The McManual

Blogging my little heart out in poetry and prose.

Tag: grief

Goodnight, Ert and Jim.

In the last ten days, I have lost my dear father-in-law and my mentor from high school and college.  It has been an emotional time, there have been a funeral and a memorial, lots of connections with people I had, until this week, lost touch with, and lots of new connections with family members I had never met before this.

If you knew these two people, it would probably seem strange to read me writing about them both in the same essay as they were so very different from each other in what they did for a living – one was a teacher, and the other was a man of many hats, but generally a salesman.  They came from different generations, and had different takes on most things, but I’m sure they would have gotten along tremendously.

One thing that they had in common was that they both were larger than life.  They knew what they had – that life is precious.  The could both tell stories for hours and make you laugh and laugh.  They were both mesmerizing.  And they both were universally loved.

What I loved about each of them is that I always felt like I was seen.  I was an interesting person to them.  My ideas mattered, and I was more able to articulate them through knowing them.  Ert, especially, helped me with this.  I was in his Speech class in high school, and I took it so, so seriously.  I remember writing and rewriting my speeches.  I wanted them to be perfect, to strike the right tone, to say the right things.  I never took any of my other assignments in high school so seriously.  Any of them.  Never.

Now I am probably taking this blog too seriously.  I have started it several times over the past two days – it seems impossible to strike the right tone and tell you exactly why I loved these two people so much.  But maybe it’s not important that it be perfect, maybe I have only to say that I did love them both, and that both of them have shaped my life in ways that they will never know, and that I will try to be as natural and wonderful and loving as they both were.


Symbolism isn’t enough.

Hey.  I try to be chatty and casual in these here blog posts, but I’m just not feeling it lately.  I am so sad about my father-in-law passing away.  I can’t think about anything else.  Even the Drop Kick Murpheys didn’t help.  I am also doing something different for me – I am not telling people how I feel.  In person, I mean.  I am telling you… I guess that has always been my MO – I write about my feelings.  Sometimes I talk about them, but that’s usually when I am having good feelings, not sad ones.  So maybe it’s not different.

This death is hitting me hard.  It’s reminding me of the first death that was significant to me, as I recall:  Grandma on my Dad’s side.  Maybe it’s reminding me of that because we had gone up North for a wedding; Grandma lived with us, so she was going to stay in the hospital for the weekend.  She insisted that she would be fine, and that we should go and enjoy ourselves.

We stayed at my Aunt Carol’s house, no doubt we had dinner with Kenny, who I wrote about a blog or two ago.  We were sleeping downstairs in the bedroom behind the woodfire furnace when the phone rang.  Uncle Bud came down to tell my dad that it was for him – this was at 3:30 in the morning.  My mom must have made a remark that we know what phone calls in the middle of the night mean.  I didn’t really know, but I found out soon enough that they usually meant someone had died.

Grandma had a heart attack in the hospital.  I think I went into shock, or maybe I didn’t really understand what it meant, but I remember Dad kneeling at the side of the bed and telling me that she died.  Then I think I remember him looking up at me and saying, “aren’t you going to cry?”

I felt bad.  I didn’t know why I wasn’t crying already, and I probably did start crying then.  I really don’t remember.  What I do remember is that I kept a photo of her and made myself cry while looking at it.  I did this well through high school.  I don’t know why I felt so guilty – like I had done her wrong somehow by not crying instantly.

Jay and I were up North visiting my parents when we got the call from Linda that Jim wasn’t doing very well and was in the ICU.  We came home, and it seemed like he was maybe doing better.  We had averted the curse of leaving town when a loved one isn’t in top health.  But it didn’t last.  Three weeks, can it possibly have only been three weeks?  Three weeks later, it’s over.  A delightful person is gone from this world, lost to us.

Maybe I’m grasping at insignificant similarities in a hope to make this meaningful or symbolic somehow.  I don’t think it’s going to work, though.  Even if it did, I don’t know if it would really help with this big gaping hole in my life.  Guess that’s going to take time. Time and thinking.  And talking.  Guess I’ll go do some talking right now and let the healing process begin.

Memories of Kenny

My cousin Kenny died last week.  He had a heart attack.  He was only 56.  The story I heard is that he was working in the yard, came in and said he was tired, went to rest on the couch, and died. This story, while shocking, reminds me a lot of the story of how my grandmother died, except that she had an anerurysm, and she wasn’t working in the yard, she was cutting cake.

My memories of Kenny are vague.  I remember playing at his house, which was very close to Aunt Carol’s house, I remember sleeping there, it seems to me that I remember celebrating Easter and maybe Christmas there.  I definitely know that his house is the only place I ever got to see Captain Kangaroo as a child.  I remember STP stickers, Kenny being outside and working on cars.

I also remember a lot of laughter.  All my memories of his home are colored in a sunshiny warm yellow glow – although I don’t remember talking much, which is unusual for me.  Oh, and they always had Alphabet cereal.  I don’t remember the actual name of it.

I am sad that I never even knew Kenny.  He was already grown up with kids of his own by the time I knew him, and I never saw him once I became an adult.  I would go to the funeral tomorrow, but my husband’s father died yesterday, too, and we have a lot going on down here in the Cities.

My heart goes out to Kenny’s children – all younger than me – and his wife, a woman I never met.  I hope that they will cherish their good memories and pull together as a family, just as we are trying to do here.

Three Coins in a Fountain

You never know when a song is going to go from something you know as a casual acquaintance to a song that will forevermore make you think of a certain place, time, or person.  This happened to me recently.  Today, in fact.  My father-in-law, a unique character, is in the hospital.  They are moving him into the hospice today. 

We shan’t be able to speak with him again.  And we will not hear him sing.  He won’t tell stories until our sides ache, and he won’t be able to tell us that he loves us, as he always did when he was able to speak.  Letting him go has always been one of my most difficult things – being with him in person had a magnetizing effect, and I was always stuck on him.  More than once, a dinner turned into sleeping over  because we simply couldn’t stop talking.  Or rather, we couldn’t stop listening to him talking.  It might have been easier if he wasn’t headlong into the next story – but a moment of silence is a rare moment in the life of a born story teller, salesman, and charmer, and we wanted to listen, anyway.

I have been trying desperately to think of the stories he would tell – they slip out of my grasp whenever I reach for them.  If I’m not thinking, I will get snippets that come to me.  I never memorized or wrote any of them down.  I took for granted that I would be treated to a retelling at some other time.  I don’t know whether I regret this or not – time will tell.  Maybe as the grief I’m in now starts to ease and acceptance takes it’s place I will be able to command more clear memories.

At the time of this writing, it has been about four days since he has said anything beyond one syllable clearly to me.  This is where the song comes in.  Jay and I were visiting, and the family had brought in a cd player, with one of his favorite cd’s, a Frank Sinatra.  As we were chatting and trying to make sure he was comfortable, we brought up the music a couple of times – we asked if he could hear it alright, ‘yeah’ we asked if he liked it alright, ‘ yeah.’ 

As we sat and held hands and just spent time together, Sinatra was simply background music to me.  Then he repeated a line from the music – he sang the words, “three coins in a fountain,” and that was it.  He hit the notes, as musical as could be although I have never heard him sing before.  I looked at Jay, and he was crying and laughing at the same time.  It was a delightful moment, surrounded by the dull gray of the intensive care unit.  I’ll miss that sparkle.  I’ll miss that person who sang that song in that moment.  And that song will never sound the same to me again.

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