January 23, 1999
I Have Seen Strength Like An Oak Tree
I've heard it said time and time again that death is a transition. A doorway from one form of existence to another. I always assumed that statement referred only to the deceased. Death is every bit as much a transition for the people left behind... not a change in form of existence, but a change from one state to another... from one way of viewing yourself in relation to the world, from wife to widow, for example.
My Uncle Eddie, or Jim, to anyone outside the family, was only 51 years old when he died this past Wednesday. His daughters, Sheri and Sarah, are 29 and 17, respectively. We grew up together - or at least Sheri and I did. The three of them together were the three people I always looked for at family gatherings. All three could always make me smile and make me laugh. Eddie told some of the stupidest (and funniest) jokes. I'd reprint them here, but the delivery was everything with him. That's how I think I'll remember him, sitting in my grandma's living room, a big grin on his face. Or sitting outside at a family reunion playing his guitar. I think I'm just starting to realize how much I'm going to miss him.
From the moment I heard that he had died, my mind started drawing parallels to when my dad died. Like Sarah, I was 17. My dad died on a Wednesday too. But the biggest one was Sarah. Well, and Sheri too. Watching the two of them at the viewings was like watching my mom and me all over again. Sheri kept running around trying to make sure all the details were seen to just right, not daring to sit down or stop moving for a moment. A complete bundle of nerves and nervous energy, she was on a sort of high that we all knew couldn't last. It was just a question of being there for her when she crashed. Sarah.. she seemed so calm for the most part, that it scared me. I remember being that way. Not numb. It hurt. But there was no way to express that hurt. So I looked from one to the other and waited, hoping, almost, for something to happen to get through the walls.
That happened today at the funeral. I was okay. My mom kept asking me if I was all right, and if it was bringing back memories of when my dad died. It was, sort of.. but only in the sense of trying to use those memories to help Sheri and Sarah. Sarah read a poem at the funeral, with Sheri standing at her side, both of them crying hard. I sang a song at my dad's funeral, with one of my best friends beside me. I wish I had a copy of the text she read, but it finally made me cry, more than the minister's words, more than anything else. It began with the words, "I have seen strength like an oak tree." It was beautiful, and it was appropriate to my nature loving uncle.
The funeral ended, and after all the mourners filed out, only Sheri, Sarah, Michelle (Eddie's fiancee), my mom, Sheri's uncle, and I were left. Michelle's mom might have been there too, I don't remember. The girls each had several things to put in the casket: guitar picks, photographs, roses... and I envied them. I envied them their tears, their sobbing. I envied them their chance to say goodbye in such a personal way. I didn't have that. I didn't want it. I wanted it all to go away. I watched Sarah especially, since she was so like me. I didn't cry at my dad's funeral. I didn't sob, or wail, or grieve. I was told not to, you see. "Be strong Lisa. He's in a better place." It seemed ungrateful for me to express pain at losing him. And besides, it isn't polite to weep and wail in public. Sarah asked the one question I was never able to voice, not even now. Finally walking away from the casket, she started to crumple to her knees, as three of us ran to her. Sobbing, she wailed, "God, why?" I still ask that question myself in my heart.
I realized why people discourage grieving family members from being so open and free with their tears and their feelings. It hurts to see someone you love hurt so badly. It tore my heart out to hear Sarah cry out. Sheri and I clung to each other, and it hurt to be able to feel her hurting. Public displays of grief make us unconfortable, as if it intrudes on someone's private mourning - but sometimes I think that mourning needs to be more public, that it needs to be more acceptable to voice those feelings. In the long run, Sheri and Sarah are going to be better off for venting that anger and that pain and that rage... I never really did. I still carry some of it. Please, don't ever, ever discourage someone in pain from crying. Cry with them if you have to, but let them get it out. I wish someone had told me it was ok to scream and rant and be angry.
Hurting like that brings healing. And I healed a bit more today, even though my father has been dead for nearly 10 years. (My god, has it been that long?) While Sheri and Sarah wept so openly, and I started to really cry, my mother started to really cry, and we found each other. No words were said, but we both knew who we were really crying for. While Sarah asked God why, Mom and I clung to each other and cried. I could tell she was apologizing for how she handled my dad's death. I wanted to tell her it was okay, but... we used no words. We still haven't talked about it, except that when I was saying goodbye to her today, she said simply, "I think you and I needed that."
We all did the best we could. At the luncheon afterward, Sheri and Sarah and I were talking. The three of us hugged and Sarah said, "I don't know if I told you, Lisa, but I'm adopting you as one of my sisters." Sheri and I looked at each other and laughed - she and I have considered ourselves sisters from early childhood. I love them both, and I'm glad that we're going to get closer. I just wish it hadn't happened like this. I can ask it now, I think....
I love you, Dad.
I love you too, Uncle Eddie.
You guys have three little girls running around down here still that will never forget you. We'll be strong. And we'll remember that you're both in a better place. But I'll damned if I'll let that keep me from grieving for you both.