I saw him
Across the grocery store parking lot
White hair, aglow in sunlight
Glasses glinting, pushing a cart
I stopped mid step, staring
Trance-like, a bird dog losing itself in its task
Synapses firing, thoughts caught
But also, nothingness.
I should call out
A sob creeping up to close my throat.
It’s not him.
He’s too tall.
Unlock car. Sit.
Recall the advice.
It’s a process.
Grief is a fickle bitch.
It’s not been long.
In a parking lot?
Is denial having its way?
Did I see what I wanted to see?
In a minute’s time
The ghost drives away in his beige Camry.
I sit glassy-eyed gazing, still in sunlight,
Watching an empty parking space
For evidence of the hereafter.
My brother and I spent the better part of a day traveling to and from our Uncle Bob’s funeral on Monday. We began in the pre-dawn winter darkness of Wooster, Ohio, traveled to St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Livonia, Michigan and found our way back to Wooster as the pale sun fell into its pink then blue place below the snow.
Along the way, dressed in funeral attire, we talked about family (memories of Uncle Bob, of our own Dad who died in 2009, growing up and its accompanying angst and adventure), politics (the economy, the 2012 election, John “tan” Boehner, Barack Obama and the tragedy in Tucson), music (John Lennon, The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, Gerry Rafferty to name a few) and movies (Monty Python and The Holy Grail, The Big Lebowski, High Fidelity and Elf). It was an eight-hour ride.
While The Beatles were playing, I asked my brother where he was when John Lennon was shot. My brother is a huge Beatles fan. In fact, the first album he ever gave me was The Magical Mystery Tour. His answer, “at college,” reminded me of our 12-year age difference, which nowadays seems a much smaller expanse of time. He told me that he came home just days after Lennon was killed, and the news coverage was exhaustive, much like it’s been since the Tucson tragedy. My brother said that Dad, tired of the constant coverage, said in frustration, “He’s just a man.”
My brother said nothing back – but that moment was one of alienation and misunderstanding. My brother grieving his hero, a musical, social and political voice of his generation, unable to share any of it with Dad. And Dad, viewing Lennon as an aimless artist, hippie, troublemaker – who he didn’t even respect as a musician.
I sat with that for a moment when my brother finished. And I told him that I recently read an interview with Yoko Ono in which she spoke with pride about John being “the first man to push a baby carriage…no one did it before John.” I told Steve that whether or not that was true, it was amazing to think the effect one man could have had on a generation of fathers – a collective unconscious agreement to perhaps take a more hands-on role than their fathers had.
Interestingly, our own Dad was very hands-on with us when were babies. Not surprisingly, when we were old enough to voice our own opinions on the world, our relationships got more complicated.
I wonder if my Dad ever came around to John Lennon – understanding what a tragedy his death was, not just for his fans, but for his wife, his sons. And our culture. Did Dad respond that way because of his own fear of death? You’re walking through your life and suddenly, you’re gunned down in front of your home? Or one day, your mind simply stops working the way it once did. Was his quick anger simply his confirmation that we are all, always, vulnerable?
Now, at Uncle Bob’s funeral. A chance to honor the last of 11 children, a man full of life, a storyteller who often spoke of himself in the third person, a devoted husband, dad, grandpa, uncle, friend. A doer of good – in his church, in soup kitchens, with children less fortunate, with friends and family. A stubborn, funny, crystal blue-eyed character.
The minister said it out loud: “We are perishable. What has happened here will happen to us all.”
I looked out the window to the churchyard, where Uncle Bob spent hours cleaning up, tending the lawn and flowers. It was snow-covered now: a large birdfeeder hanging from a leafless branch.
The minister continued, “The pain is over for Bob…and he will live on forever through God.”
I didn’t feel convinced.
But a covey of doves flew into the churchyard and began eating from the feeder. That was something.
A mutual friend of Uncle Bob and Aunt Georgia’s delivered the eulogy. It was laugh out loud funny at times; poignant in others, as all good tributes should be.
Afterward, we gathered with cousins and church folk for a luncheon. I joked with my brother, taking bets on whether or not ham would be served. (It is the Midwest, after all.)
There was ham. And chicken. Pasta. Potatoes.
And literally, a table of desserts.
Everyone wins with that kind of grief buffet.
When I hugged Aunt Georgia goodbye, I felt her physical strength through her heavy wool coat, though I knew her heart was aching. She had spent 62 years with Uncle Bob and today, for the first time in 62 years, she would go home alone.
What she has, what we all have, is memory, the way in which her life is different and richer because of the moments contained within it.
It’s not for me to say if Uncle Bob is somewhere laughing now with his 10 siblings, parents, even with my Dad.
I have an armload of memories. I have every present moment. I have a snowy car ride with my brother. And it is more than enough.
My Uncle Bob passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer.
Dear Uncle Bob,
Thank you for always being an example to me of a life well lived. My memories of you and Aunt Georgia are filled with love…of warm, homemade cookies…long swims in your pool until my fingers and toes were wrinkled…vivid summer flowers Aunt Georgia tended…the kaleidoscope of colors of the jukebox in the basement…watching with wonder as you talked about your job…the heat of the sun-warmed cement lulling me to sleep by the pool…the way you always both talked to me like I was a person, not just a kid, even when I was a kid…the comfort of knowing I was safe and loved…safe enough to fall asleep in your car on the trip from Findlay…loved enough to strive to live fully as you both do…
The moments I spent with you are precious beyond measure. You taught me so much with your honesty, humor and compassion. I hope what I’m writing now is something you already knew, already and always felt from me. But I wanted to write this so that it’s clear. I love you and am so very grateful for all have brought to my life.
I’d like to take the opportunity to induct my brother, Steve Badman, into the Half Century Society. Yes, dear readers, today, my big brother, my childhood idol who introduced me to the finer things in life (Bugs Bunny, Pink Floyd and Adidas sneakers to name but a few), turns 50.
I spoke to him this morning and neither of us can figure out how this happened.
50! (Insert leg kick here.)
Other than wiping a dog drool-soaked tennis ball on my sister and me and accidentally breaking my arm, Steve has been a model of brotherly love and support.
It couldn’t have been easy growing up as the eldest child and the only son. I’ve thought about that quite a bit since our Dad died a little more than a year ago. At Dad’s wake, an old friend of my Dad’s who I barely remembered, walked right up to Steve and said, “You ARE your Father 50 years ago.” (Clearly he didn’t realize how remarkably OLD Steve already is, but I digress.) Steve handled the moment with his usual sensibility and grace, thanking Dad’s old friend and shaking his hand. Though I know Steve mourns the loss of Dad, too, I also know the grief of a son losing his father is something else entirely.
Since Dad’s death, I have leaned on him more. I ask him for financial advice, pester him with car questions (“It’s making a weird noise.”) and generally view him as my go-to for all big life decisions.
He has, as usual, stepped up to the awesome responsibility of big brother and temporary Dad substitute with great sensibility, poise and patience. He also sends me his favorite articles and cartoons from The New Yorker. (I should really consider renting him out.)
To my brother, I raise a glass and toast your half century of existence and thank you for all that you add to my, much more youthful, existence. I had to do it. Ya maroon!
As John Lennon said, “strange days, indeed.” As I write this, my Mom is on her way home from the hospital after several days battling a colon infection. About colon infections: you don’t want one.
My Mom is obviously doing much better, but the past few days have brought up giant waves of emotion in her and me. This is, after all, the first time she’s been quite ill since Dad died 14 months ago. My brother, who lives within two hours of Mom, was able to be at the hospital with her and speak to the doctors. Another aside: if you can have a family member act as your medical advocate, do it. It’s always helpful to have another person to ask questions and listen to what the docs have to say.
Before Mom was diagnosed with the colon infection, my mind twisted its way into various fearful scenarios, and I maintained an internal battle of wills to concentrate my attention on the “what we know now” as opposed to the crushed glass, hamster wheel of hell called “what if? what if?”
What my Mom experienced in the hospital: an epic feeling of loneliness is not unusual given the reality of her circumstances. Nor is it unusual that I’d feel anxious and lonely because I could not be there in person. As she grew weepy with me on the phone over the course of her hospital stay, it occurred to me that I was offering what I could in that moment. I suppose there is always the question of “is it enough?” But then, the weepy moment passes…the feeling subsides or ebbs and we are onto the next.
The day after Mom went into the hospital I spent the afternoon at my dear friend’s house watching the University of South Carolina battle the Georgia bulldogs. My friend is a Georgia fan, and we groaned and lamented as the pain wore on. In quieter moments of the game, we talked about my Mom and my friend’s sister whose marriage is breaking up. Aside: when faced with infidelity, small gestures like say, cutting the buttons off a dress shirt can provide a quick, albeit slightly petty bit of retributional joy.
Fast forward to this morning: when friends at Blue Ion and I present a new direction in marketing to the folks at Maverick Southern Kitchens: to include new strategy, copy, designs and websites. As I surveyed the room during the course of the presentation, I was humbled by the sheer fact that a group of folks was listening to what we had to say and was even moved to share their thoughts with us. There is something so primal about cooking…feeding…nourishing and nurturing others. Part of the reason I am so intrigued by what Maverick does is simply by the virtue that I am enamored by the notion of food as a means of conversation and connection. And they do it so well. Taking the food seriously, but never themselves.
Minutes ago I stood in my backyard, feeling the slightest hint (or wishful thinking on my part) of fall. I noticed an ever so subtle change in the light through the leaves that left me wondering, where does the time go?
I can’t tell you, because I just don’t know. Lately it seems that laughter is most usually followed by tears which is followed by awe, humility, confusion, elation, and now and again a Bloody Mary. But who knows…maybe it’s just me.
The week after Dad died we went to The Olive Garden with caring cousins who tried mightily to soothe our grief with their company and manicotti.
Chain Italian food is blasphemy in the town where my parents raised me. Tomato sauce was called gravy, and Mrs. Rizzo made meatballs that melted upon touching your tongue, bigger than a man’s fist.
Our waiter recognized Mom from all the times she brought Dad there for dinner, her last attempts at date night with her husband. I imagine her guiding his choices, choosing for him when his consciousness grew hazier, wispier, dreamier. The waiter came to know them by sight, by name and would help Dad get seated and put his walker to the side while they dined. He held sympathy in his smile; compassion in endless salad and bread sticks.
Where I grew up, Italian bread came from the local bakery. I remember holding my Dad’s hand as we stopped in for bread and Sunday pastries. I was so little I could still press my face against the cases to stare longingly at the opulently decorated cakes and pies. I would get a smiley-faced sugar cookie in my own waxy bag and eat it at the kitchen table with Dad as he read the paper, drank coffee and ate pastry.
The waiter asked Mom, “How’s John?” We all waited for her to say it.
“He passed away last week.”
The waiter half-opened his mouth, flushed and quickly paled, said quietly, “I’m so sorry.” He quickly retreated to tend to other diners.
I thought of him for days afterward. Wondered if he dropped a dish in the kitchen or spilled a glass of wine on purpose, because he was shaken. Because he had known Dad, though not long, but intimately in the way that only someone who brings you sustenance over a period of time can.
It would be like this for a while after he died. The moment of having to say he was gone out loud, still an open wound, still not believing the words as they left my lips.