A blog experiment by Brad Mills.


On death, cycles, and loss

I lost my grandmother last year while I was not blogging.

Granny Mills is the one who taught me how to play cribbage and who made Kahlua cake and the best macaroni and cheese on the face of the earth, both of which are secret recipes and will be part of my scaled-down Thanksgiving feast this year. She is the one who watched Price Is Right with me in the mornings when I was little and who cut my toast into four little triangles. She is the one who decided I could handle a bit of honesty from an adult when I was a teenager and revealed enough for me to realize there were things within the family which weren't completely as they appeared — as is the case, perhaps, with most families, if not all.

Her life ended last year, late September, 2013. I didn't recognize the old woman in that hospital bed, the one whose treatment plan over the week prior "progressed" from treatment in an ICU, to planning for hospice, to finally, pain meds as she asked for them and comfort. True comfort finally came when she passed. One of the last sentences she said to me was: "No one has anyone they can count on." And it may have been the pain meds talking more than anything else, but I totally get that thought.

I was late to her funeral. I decided I had enough time to get Charlie to the vet for his annual shots and checkup before going to Mullens, so I did that. While there I talked with the vet about his prior stay there and his renal issues and I wasn't sure if that was something that would pop up again or not. So, the vet said they could run blood and urine labs and know for sure, so I said to go ahead.

While this was going on, Katie texted me from school and said she'd left something at home and could I bring her this and that. Sure thing. They finished with the cat, I paid, out we went to get Katie's supplies. Well, apparently the cat's bladder got stimulated as part of the urine extraction, and he peed all over the inside of his carrier. By the time we got home the cat was soaked and there was a nice splash of urine on my passenger door. Got inside, opened carrier, cat took off, wet footprints and pee all over. No time to solve that problem. I got Katie's stuff and ran it out to her, then home again to mangle the cat.

Cat piss has a pretty distinct odor, and when cats smell it, they think that's the official place to pee. My fear was that Charlie had left enough scent somewhere that it would become his new pee spot. Most of it was on the rug in front of the door though, so I got that cleaned up as well as him, cleaned his carrier out, then got ready to go.

I arrived at exactly 2:00, and walked in while they were doing one of the four prayers for this thing. There were spots up front reserved for family but they were already full, so I took a seat in the back of the funeral home. One of my cousins, open-eyed during the prayer, saw me and winked. Another nodded at me. We're part of an entire generation of non-believers, or at the very least, non-traditionalists.

And maybe I'm reading too much into it, but in that moment — in a family of black sheep, when I was apparently late for my own grandmother's funeral due to obligations of my own — I felt perhaps the blackest of all.

For the most part I think funerary customs are silly. I understand they are there to comfort the living and to provide some framework of continuity in the whole cycle of life and death and loss. I will admit that I cried at Granny's passing, both at the hospital once I realized that was the most likely outcome, and at the wake. I was fine at the funeral itself. I didn't expect that. I think part of the reason was the ceremony, which had very little to do with Granny and her life at all and lots to do with getting right with "the lord" and praying and converting others to the Christian faith. And yes, I understand that church stuff and Jesus and such are a huge part of some people's lives, and that a lot of people find comfort in that. Well, not this guy, sorry.

Even taking the religious aspects out of it — let's all go sit in the same room with a corpse and visit for a few hours (said corpse chemically deterred from rotting and aesthetically altered to closely resemble the living version), then let's haul this corpse in a big box to a place where we can bury it in the ground with lots of other corpses in boxes. And let's decorate the ground above so we know which corpse is where. I'm very sorry, but none of that makes any sense to me at all, and I don't really find it comforting, and it doesn't make the pain go away.

There's an emptiness you can only feel when a loved one dies. It's not something that can be soothed or comforted away, and it's mostly a personal and private pain. Others may relate to it in a way; those with similar experiences will know what you're going through. But their pain and yours will be markedly different. The relationship was not the same, the memories are not the same, the triggers are not the same. And it's something that you just have to plow through.

I've heard it never really goes away. Eventually you just become numb to it — but you end up carrying it around the rest of your life. That kind of makes sense. It is a permanent loss and it will always be such.

And as I age, I feel like I am losing everyone in my life, and before long it will just be me, a stranger in a crowd of billions, anonymous.

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