Note: I hesitated to write this post for fear the telling of my story might seem irreverent. But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. And this is the truth of my life.
Let me tell you about last Wednesday:
After too little sleep, a difficult morning and a stressful day at work, I found myself arriving home desperate for a 10-minute power nap. Within five minutes after walking in the door, I got a phone call from my mother. My first thought was of my 95-year-old grandmother. She’d been declining since mid-December—most rapidly the past week—and by Monday had pneumonia. My heart was spent from tear-filled goodbyes the past three nights and I knew she was close to the end.
My instincts were correct. My dear, sweet grandmother had passed away. I called my siblings, then left to join my mother and my aunt, who recounted to me the tender details surrounding Grandma’s peaceful departure. We spent the rest of the afternoon sharing memories and making plans for the family to celebrate her life (she had forbidden us from holding a funeral). My cousin stopped in. Then my brother and his wife arrived. We laughed. We teared up a bit, but not too much. We were genuinely relieved and happy for her. Grandpa has been gone five years and one day. Grandma missed him every day. It was her time to enjoy a wonderful reunion with him.
I sat on the sofa across from the open door to Grandma’s bedroom, from which I could see her body, lying in the same place and position as she was when I’d held her frail hand and softly stroked and kissed her forehead just the night before. As the hours passed, I was both visiting with the family present and also texting other family members to keep them informed of the emerging plans. Interspersed with my texts from siblings and kids were texts from my husband. I informed him of the possible plans.
He was texting me back about the plans, and also about his afternoon in Las Vegas, where he was attending an education conference.
As I sat there, engraving on my heart the last images and impressions of my grandmother, I received a photo of a giant pawn shop sign.
“We’re at the famous pawn shop waiting to go inside. They’re filming right now.”
We don’t get cable, so I have no idea what he’s talking about. “What’s the show called?”
Some time later, while I’m waiting for the mortuary people to arrive, I receive another photo.
“Monster trucks on the Las Vegas Strip.”
So not my world. Especially not at the moment. The people from the mortuary arrived and I noticed one of them is the boy who grew up around the corner. Apparently he’s working there while preparing to go to medical school. I was touched by their thoughtfulness in appearing as though they had all the time in the world and in letting us have a choice in every detail possible. The moment they wheeled the gurney out the door and carried away her body was surreal. I’ve been there before. It is surreal every time.
Finally just before 8pm, we said goodbye. I grabbed some takeout from Spicy Thai for my 12-year-old and I, who hadn’t eaten since noon.
On my way home, I got another text from my husband,
“We’re eating at the Cheesecake Factory in Caeser’s Palace.”
After my son and I ate dinner I remembered it was book group. We read “The Wednesday Wars.” I wanted to go because 1). I actually read the book this time, and after almost putting it down, I ended up enjoying it very much. And 2). I needed to decompress a bit.
Before I left I remembered I needed to check on my baby chicks. They reside in the downstairs bathroom. In a box. Right between the cockatiel cage and the fish tank full of turtles. And one goldfish (who, I regret to say, became turtle food just this morning).
I walked into the bathroom to hear the cockatiel flapping his wings and screeching. He was in the turtle tank. I have no idea how long he’d been there, but the turtle tank is gross and full of who-knows-what germs. I reached in to rescue him.
He bit me.
On the middle finger.
I gently shoved him back in his cage (the one with the missing door) and submerged my hand in hot running water, squeezing out as much blood as I could, wondering what else besides salmonella must be thriving in that green slimy water. The same green slimy water that was all over my skin when it was pierced by the beak of the cockatiel I was rescuing.
I dried my hand with a clean towel, managed to squeeze out some triple antibiotic cream from what I hoped was the clean end of the broken Neosporin tube, and smirked a bit as I bandaged the wound with a bright red Angry Birds band-aid.
This is my life. I wonder how I would have dealt with the reality of my grief if it hadn’t been tempered just a bit by the odd juxtaposition of the false “reality” of the Vegas strip and reality TV. If the attempted numbing of emotional loss hadn’t been brought into sharp relief just a bit by the bite of an angry bird. And if my tendency to (generally) choose to laugh when brought to the brink of “laugh-or-cry” hadn’t been aided somewhat by the presence of an Angry Bird on an angry bird’s bite on what one could call my angry bird finger.
I don’t know how to answer that. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the heaviness I feel (too much cancer, another death…and those are just the heartbreaks I can talk about). The ridiculous somehow seems to provide a kind of balance while I’m waiting for the sublime. At least it keeps me from tipping over the edge. So far…
So, tell me about your day. Or one of them. How do you keep from tipping over the edge?