essays by Shé

Posts Tagged ‘death’

Ashes to Ashes

In Love on June 27, 2022 at 11:26 am

Signing the paperwork was hard. Fortunately, the funeral director kept getting it wrong. She also lied to my brother and niece, blaming me for the delay. Then more miscommunication ensued, this time about Mom’s titanium hips. Not miscommunication, lack of communication, despite multiple emails. Are they mechanical devices or not? Not. Check the other box.

When I asked two neighbors to witness my signature on the cremation documents, I couldn’t get the words out, and started crying. It’s one thing for Mom to continue to say, I’m not dead, it’s another to read legalese about pulverizing her bones.

On Monday I was antsy. Will they really send them? I called, but got the answering machine. That was the day her body went through the crematorium.

USPS has a million problems, but they sure haul ass with dead people. Have you ever tracked your mother? Yeah. For some reason I was surprised that this was emotionally difficult, too.

She landed in Honolulu Thursday night. Friday morning she was at the Kilauea post office down the street. It was all I could do to keep from running over there and demanding the package, right now! But I waited. All day. The tracking message didn’t change. I walked to the mailbox in the burning sun, twice.

Late afternoon, I gave up. One of my flip-flops is broken, so I tape it, then bike to the local shops looking for replacements. No joy. Read a free surf magazine. Try to bike to Kane’s, but Queenie won’t go down the hill. Don’t I need exercise? The ocean? I turn around, not even stopping for the soursop tree.

Check the mailbox again on the way up the driveway. A neighbor on the porch next door waves. “You got a package.” He picks up a small Priority Mail Express box. Bright orange stickers adorn every side: CREMATED REMAINS. I burst into tears. “That’s my mom!”

I can’t stop crying, but can finally take the box. My neighbor hugs me, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” He is sweaty and smells of tobacco, with many tattoos. “I’m sorry,” he says again and again while I sob and lean on him. Such kindness.

I can’t stop crying, but eventually I can leave. Open my gate, set her down by the door, wheel in Queenie, lock the gate, kneel on the stoop, and cry in earnest. No more waiting.

Mary Patricia Magonigle Kathleen VanTine, 1960
Mary Patricia Kathleen Magonigle VanTine, 1960

Words of Love

In Love on May 17, 2022 at 1:17 pm

“I’m not dead,” said John. I’m sitting on his grave in Queen of Heaven Cemetery. The headstone dates read: May 28, 1964 – September 30, 1967. Today is September 30, 2019. I’ve been here before, but I’ve never heard him quite so clearly.

I believe him. And it is a huge relief. I have spent decades missing my Irish twin. No need.

Is this wishful thinking? I ponder. There was the time I was suicidally depressed, lying on an old futon in Venice. Suddenly, he was there, physically holding me. My body felt his body. My body knew his body. We spooned. The comfort was indescribable.

For how long? Infinity. Long enough for me to remember that I am loved. As are you. As are we all.

Yesterday was my father’s eighty-fifth birthday. We Skyped, at my instigation. I wanted to see his face. Surprise: he is aging. He is slower. So am I.

After we disconnected (is that possible?), I sat on the edge of my bed and listened to Sorrow and Fear. Then I distracted myself with work. Then I took a nap. And then, fortunately, my neighbors irritated me. Hello Anger. I was able to get righteously pissed-off at their unapologetic thoughtlessness, cigarette smoke, and noisy boy ways. Finally I hopped on my bike and pedaled to Kilauea Point. Shearwaters nest there, burrowed into the red dirt cliff. That worked for awhile, then herds of humans arrived to glory in the sight as well. Ocean ocean ocean. Our original home.

Up a hill, nice and sweaty, I take a road I’ve been curious about. Why not? It leads to a cemetery, with Italian and Japanese names. One Omar Kalif. The view of the mountains is incredible, west of me, west of the sea. I lie on the poky grass and watch the sky. Mynah birds discuss various edibles.

The mountains say, all is death, nothing is death. As I look at their sheer majestic mass, I remember: oh yeah, nothing dies, everything dies. Clarity. Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegle, a race of small fightin’ folk, believe that this is heaven. They can’t die because they’re already dead. Nothing to fear.

Since hearing my brother’s voice so clearly that day, I’ve taken to talking to him. I know he has my back, and my best interests at heart. And while I’m at it I talk to Maureen and Mimi and Pappap and Nana and Grandpa and Coe Coe, Wild Bill Magonigle, and even a rotten uncle. Why should I be deprived of their excellent advice?

Johnny and Shé, 1966
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