Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Sunday Feeling

My friends and I have reached the point in life where we are saying our final goodbyes to our parents and other close relatives. I still have Mother, thank God. But she's 84 and has Parkinson's. This can't go on forever. Maximum Girlfriend Emeritus for Life LS lost her Dad a couple of weeks ago. It was not unexpected to use the awkward phrase. Which I guess we use because it somehow sounds less callous than "He needed to go ahead and die."

Mr. W had emphysema. He suffered greatly in the last couple of years. LS said he was pretty much confined to his bed the last couple of months. That's no way to live.

I talked to her the day before the graveside service. I asked her how it was going.

" Okay, I guess." she said. " You know it's funny. The people that are close to the situation are pretty cool and easy to deal with. It's folks that I have never heard of or haven't been around that are the problem."

" How so?" I asked.

" Well, I don't have a lot of time right now to chit-chat, right? My friends, people like you, they call and keep it simple: ' Just calling to let you know I love you. Call me when you can. Goodbye.' Perfect. The spectators are the problem."


" Yeah. The folks that have just been out there hanging around but not knowing much about the situation. They want to bring food, they want to bring cookies. Hello? "

"What's wrong with that?"

"Mother's a brittle diabetic with Alzheimer's. She is like a child when it comes to sweets. You bring cookies around and she will eat them. I don't have time for a trip to the hospital right now. And then you have your talkers. They want to know everything about Daddy's illness, not that they ever cared enough to come visit or anything when he was able to have company. The whole thing is just wearing me out."

I know what she means. You simply cannot have a funeral or visitation around these parts without having to endure one or more morbid hysterical types who nobody seems to know very much about but who want to talk talk talk about the dear departed. Never fails. It's what we do around here.

My Mother's Daddy died the summer after I graduated from law school. During the visitation, or maybe it was after the service, I noticed a woman standing by herself off to the side. She was an enormous woman who was overcome with grief if the constant dabbing of her eyes with a tissue was any indicator. I introduced myself.

"And who are you?" she asked.

" I'm one of the grandsons." I replied.

" Oh!" she exclaimed putting the tissue to her mouth. "One of Mr. Paul's grandsons!"

"Yes ma'am."

"Oh. I am so sorry about Mr. Paul."

"Thank you ma'am. I appreciate that."

She removed her hand from her lips and gently touched my arm with the tissue. She leaned in close to me.

" Tell me." she whispered. " Did Mr. Paul linger?" He hand went back to her mouth as if she were steeling herself for the response.

" 'Scuse me?" I said. "Did he what?"

Her hand returned to my arm.

"Did he die a lingering death? Did he linger?"

Until that day, I don't believe that anybody had ever used that word in my presence before. In any event, like LS's father, my grandfather died from emphysema. Being relatively young, I was no expert in these matters. But I was fairly certain that nobody in medical history had ever dropped dead from rapid onset emphysema. So I could opine with some degree of certainty that he did, indeed, linger. Whether he had set the land speed record for lingering I was not prepared to say, although whatever period of time he spent in the lingering process was interrupted by a sudden burst of initiative borne of the rapid onset of a desire to settle an old score with the adjacent land owner.

This is a TRUE STORY.

My grandfather and his neighbor to the South had been engaged in a long running dispute over the property line. Legal descriptions from way back then were generally inaccurate mainly because surveying crews were notorious for drinking on the job. Another reason is because many of the calls are to imperfect landmarks. I've seen many of those old legal descriptions of that era recite calls such as "and thence to the pile of rocks" or "and thence to the big tree." My favorite was in an old mortgage in Boone County that included a call "and thence to the abandoned 1957 Chevrolet truck." As you might suspect, landmarks that are freely movable can create a tremendous opportunity for mischief for those so inclined.

Evidently, while he was otherwise occupied in his lingering, Grandpa overheard someone say that the neighbor,a man named Franklin was so moved by the news of Granpa's impending death that he took it upon himself to build a fence across the section of the woods that they had been arguing over for years. Granpa left his bed and walked out to his truck. He was so weak he drug the stock of the shotgun behind him in the dirt. Paul Bivens might have been at death's door but he meant to continue the boundary line dispute with Mr. Franklin in the Hereafter. Thank God he was intercepted and disarmed by one of his sons. After that episode of high drama he returned to his deathbed. And he never left it again.

But back to the morbid lady at the visitation and the question that was at hand:

"Yes ma'am." I gravely intoned. "I'm afraid he did linger." When he wasn't trying to blow Mr. Franklin's head off that is. But she didn't need to know that.

Tissue to mouth. Her head began to shake with sadness.

"Oh!" she gasped. "He lingered! Poor Mr. Paul! He lingered!"

And with that, she invoked God's Blessings on me and the family and went on her way, clutching the tissue to her mouth and sobbing gently to herself. I asked various of the local family members if anybody knew her.

Nobody had any idea who she was. Weird.

LS needed to wrap our conversation up.

"Listen, sweetie." she said. "I gotta scoot. I have a million things to do before tomorrow."

"Sure." I said. " Call me again when you have time to linger."

" Do what?"

" Never mind."

" I love you despite the fact that you are pretty damn strange."

" Thanks. It's part of my charm."

"I'm hanging up now."


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