It was a Thursday afternoon when D told me it wouldn’t be much longer for his grandfather. I asked him what he wanted me to do.
He wanted me to meet him for lunch, and drinks. So I did.
Needless to say, D was pretty upset. His family was close, his parents and grandparents all live within a 10 mile radius of each other and D.
I am really not good at handling these types of situations. I never know what to say, I just kept telling D I was sorry, asking him if he was okay, and reminding him that I’m always here to listen.
D had gone to Hospice, where the family was gathered around his grandfather’s bedside. According to D, his grandfather wasn’t responding to anything they were saying, and it seemed like the family was just waiting for the final breath.
We stayed at the bar, drinking, and found out that his grandfather passed away around 2 am.
Of course, when D told me his grandfather passed away, I offered to go with him to the services. He was worried about me missing work, which I assured him was not a big deal.
So that Monday evening, I picked him and his daughter up and we went to the funeral home for the wake. There, I saw his brothers, parents, nieces and nephews. But there was also a slew of people I had to meet, including his grandma, now a widow.
It was difficult. You don’t want to be cheery when everyone is sad, but it also feels silly to say, “Sorry for your loss,” when you never even met the guy in the casket. Am I wrong?
Anyway, one person coming to the wake I was particularly nervous to meet was D’s ex wife, and his baby-mama.
She was friendly and honestly seemed like someone I would be friends with; and that was a nice feeling to have. However, other people in the room were eyeing the situation.
“Is it weird to meet her?” his mom whispered to me.
“Mmm…no,” I said. “It’s kind of weird that we are meeting under these circumstances, but not in general.”
Why would it be weird? It’s not like I was afraid they would get back together.
The weirder part for me was when D’s daughter talked about her mom. Not because I had any ill feelings toward her, but just because I wasn’t sure what to say, aside from, “Oooohhh.”
After the wake, the 3 of us (D, his daughter and I) went to dinner. It was there that I felt like a little bit of an outsider.
Anyone ever dated someone with kids? It was cool to hang out as a new little family, but it wasn’t my little family, and I didn’t feel like his daughter would ever accept me. Even if D and I were to get married, she would still see me as that evil stepmom.
I was already feeling like she didn’t want me around. And honestly, I couldn’t blame her. I had no experience with kids. I wasn’t really the most cheerful person around, and I was pretty much trying to move in on her dad… what was there to like about me?
The next morning, we met back up for breakfast and hit the road for the funeral. D was a pallbearer, so his daughter needed a buddy to sit with during the service. She refused to sit with me, and D looked at me, “Wow she really does not want to sit with you.”
I said, “Yeah, pretty sure she hates me.”
D and the woman next to me were sympathetic.
“She doesn’t seem to like anyone,” the lady whispered.
I didn’t know if that’s comforting or not.
The next day, one of my columns was published in the local paper:
Building the Boat: Lessons in Life and Death
When I was a child, my best friend’s father died. It was the first time I’d seen an open casket. I remember my mom telling me that an open casket is a way for some people to say their goodbyes.
Since then, I’ve seen a few open caskets, especially lately.
During a routine cut and color, my hair stylist told me her father was in hospice. The only thing I knew about hospice was what I read in “The Mercy Papers” by Robin Romm. In it, Romm describes a hospice nurse as someone who “builds the boat of morphine and pillows.”
My stylist explained that her father was in such bad shape, he wished for a lethal dose of morphine. But she and I both knew Dr. Kevorkian was dead, literally.
The next night, my boyfriend told me his grandfather was also in hospice. My heart was heavy. I am never good at handling tough situations. Even as a writer full of words, I never know what to say.
A little more than a week later, his grandfather died. At the wake, my boyfriend’s mom took note that both times I’d seen the family, there’d been a casket present. I promise, she meant it in a fun, loving way.
The first time I met my boyfriend’s parents was at church on Easter Sunday. While I went to church and Bible camp as a child, I’m not well versed in religion. My mom will tell you this is one thing she regrets about my childhood — not subjecting me to more Jesus.
We joined his family at a Baptist church that was packed, either because of the holiday or because Jesus is really popular. I was told to expect singing, but upon arrival, our usher informed us that they would be bringing in a casket. My stomach churned.
The casket was fit for Buckwild’s Shain Gandee, with antlers for handles and a lining made of camouflage fabric. The pastor used the casket to represent a modern tomb, and said one day, he’ll need one — he preferred the camo option.
He went on to ask the congregation, “Why do we seek life where there is death?” One of his examples was drinking; there isn’t life at the bottom of the bottle (debatable). He later said life begins at death and when we choose to accept Jesus, we are choosing death.
A few days later, I asked a coworker what that whole “life begins at death” thing meant.
“I think it means you’re supposed to kill yourself,” he said. I promise, he meant it in a fun, loving way.
After the wake, my boyfriend and I went to dinner with his daughter. Between coloring and eating, she sweetly said, “I hope grandpa has a fun time in heaven with God.”
Leave it to a blue-eyed 6-year-old to lighten my heavy heart.
I don’t want to get too deep into the workings of religion here, but right then and there, I decided to translate the pastor’s words as such: “Afterlife begins at death.”
Because, although my visions of an afterlife are sweet, I still want to enjoy the life I’ve got right here on Earth. I’ve got a man who loves me, and includes me in his life. I’ve got friends to lean on and to share laughs. And, I’ve got a family who supports me.
Heaven, to me, isn’t about golden gates. I think of heaven when I’m stuck in a really great moment, enjoying a delicious meal, reading a fantastic book, catching a sunset or sitting on the patio with a mango mojito (see, there’s the bottle again).
Perhaps my heaven will be all of those moments mashed together looped like a Vine video of my life. Or maybe, my afterlife will be like that described by of one of my favorite poets, Chancelier “Xero” Skidmore, a heaven that includes everyone, a house where breakfast (including canned biscuits) is served on the weekends.
I hope I’m done seeing caskets for awhile. If they start showing up at the movie theatre or at California Pizza Kitchen, I’ll take it as a sign. And when my time should come, I want to be cremated and stored in a rhinestone jar of some sort, something reflective.
It was easy for me to admit I was falling in love with D.
We were nearly inseparable, and I still looked forward to seeing him every chance I got. I especially loved our “date night” which was Saturday night. We would go out sometimes, or round-up new cheeses and wines and have a wine night at my apartment.
I loved it.
Although I wasn’t convinced his daughter was a huge fan of me, I was really trying to think of fun things we could all do together on the nights he had her. After the pizza night was such a success, I wanted to do a “craft night” (I swear I’m not obsessed with themed nights). D said she loved crafts.
I asked him if Monday was good. He said yes.
So the day before, I ransacked Dollar Tree, Big Lots, and Walmart, ending up with materials to decorate tin buckets and plant flowers in. I had upwards of 20 bottles of glitter glue, bags of glass rocks, paint, sequins, ribbon, and flowers and soil. I packed everything up and set it beside my front door.
The next day, D headed out-of-town (about an hour away) for a charity golf tournament. He was really excited because he hadn’t golfed in so long. I’ve learned about men and their golf—don’t bother them. So I didn’t.
But when I hadn’t heard from him all day, I went ahead and sent him a text, especially because I didn’t know the plan for craft night. No reply. I logged onto Facebook and saw he posted a few pictures from the tournament, including one of him and a large-busted caddy he “bought” for the day.
“Oh, so you can post pictures on Facebook, but not reply my text?” I said to myself.
Around 6 pm, I still hadn’t heard from him and the amount of anxiety that weighed on me was unlike any other. I paced my apartment, I growled as I paced, I even unleashed a scream.
If you know me, you’ll know this is completely unlike me. It was so unlike me, in fact, that I was starting to scare myself. I went frantic and sent crazed texts wanting to know where he was, why he was ignoring me, what did I do?
He finally replied.
“I’m golfing!!! FUCK.”
I cried, took a shower, and put on my pajamas at 7 p.m.
Was I crazy or were we supposed to have craft night that night? I know I didn’t spend my Sunday buying dumb shit for someone else’s kid just to be sitting at home the next day, watching a Housewives marathon.
I was exhausted from crying; I was drained. I tucked myself into bed around 9. I got a text from D around 9:30.
“Who are you going on a date with tonight?”
I didn’t reply.
TO BE CONTINUED…