Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Land of Women

This past spring, while my uncle is dying, I worry for the grief my family will soon face. One night, I have a dream. It is a brief dream, but one I remember upon waking. All day long, I hear myself saying, I met you in a dream, uncle. I met you in a dream. 

Eventually, I stop and sit and write. 


You were round and brown and happy.
My mind made you into a bottle 
of butterscotch candy and warm honey.
I met you in a dream.
A dream as fleeting and yet, 
as lingering as the rising tide as it tumbles toward 
toes and towels and sand castles. 
I met you in a dream.
You were not sad or sick or skinny 
from the chemotherapy and worry 
but calm as a stone wrapped in the roots of a tree.
I met you in a dream.

At the funeral home, my aunt Amy sees me. I am trying to swallow my sadness, but I keep spitting it back out again. She hurries across the carpet floor and catches me in an hug, holds me up and holds me tight. I'm here for you, I want to say. I am crying for you. I try telling her. But, "I love you." is all I am able to whisper. 

I shuffle along alone after that and as soon as my uncle's widow looks at me, our faces crumble and pink, while our arms reach and fold. She says my name, which only makes me cry harder and even now, months later, the memory still lodges itself into my throat like ice in a straw. I've never even really known her, but I love her, for she is always kind and has always been familiar. She is my aunt. He was my uncle. They've known me my entire life. 

I tell my cousins, their daughters, that I love them too. Then I comment on how beautiful they all look in black. Minutes later, I stand around with our extended family, wondering if most people regret the things they say to the grieving. But I do tell them the reason I am here, which is that I love them. Because I do. For they are my cousins and I have known them their entire lives. Looking around the room, I see us all, the familiar. Shifting from one foot to the other, we are here. We are nervous. We are sad. We are mostly helpless. But we are here. 

The funeral is the next morning. It is in a church. Scott and I arrive at the start of the service and sit with my siblings. My father reads his eulogy, while we sniffle and giggle and weep. My mother and aunts read prayers and readings and the priest, of course, does most of the talking. My grandparents carry the gifts to the altar, while simultaneously breaking all of our hearts. We are together, but 
everyone feels so far from one another, as if we're all in separate rowboats, floating, rocking, slowly sinking, and barely able to bump into one another. 

There he goes, we see. This is life, we realize. Or rather, this is life after one of our deaths. 

Even when we are in the same family and in the same church, we still must take our journeys alone -near to one another, but alone. This is what makes it especially sad for me. To know that everyone closest to my mother's brother is at the start of their mourning and there isn't much I can do to prevent the pain they will face and are facing. All the moments they now must move through, all the unexpected fits of sadness that follow a loss. 

He was the second brother, the second son, to die young.  It's thoughts like this one that really hurt. My mother has lost two brothers. I only have one brother and 
I only want to lose him once we're both crackling at the knees. Once our hair is white and bristly. I only want to lose him once I've lost my mind and can only remember him as a lanky boy with dark hair, kind eyes, and a strong, quiet opinion. I only want to lose him once I'm too tired to grieve and death comes soon for me. Only then. It's thoughts like this one that really hurt because of course my mother didn't want to lose her brother now. But she didn't get to choose. Because we never get to choose. 

I was raised in a land of women, of booming laughter and teasing, of stern, sweet, silly, tough women. My mother has four sisters and a mother, my grandmother. When I see their grief in the way they hold one another, and hold their two remaining brothers, how they hold us children and our children, it feels as if we can weather anything, while at the same time, it is hard, so hard to watch as they are unable to save us all, and themselves, from such a tragedy as this, (as if such a thing were in any person's power). They do hold power, but not of that sort usually. Instead, their power is akin to a wide river and firecrackers and smooth stones warmed by the summer sun, and like the best kind of rainstorms, their laughter everywhere, shaking us all alive. There is something wild about them and yet complicated and modern, hearty, simple, raw and honest, brave, dedicated, and fully human in their muscled, freckled flesh and brightly lit spirits.  In this land of women, we know we are loved and we know we are strong because we are so loved. My uncle was raised in this first land of women. Later, he helped to build his own. He was loved. As a son, he was loved. As a brother, he was loved. As a husband, he was loved. As a father, he was loved. An uncle, a cousin, a friend, he was loved. He knew it too, which is the best part. And we don't have to take that word into the past tense even. We still love him now. 

[The important disclaimer here is that there are, of course, many men in this land of women. My grandfather for one is more like a mountain or an island than a common man. My uncles, my father, my grandfather and my cousins, their presence is felt deeply, but it is a softer hold than the grip of these fine women. In this land and in my experience in this land, it is the women who make us and it is the women who hold us and keep us together.] 

In the end (and in all our separate ends) it's isn't about saving one another, not literally anyway, but about serving one another by loving one another.  We do what we can when we can. And these women do what they can when they can. For in this land of women, we have learned to dig in our oars and move until we are closer to one another and when we can't reach to touch, we holler into the fog until an I'm ok returns and even then we sometimes do not accept what we hear. If a voice is hoarse or hollow or hushed in its response, it hits us like a sudden wind gust and so we row faster and show up sooner. Tired, nervous, sad and somewhat helpless, we arrive with arms wide. In this land of women, they have taught us this. We hold one another and we will keep holding on to one another for as long as we have and for as long as we can because we are family and we are here. 

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