A few months ago, I blogged about being that girl. I spoke of The Farmer, and how we hadn't yet come to our place of forgiveness.
Last week, The Farmer's father passed away. I mentioned him in that post too, the man I could work with in comfortable silence. Hearing of his passing had a deep impact on me, and sent me into an internal struggle: whether to attend his services or not. I asked my trusted broads in a Facebook group; I asked close friends who knew him, and those who did not; I asked a mutual friend who is still in touch with The Farmer. In the end, bouyed by their assurances that it was the right thing to do, I decided I needed to go. That any awkwardness between The Farmer and I would be outweighed by my need for closure, by my need to show the rest of the family the love I still held for them and their husband-father-grandfather.
I know I over-thought this. "What if it's not just awkward with The Farmer? What if the whole family will be displeased to see me?" countered with "Why would his nieces, sister and brother-in-law stay in touch via Facebook if that were the case?" "What if they don't remember me, recognize me, and I'm in the even more awkward position of having to introduce myself to people I considered family for a decade?" And then there were the more personal, shallow concerns - I'm 40 pounds heavier than the wild, sensual tomboy he proposed to. I'm not good at hair and makeup, so people see me without any kind of mask. I can clean up pretty nicely, but I usually need professional assistance to really shine. No one wants to see an ex- when they aren't looking and feeling hot - but was this really a circumstance where I should be concerned about my appearance? Or was that just my own self-confidence, hiding in the shadows like a scared schoolgirl?
Deep breath, Deety. Do you have tights with no runs? Good. Do you have a skirt you can wear? Yup, that black and grey velvet burnout that goes to the ankles. How about a top? I think the grey cableknit turtleneck will suffice. Now shoes to keep you from stepping on that skirt without falling on your ass? Maybe these black suede boots with a sensible heel. Dress. Don't think. Brush your teeth, brush your hair, stop thinking about wrinkles and sunspots and weight. Autopilot, Deety. Get in the car, drive, walk in and hang up your coat. What voice is this? I wonder, but I listen.
I walk into the funeral home with my heart thudding. I use the time hanging up my coat and looking at photo boards outside the room to breathe deeply and calm myself. I can do this. I can do this with grace and poise and respect. Entering the room, I see that The Farmer is immediately to his mother's left, the second person I will face in the receiving line. I go to the casket, bow my head and ask that The Lady of the Fields and The Lord of the Hunt receive this man in forms that bring him comfort, that he find peace and know the love that was had for him. More deep breaths as I turn away - to find myself embraced by his brother-in-law, husband to his sister, whose wedding I was an attendant in. "Deety, it's so good of you to come!" he exclaims, and I admit I wasn't sure I should...he shakes his head vigorously. "No, no reason not to. It's good that you did." We speak for a moment before I break away to see The Mother, the wife of the lost, in her 80s herself, starting to sit as she is clearly tired from standing.
When she sees me approach, her face lights up, she calls my name. Unexpected, that. She starts to stand and takes my hands, calls me by name again - she remembers me, she seems happy to see me, she embraces me. "Please, sit. Look, I can get down here so we can talk" and I kneel at her feet. She still holds both of my hands in hers, squeezing them, massaging them, looking in my eyes. She admits it hasn't hit her yet, it's all not real, he'd been in hospital for a few weeks, she was used to him not being in the house. The rest...I don't recall. I know it was warm, it was loving, and after a time, I said, "I shouldn't monopolize you, Mother. There are others waiting to speak with you. But I wanted you to know how sorry I was to hear of this." She squeezes my hands again and says, "But I never get to see you...please stay for awhile?" gesturing towards the room. "I will," I promise, and my heart is full and I know I've done the right thing.
Next is The Farmer. We don't make eye contact, there is a brief moment of indecision...do we shake hands?..then he hugs me awkwardly, coldly, "Thank you for coming" but he's looking out past me, body stiff and I just move on with the absurd thought that I had forgotten how tall he was. IT seems we still haven't gotten to our place of forgiveness. This saddens me, but doesn't surprise me.
His eldest sister is next, always frail emotionally, and of all the family the one who seems most in shock that this man in his late 80s is gone. Her daughter, always dear to my heart and now a mother herself, then the younger sister, closest in age to me, who told me once she wanted me to be her maid of honor but was obligated to ask her sister and please, would I still be an attendant? This one tells me she read my condolence note online and it made her cry. Hugs, cheek kisses, smiles. They are all glad to see me and I forget the wrinkles, the weight, everything but the love I had with them. His brother next, father of four girls and I tell him they are all beautifully grown women, and this normally taciturn man grins at me and hugs me and again, I know I did the right thing. His four daughters - even the youngest that I thought wouldn't remember me - hugs, smiles, brief shared memories.
I move off from the receiving line, only to encounter again the brother-in-law who first greeted me. Father of a boy not much younger than my own, we spend the next 20 or 30 minutes just catching up, like 15 years hasn't passed. We talk of parenthood and how you talk to a child about tragedies like the Newtown school shooting, and the death of a grandparent, and where life has taken us. I dare hope, for a moment, that maybe I can rebuild my relationship with this family without hurting The Farmer further, and for a time, I bask in the glow of Family Love That Was.
I notice the crowd thinning out and I realize that if I stay too much longer, there will likely be another awkward encounter, and that's not why I'm there. I'm not there to make The Farmer angry, or uncomfortable or feel awkward. I tell the brother-in-law I'd best go, I find the mutual friend, who'd been nearby all the while, and thank him again for helping me work through the decision. We promise to meet for dinner. As I turn to go, I look for The Mother, wanting to speak with her again, but she was in too close proximity to The Farmer and there...there I lost my nerve. I signed the guestbook, took a remembrance card and fetched my coat. I didn't notice the cold on the walk to the car...the love I carried out of the wake enveloped me.
I did the right thing by going.