingly dramatic performance, I’m sure.

Besides, after the mass luncheon fiasco, I can’t trust they would honor my request to keep this a very small, private, intimate affair. I imagine they would invite all sorts of random relatives who would like to spend a Friday afternoon at a rural cemetery ignoring me.

On the other hand, is it wrong to NOT notify them? Can I send a letter after the fact with the location of his remains? Am I stooping to their level of asshole-ishness if I don’t “invite” them? Does it matter? What if I sent a nice note with a map to the cemetery afterward?

I have a few weeks to decide what I’m going to do…

Roadtrip

The last time I drove south on I-94 , I was racing to Fort Wayne, my mom at my side and the kids in the back seat. I just wanted to get there, figure out what was going on, get it over with. I was racing, speeding. I was crying.

I went through an entire box of tissues on the drive.

Yesterday, I was driving south on I-94 to pick up my niece. I promised her years ago that I’d take her on a tour of her top college picks during her junior year. It was time.

Tunes were ready. A cold bottle of water sat in one cup holder. Change for the tolls clanged in the other cup holder. It wasn’t until I was rolling down the road that I realized I probably should have brought a hanky.

It’s just a road – a way to get from Point A to Point B. It’s a road I hope to travel often in the coming months – it’s the way to get to my alma mater, to visit friends in Indy, to get to Chicago.

I didn’t realize it also held that memory of driving to Fort Wayne to plan the funeral. It’s just a road. Except now it’s more than that.

Ignored Thank Yous

I haven’t written any thank you notes yet – not to the people who sent flowers or sent money for the kids’ college fund (God, that makes me so uncomfortable) or donated to SJC or made dinner for us or sent packages of goodies to the kids.

I’ve looked at the cards. Taken them out of the box. Pressed my pen to the paper. But nothing comes out. I just stare at the blank cards, wishing they’d write themselves. I stare at the white plastic bag holding the cards and list of people to send them to. It sits on my kitchen counter, waiting, taking up valuable countertop real estate, just as it has for the last four weeks.

At this point, I’m rude, and I know it.

I really am thankful to everyone who sent flowers, drove (or flew) to Ft. Wayne for the funeral, sent notes, prayed for us, made us dinner, held my hand while I picked out flowers, sent care packages to the kids, sent money (especially those who really couldn’t, or shouldn’t, have because of their own situations). I”m humbled beyond words. I’ll be forever grateful. To many (most), I’ve expressed my gratitude – either verbally or through a passing/fleeting mention in a Facebook message or email. I just can’t write formal “thank you.”

Writing thank you notes is acknowledging that Mike is gone. He’ll never go on a father-son Boy Scout camping trip or take Lauren to a father-daughter dance. He won’t see them graduate high school or be there to help pick out colleges. He won’t walk Lauren down the aisle on her wedding day or have “the” talk with Ethan. Mike will never be there to comfort the kids when they’re sick, and he’ll never hold his grandbabies.  

Even though I’ve been pissed off at him for the last few years, I really, really, really hoped that he’d get better so he could do these things with his kids. He deserved these things with the kids – but more than that, THEY deserved these things with their dad.

I’ve pared down the thank you list to the bare bones. I’ve cut out some of the thank you notes that I “wanted” to send but didn’t “need” (per etiquette guidelines) to send. Still, it’s daunting. It’s overwhelming.

But, I have to figure out how to get it done.

There’s No “Fun” in Funerals

I’ve never been to a “good” funeral. At my Grandma Harness’ funeral, the whole family fell apart, and I haven’t talked to several aunts, uncles or cousins since. At my Great Grandpa’s funeral, there was a major clash with my mom’s parents after I was wrongly accused of something unimaginable. At my Great Grandma’s funeral, there were untrue, hurtful rumors being spread about my husband.

No, it’s been my experience that funerals are just big, hot messes.

And, my husband’s funeral in January was no exception.

*************

Regardless of circumstances, it’s tragic when a 38 year old man dies, especially when he was also a husband and a father, a man with wild potential – if only he could fight his demons. Mike was an alcoholic, in complete denial of his condition. His drinking was the reason that we separated and that I filed for divorce. His drinking caused the lying, the hiding, the emotional and mental abuse, the neglect of the kids – and I simply had enough. He had been living with his parents for nearly six months when he passed away in his sleep on a Wednesday night.

His mom called me to tell me that he was dead. I was at my new job. I remember asking over and over again, getting louder each time: “Cindy, what happened?”

And I remember being accused of having a role in his death.

“He just couldn’t get over losing you.”

“The divorce was killing him.”

“He didn’t understand why you left him.”

“You left him alone…”

Yet, they insisted on being there for the arrangements. Since the divorce wasn’t final, arrangements (and payment of everything) were my responsibility. Awkward doesn’t even begin to cover how uncomfortable it was to make those decisions – from the music to the readings to the coffin to the decision to cremate. I suppose it wouldn’t have been any easier if everything was perfect, but it wasn’t perfect. Not even close. And now, the reason I left him, the reason that our marriage failed, was the cause of his death. Alcoholism. And somehow, I was being accused of causing him to die.

The in laws kind of, sort of, apologized while we were making arrangements. They acknowledged how difficult Mike was during the time he was with them. How hard it was to see him drinking (no, flat out drunk) while he was looking you in the eye, lying, saying he was sober. I thought the first phone call might be an anomaly, the result of a mother’s pain after losing her son.

I was wrong.

After the arrangements were made, I left the funeral home with my mom and my two young kids. Walked out of the funeral home, in a town I had only visited a few times, with a poorly drawn map on a napkin directing me to some local hotels. I didn’t see or hear from the in laws for the next three days, not until the viewing on Sunday.

You know, not hearing from them was okay, for me. But I was in an unfamiliar town, with two young kids, stuck in a hotel. For three days. In my mind, it would have been courtesy to reach out, maybe offer to take the kids to dinner one night or swim with them in a pool or bring over the Christmas presents they had for them (since we never got to have Christmas with them – or Mike). Nothing.

*******************

On Sunday, my mom, the kids and I drove to the funeral home. Lauren fell asleep in the car, so my mom stayed with her while Ethan and I went in. The in laws were already there and we exchanged pleasantries. The funeral director told me that I could go in when I was ready. I asked Ethan if he wanted to stay with his grandparents while I went in. Honestly, I wanted to see how “things” looked before he came in. What did the room look like? The flowers? Where was the coffin? How did Mike look? Was he too “made up”?

Instead, Ethan grabbed my hand and said he wanted to come with me. We walked in slowly.

The room had a hideous blue carpet. The pattern will be forever burned in my mind since we only made it half way to the coffin when Ethan stopped and fell to his knees. “I don’t want to do this,” he said in a whisper.

“I don’t either, baby,” I said, dropping to the ground and grabbing him and holding him close. He climbed into my lap and I held him tightly, shielding him from the sight of the coffin while I stared at the carpet. We cried.

I reached into my bag and pulled out a grey and blue wrapped package. A child’s writing on the tag read, “To Daddy From Ethan” – it was the Christmas present that Ethan picked out, but never had a chance to give to Mike. “I want to give this to him now,” Ethan said, standing up and starting to walk toward the coffin.

“That’s why I brought it.”

I will never forget the sight of Ethan, head bowed, praying at Mike’s coffin.

Mike looked bad. His skin looked thin and loose, like he was a balloon that had deflated. Ethan didn’t seem to notice. “Why can’t we touch him?” he asked.

“Do you want to?” I asked.

Ethan reached out and touched Mike’s wedding ring with his pointer finger. Then Ethan walked over to a chair and started crying. I scooped him up and we cried together. I barely noticed that the in laws had come into the room and were now standing at the coffin.

There wouldn’t be another word exchanged between me and the in laws until I confronted Cindy at the end of the night.

***********************

The viewing was a whirlwind. So many family members (none of Mike’s family talked to me or the kids) and friends came from across the country. Two of my college friends regularly checked on the kids (who were playing in another room) and kept bottled water and tissues in my hands. I was overwhelmed by the people who made the trip – I will be forever grateful to those who made the drive or flight, who provided hugs and offered prayers, and who sent emails, letters, and Facebook messages. It was important for me to be able to share with Ethan how much his dad – and we – were loved.

There were moments of ridiculousness from the in laws. They weren’t talking to me, but there were times when I was close enough to overhear what they were saying to funeral guests. Things like, “Well, Mike just couldn’t go on without his family…” and “He’s in a better place now that he doesn’t have to worry about THAT divorce…” and “At least he died a married man, like he wanted to…”

I chose to ignore the in laws’ overtly rude comments.

*************************

At the end of the night, things were wrapping up. Friends went back to their homes or hotels. The kids were with my niece in our hotel room. And I was talking to the funeral director to wrap up a few last minute details and discussing the plans for the next day. She told me that the flowers and plants I wanted to take home would be available after the lunch following mass.

“There isn’t a lunch,” I said. “I told them I didn’t want one. Mike HATED those things, and too many people have to get on the road.”

“Um, there looks like there’s one after mass tomorrow,” she said, very uncomfortably. “I don’t know any more.”

“CINDY!!!” I yelled and ran from the room to the front door where Cindy was preparing to walk out. (She might have been purposely trying to leave before I caught up with her.)

I confronted her and she said we discussed it. “Yes, we talked about it,” I said. “And I said no. This is bullshit! You’re planning something HE would have HATED!” My rage from listening to Cindy and Darryl blaming me was finally boiling over.

“Well you can come if you want,” she said, obviously flustered.

“You planned this AFTER I told you that I didn’t want it? And I find out about it from the funeral director? No, we’re not coming. Not at all!”

***********************

The next morning was a traditional Catholic funeral mass at Mike’s childhood church. We arrived early so Ethan would have a chance to say goodbye to his dad, if he wanted. The in laws were there already. (Sidenote: the in laws are NEVER early, but for this whole event, they were two steps ahead of me – and I’m chronically early, always.)

We stood on one side of the church, they stood on the other. At one point, Darryl came over and touched my arm. “You know you’re invited to the lunch after this, right? It would be nice if you and the kids would come,” he said.

“Really?” I responded. “I found out from the funeral director last night. You KNEW I didn’t want this, but you planned it anyway, and you couldn’t CALL me to tell me? No, we’re not coming. Why would we? You’ve ignored us since we made arrangements on Thursday. Why would I bring my kids to a lunch at which they will be IGNORED by their GRANDPARENTS?”

He walked away.

Mass was a blur. I remember hearing a few of the hymns I chose – Amazing Grace, in particular. I remember Mike’s BFF from high school and college speaking. I remember communion. Otherwise, I held Ethan close. (Lauren and my mom stepped out since the baby was fussy.)

When mass ended and we walked out of the sanctuary, the funeral director pointed out where my bag was – it was filled with the registration book, cards that were dropped off, and thank you notes. The funeral director handed me Mike’s watch and wedding ring (a last minute request from Ethan before the casket was closed).

Then I noticed her.

Cindy was holding the crucifix from the casket. It was supposed to be in my bag. I walked across the room to the bag and noticed an empty box where the crucifix was supposed to be.

That bitch STOLE a crucifix. In a church. From a dead man. And his widow. And was now flaunting it. WTF?!

She was holding it at waist level, making no attempt to cover it up. She was taunting me, daring me to confront her, and I realized immediately what she was up to. Even in my cloudy anger, I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of what she wanted. I went up to the funeral director and told her to get the crucifix back.

I stood across the room by my bag, lest anything else go missing. The funeral director returned holding the crucifix and handed it to me. I put it in the box, grabbed the bag and walked back over to my family. We packed the car and were out of the church within minutes.

***********
That was six weeks ago. I haven’t heard from the in laws since. I have no idea if anyone went to the lunch. I have no idea if the lunch was any good.