Still in the Land of the Living

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It’s been a long time, and as always happens it’s awkward to start again—it seems the same with relationships and writing, which in the end are very much alike.

There have been many significant life changes this year, and with two shockingly unexpected deaths in the last few months my best energies have gone into comforting and consoling those around me and taking care of often-times worn out self.

In mid-August I stood in the humid South Carolina heat and saw my brother’s casket safely into the ground while all the others retreated to the air conditioning of the funeral home.  It wasn’t only the heat that took them away, they couldn’t bear to watch.  For a brother who was close in childhood but very distant geographically and emotionally as an adult, I stood there to honor the value of both his body and his life. The burial place was quintessentially Southern, under the limbs of a massive tree dripping with moss.   His casket, beautifully built of satin-smooth oak reflecting our family’s long heritage of expert woodworking, didn’t make it very far into the ground.  Using a winch the funeral director and the man from the vault company lowered it slowly, and when it stopped the top of the casket was barely 18” below the surface.  I asked if it was stuck, and was told that this was all the farther it would go the water table being as high as it is.  They pushed the heavy gold-colored lid of the vault into place and lowered it permanently.   The funeral director looked me over and wondered if I might be the sister of the deceased.  When I nodded he expressed his regrets, swatted at the flying bugs and left for the cool air of his office.  Before the vault man started with the dirt I tossed in a red rose pulled from the casket spray I’d sent.  When the job was finished I shook the man’s hand and thanked him.  It was an unexpected moment for both of us.

On another occasion I will write about the death of a friend a month or so later.  But what seems important from both of these experiences is that as an older person it was my turn not only to comfort, but to help people know what to do.  I saw something common between my nieces and their husbands with no idea about how to handle themselves, and later with friends wondering how to approach their newly widowed friend: people were afraid.  People were afraid of their own emotions more than anything else.  Being able to identify that fear was, in both cases, very helpful.

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It is nearly a new month and I have accepted my daughter’s challenge to do NaNoWrimo with her.  I have successfully completed the challenge in the past, but we will see if I can do it again.  This will be an interesting challenge between us and she is on the other side of the world and has never written fiction.  I’m looking forward to enjoying the ups and downs of this with her.

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2 thoughts on “Still in the Land of the Living

  1. What a poignant recollection. My condolences. A friend said to me yesterday that she’d been to many funerals in the last few years but after that of her son, a young man in his early twenties, none had really affected her. I suppose as we get older, we become stoical, and if we have faith, we are more stoical than those without, perhaps. Thank you for that lovely piece.

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    1. Thank you for your condolences and your comment, I appreciate both. My brother was my only sibling so this experience was in many ways different than anything I’d experienced before. I think you’re right about the effects of age and faith. Katie

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