Saturday, January 29, 2005

Lost Prevention
This past Wednesday my wifes grandmother Tess passed away. It was a tremendous blow to my wife and her siblings. Tess was a dear grandmother who took very good care of "the kids" when their parents went through financial termoils.

She had caught a nasty case of pneumonia (it's really getting around this year) and after a week long battle in the hospital, her body just gave up. The timing could not have been worse (not that there is a 'good time' to pass away). My sister-in-law who has struggled for the past few years to have children was getting a hisdirectomy on the opposite side of the hospital. Strangely, they were both on the fourth floor, but in different wings. Although she was physically nearby, it was dificult for her to come see her grandmother (before and after surgery).

These events all fell on the one week in months that I actually had a class to teach. Just a week ago, my employer laid off one of my co-workers who came over from the merger with me. While the details are anyones guess, I suspect that one of the reasons he was laid off was due to taking so much time away. Here I was taking half days off to get home and get my wife to the hospital. While work is definitely my second priority, having me there teaching is my bosses first. It was a dificult tug of war all week to get the time away that I needed.

Tess's funeral fell on Friday morning, and there was no way in hell I could teach that day (before or after). Thankfully my boss agreed that the best thing to do was to relocate one day of class to the following week. My students agreed, and were fine with the decision. After she left the room, one commented "hell ... you can leave now if you need to. We understand!". They were a nice couple of guys.

It seems like ages ago instead of days that this all transpired. It's funny how time slows down when you encounter an unexpected death in the family. At some point, my daughter had lost her favorite toy. The day before the wake, I found myself driving into the North end of town to a thrift shop we had been at one week earlier. My daughter had picked out a "Bratz" key-chain with some wierd dog-like character. It was $0.99, and utterly pointless. But for whatever reason, she treasured it. She even told me, "when I get bigger, I can use this for my keys". For days she had carried it around hugging it, talking to it, and giving it a voice as she made it jump around. But then ... she lost it at school. She must have cried off and on for three days. I was putting her into bed one night last week and she was in her room with her TV turned down, in tears.

And so there I was, in a thrift shop, digging through junk bins. I kept checking my phone and holding it in the air to get a signal. I needed a sitter for the kids the following evening so we could attend the wake, and I was waiting for a call back. Who knew that the pile of worthless Bratz key-chains would fly off the shelves of this thrift shop. There were still plenty of other retarded merchandise which had been ripped from the shelves of a local Terget store and "dontated". Plates, napkins, party hats, etc. And then after what seemed like half an hour of digging, I found a keychain! Thank God.

When I got home and put it into my daughters hands, she was overyjoyed. I fixed it! I replaced what she was missing. I think it dawned on me at some point, that what I was really looking for was nothing I would find thrifting. My wife was devestated. There was nothing I could do to fill the missing void. I couldn't fix it. Maybe by replacing that toy I was finding some peace with myself. I needed that accomplishment, and I will never forget that day. Incidentally now that I had one of these damned key-chains out of the theft proof package I saw that the character was named "Bunny-Boo". Here I had thought my daughter made that name up.

Oh, and to explain the title of this post: "Lost Prevention" refers to an application we got once at Best Buy. The poor schmuck was applying for a position with "loss prevention" and just got it all wrong. Obviously you can't prevent the loss of something that has all ready been lost. And so you see, "lost prevention" seemed pretty damned funny at the time. It's not so funny any more. I think it took on a new meaning in my mind.

Tess's Reunion
My wife had often told me about her many cousins, whom I had never met, or met quickly in passing. Her very large family on her fathers side was all a blur to me. I knew of names, and some faces, but I had never sat down and conversated with anyone from that side of the family. The exception was her aunt Donna (sister to her father) and her husband Jack. We always saw them at Christmas time, when we would get together at her now late Grandmothers house. I think that adding to the pain for my wife was that she felt she would forever lose touch with that side of the family.

Following the short, muddled, and generally poor "sermon" by the church pastor, Tess was promptly driven to the cemetary and put to rest. Following a funeral, there is generally a strange after party at a relatives house. We were invited and encouraged to come and so we did. Between the funeral services and the house, I learned that Tess had 19 grandchildren. I had no idea. It seems that my wifes aunt Donna had three daughters, and a son. All of which have had children of their own. And so, my wife has several cousins in their 30's and 40's which is quite odd. I sat at a kitchen table with the aunts for hours and I had a good time getting to know them all. It was also the first time I had seen my wife smile in weeks, and it felt really good. Amidst the chaos and sad moments, there was a lot of celebrating to have everyone together.

Several times, my wife's unlce Jack popped over to give hugs, and tell everyone how glad he was to have us. I didn't really know much about Jack and Donna. I had always assumed that they were living up in the hills somewhere in a giant house, spending lots of money. It seemed quite the opposite. What I found was a very down to earth couple, who had raised a loving and charasmatic family in a middle class home which they still lived in after raising their kids (43 years)! After everyone was properly liquored up, my wife commented to her uncle Jack "we thought you all were rich and stuck up!". "Rich?!?!?" he laughed, "we're not rich!".

God only knows how this entire branch of the family disappeared from my wife and her siblings. The aunts (who are technically 'cousins') remembered chasing each other around the Christmas three at Grandma's house, and all the fun they had. But when they got older, and started families of their own, the ties were lost. We had gone home after an hour or so at the 'party' and picked up the kids as they got off the bus. We decided to drive back and let everyone see our kids, and continue to hang out with the family. Everyone was having a pretty good time considering the circumstances.

At some point, I wandered into the living room to check on the kids. They had found some other kids to be rowdy with and were behaving all right. But there, in the dark living room I found my wife's father. He looked upset, but he was smiling. It was a strange nervous smile. I smiled back and he nodded. He had put his mother to rest today, and I'm sure he was not doing well. But he sat alone in the dark, and didn't engage in the family discussions. Although I am sure he listened.

I will surely never understand my wife's father. I'm not sure any of us will. My wife and her siblings had a rough childhood. They were dirt poor and they moved around quite a bit because they were constantly getting evicted. At Christmas time, everyone would speak to nicely one another and never mention the tough up-bringing. It seemed they were only getting together to make Grandma happy. It will be interesting to see what happens next Christmas. I wonder if her father will make any attempt to see his siblings. When I look in his eyes, I see someone who is just detached from the world. He was at that party because he felt he needed to be. The various cousins, aunts, etc. don't seem to really understand him either. They passed around pictures later that evening after he had disappeared without a word. In photos he was laughing, rolling on the floor with my wife's cousins and having a good time. It looked like someone who was genuinely happy, and it wasn't the man I have known for the past 10+ years.

Overall, it was quite an experience. It was death that reuinted my wife with a part of the family she had felt forgotten her. When we got home, she immediately called her siblings to proclaim "we were wrong about them!". I can't imagine a more fitting departure for her grandmother. In death, she brought her family closer together. My wife will remember her for making waffles, buying her favorite cereals, and baking cookies. I will remember Tess for giving my wife her lost cousins back. Thank you Tess. We will miss you.

Current Mood: Inspired
Musical Inspiration: Handsome Boys Modeling School (thanks DM)

No comments:

Post a Comment