writer, listener

Life as it is

on February 28, 2012

Where I’m from, the stretches of farmland outside town are divided by country roads with enormous, canal-sized ditches on both sides. Last week, my 33-year-old cousin, Jed, was a passenger in a car that flew into one of these country road ditches and hit a cement culvert at an estimated 90 miles per hour. Mercifully, we didn’t need to wait for autopsy results to know that both guys died instantly. Nobody wants to wonder if a loved one drowned in icy ditch water while trapped upside down in a car.

Thirty hours and 1700 miles later, I was home to hug and be hugged. I’m not even that huggy, but family funerals are different. I love family funerals, generally. Since there’s nothing I can do to take away the death that causes them, I try to let them help me refocus on what matters. I only wish I could make it home for all of them.

As I get older, I experience funeral trips home (and trips home for any reason, really) differently. In my more idealistic years, I was focused on if and how people had changed for the better, using my definition of better, of course.

Did So-n-so stop smoking after the fire? No? Sigh. Did So-n-so apply for that job with the county? No? Sigh. Is So-n-so still taking attendance at funerals and holding the no-shows accountable? Yes? Sigh.

But this time, my desire to see change was just, I don’t know, gone. It’s like I’ve learned to accept family as it is. Life as it is.

Okay, I did note the irony of us honoring drunk driving-related deaths by bar-hopping on slick roads. And of bringing a keg to the funeral home (it was the other guy’s family, I swear).

Mostly, though, I felt a new, comfortable resignation that it isn’t my job to worry about how other adults ought to be living–no matter my motivation. Hell, for all I know, I’m the weirdo they’ve been tolerating all these years. Either way, I genuinely like my quirky family just the way we are.

I love that my family remembers our loved ones in all sorts of ways, including rum-soaked karaoke in the garage, taking turns noting the time we “seen Jed last.”

I love that my brother restrung and played my mom’s old guitar at the funeral while my sister, husband, and I sang about friends and about God. I’m not a theist, but it wasn’t about me. I was just lending my voice, which, by the way, I love that my family still thinks is funeral-worthy. It’s not.

I love that before anyone arrived at the funeral home, for Jed alone, my brother performed Brian Adams’ “Summer of ’69” because he’d always requested it. Why? I can’t say. I mean, he wasn’t even born until the summer of ’78. But Jed was an old soul and loved basking in nostalgia like the rest of us–my cousins and me. We love talking about the good old days, which get better and more lie-laden with each recollection.

I love that the preacher cut off friends and family from sharing memories “in the interest of time” then used the next hour of the service to try to save the heathens among us. Alright, I didn’t love that part. But I did love that my aunt, Jed’s mother, addressed the overflowing funeral home, kept it completely together, and ended with, “I love all of yous.”

And if all goes well, one of those yous my aunt will love is going to be her grandchild. Two days before Jed died, his longtime girlfriend learned she was pregnant.

24 responses to “Life as it is

  1. donny patton says:

    Rhonda , sorry for your loss. Sounds like my family & I live in Ga., guess times such as this have no boundaries.

  2. Roberta says:

    Beautiful tribute to your family and upbringing–you all should be proud to have each other! (Preacher could use some manners)

  3. amymarie says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Rhonda. I know how very hard it can be. You have my sympathies.

  4. Sally Oh says:

    I am sorry for your loss. It looks like God done worked his mystery on Jed and his girlfriend. Dang, I love that kinda serendipity!

    I love the way you write because it reminds me of the way I write: like I talk, sometimes grammar and punctuation be damned. I’ll bet you make up words, too. Here’s what I hate: the fact that an m dash can’t have a space before and a space after — I want to do it like that. It looks weird with no spaces.

    Really? A keg? People just don’t get the irony.

  5. Another incredible post, Rhonda. Death sucks. Whether it’s sudden, like the tragedy you just experienced, or expected… it flat out sucks. Funerals can be rough — but like you, I find quite a bit of solace in being there for family & friends… and take comfort in the hugs I receive. Sometimes, it’s all you can do: hug. We all handle grief in our own way. May you find comfort in the memories of your cousin… as well as in the new life he created. My deepest condolences to you & your family, Rhonda.

  6. Bonnie says:

    Although I am sad for your loss, I liked the article–especially the uplifting ending sentence. And, inevitably, life goes on. . .

  7. Stephanie says:

    So sorry for your loss. Life can be so cruel. It’s unfortunate that a child has to grow up without knowing his or her father, but at the same time a light emerged where another was snuffed out.

  8. Kathleen Zavala says:

    So happy you had really a good send off as I call them myself ….our funerals are never goodbyes but another get together ….we cry laugh cry laugh and so on, you get it.Next time a little get together if time allows when u are here under other circumstances …

  9. The plan is to come back in June. See you then!

  10. Stacy Mozer says:

    I am sorry for your loss. I am glad your family was able to come together to support one another. My grandfather requested his band play at his funeral. He was buried with drum sticks so I like to think he was playing along.

  11. Rick Boettger says:

    Powerful writing front to back, Rhonda. Honors not only Jed but the whole family.

  12. kozubalk says:

    I am so glad Jill shared this for the rest of us… Beautifully written, and the “yous” and “seen” and keg at the funeral make it TOTALLY hit home! Somehow, even a million years later I feel close to your family and enjoy those childhood memories of weddings at big halls listening to the best of the 80’s played (ideally) by our own Double Vision.

    And I’m right there with you on the recent realization that my family is completely perfect for me. Not perfect, but just who, what, where and when I need them to be. I held onto a fantasy image of us for a long time. I don’t know how, but the reality might be even better. (There was no Bell Bar in my fantasy, and who’d want to live a life without Family Night at the Bell? 😉

  13. Lisa says:

    I am so sorry for the loss. What a beautiful post about accepting others as they are as well. And bittersweet that life lives on in his unborn child.

  14. Rhonda, your reflection about your cousin’s death really hit home. It brought back the memories of when my mother died and we were in the limo, on the way to the cemetery. It was a beautiful “summery” October day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, little kids were outside laughing and playing. No one outside of our family knew the pain of loss we were all feeling in our hearts. That was when I realized that life woud go on . . . with or without me, so I might as well pick up the pieces, put one foot ahead of the other and go on with living. We cherish the memories of lost loved ones and hug those close to us. Those hugs get more precious all the time. We never know when we will have no tomorrow.

    A few days ago, a dear friend of mine, who was recently diagnosed with Acute Leukemia, called me to thank me for our friendship and to ask me and my husband to be Eucharistic Ministers at her funeral. She was given 2 weeks to 1 month left to live. We had the greatest conversation without tears but just a heart-to-heart “good-bye and thank you for being in my life.” It isn’t too late to write a letter to Jed to tell him those things you did not get to tell him, due to his sudden and unexpected death. Someday all of these questions will have answers and we won’t have to ask, “Why?” anymore. I feel your pain, Rhonda. Love to you and your family.

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