I went to lots of funeral and visitations when I was a little girl; that’s what you do to pay your last respects. People got really down in the dumps at funerals. Sometimes people said stupid things like “doesn’t she look so peaceful’, or “he just looks like he fell asleep.: Sometimes people just say stuff like that to fill up the quietness that comes with sadness. I never thought those dead people even looked a bit like there real selves, let alone peaceful and asleep. They looked like store manikin, all dressed up in the dead person’s clothes. Once I asked Mom why people got so sad when they knew the dead person was in heaven. She said they were just sad for themselves, ’cause they were gonna miss that person so much. All the people I knew who died were old and had a pretty good life. They probably looked down from the pearly gates and wished they could wave or something, so the people they loved would stop all the crying.
Mom told me that sometimes babies died from crib death. That’s when a baby forgot she was out here in the world, and instead she thought she was still inside her mom and the mom was doing all the eating and breathing for the baby. No babies I knew forgot about being in the world, ’cause all the babies in my family had a hard time getting to sleep and never wanted to stay there. Babies can get pretty fascinated with the world, and even though it’s probably way more snug and safe and free of worries inside a mother, there’s a whole lot more excitement on the outside. Frankie threw tantrums and held his breath until he turned blue. Dr. D. told Mom not to worry one tinsy bit, ’cause if Frankie did that long enough, he would faint and then his lungs would just start working again. That’s one of the miracles of a body: it just keep going, even when we’re not paying attention.
Loren-dee-dee-bopper got a tumor and had to get an operation, all from chewing on a piece of grass that a cow drooled on. That was some piece of bad luck for Loren-dee-dee-bopper. I chewed grass all the time, especially that wild wheat grass, which was tender and sweet on the end. Dad showed me how to slip it out of the stalk and chew on the end.
Nobody I knew died young. Except for Bobbie-Jo, who got hit head-on by some old guy who fell asleep at the wheel and plowed right into Bobby-Jo. I wondered why Bobby-Jo never swerved onto the shoulder when she saw that guy heading straight for her. Still, I knew better to ask her sister, Cleta, ’cause that would be like blaming Bobby-Jo for getting killed and even I knew enough keep some questions to myself and just say a prayer in front of the coffin, where a manikin that looked a lot like Bobby-Jo, but couldn’t possibly be that teenage girl who swished her poodle skirt with three can-cans underneath through the school bus aisle. She always sat way in back with the cool teenagers and sang “Hang down your head, Tom Dooley, poor boy you’re going to die,” and “Where oh, where can my baby be? The Lord took her away from me,” and other songs about teenagers who got the love of their life taken away for some reason or another. I never wanted to be a teenager. As much giggling and bouncing and singing those girls did, it seemed like there was twice as much sadness, if you go by the songs they sang.
Except for Bobby-Jo, who was half-way to grown, the only people who I knew who died were old people. Some were super-old, like Buscia, who turned out to be Mom’s grandma. That’s how old she was, she even had an Old Country name, instead of the regular Grandma, like every regular grandma I knew about. Buscia had white-white hair, and no teeth. She was round, like her back-bone got tired of standing straight and it just curled around, so Buscia looked kinda like the man-in-the-moon. Except the man-in-the-moon was sad-looking, on account of all the bad kids he looked down on every night. Buscia smiled in a way that made her whole round body smile and her tongue wagged out a little between her stretched up lips. She smiled like that when I gave her a hug. She never talked to me in English. Still, I knew the words she said in Polish meant something like, ‘You’re the very best there is’ or “Look at you, who dreamed you into this world?” She only saw good things in me. I guessed her eyes were kinda worn out.
I am now older than most of those people I termed “old” back when I was a child. I read once that one of the secrets to aging is learning to deal with loss. This week a beautiful friend and mother-in-law, Marilyn, passed away. She was lots of things to lots of people: Mother, Grandmother, Nurse, Sister, Southern Bell, Christian. To me she was an endless source of joy and laughter, full of life and love. A woman who loved God and cared about people. Over the years, she down-sized her living area to fit her changing life. She collected a lot of knick-knacks and memorabilia and had a hard time throwing anything away. Her place always seemed a bit cramped and crowded to me. Still, the most important things she had, she gave to everyone: an understanding ear, a ready smile, lots of love and happy memories. No matter how tiny the home, there is always an endless capacity for those things.
I know that young and old die, by accident and from just plain wearing out. I know first-hand that losing people we love can forever leave a hole in our lives. Even when we know they rest easy, on the other side of the pearly gates.