Saturday: The Memorial Service
I woke up early on Saturday. I had managed about seven hours of sleep, and without medication. I never took a sleeping aid again after this point. Once I hit seven hours unaided, I felt like I was in a position to manage sleep on my own.
I did, however, wake up with a pit in my stomach. I did, however, let out a guttural cry when I again realized that it was a new day, but that my Alice was still dead. I cried alone. I preferred it that way, to be honest. It took less time. It was more efficient. I didn’t have to feel guilty about having other people becoming uncomfortable by my emotions. No one had expressed any discomfort, mind you, but The Guilt was there just the same.
I returned some e-mails and texts, and then I got out of bed.
Dawn came early to do my hair again for me, which was so very kind of her. She is not only supremely talented, she is also one of the kindest people on this earth. She and her wonderful husband Dave stayed for a bit and helped around the house too, for which I was so grateful.
Some relatives stopped by for a quick visit before heading to the Ebell, but mostly it was a quiet morning. I felt strangely, well, capable that morning. I felt the calmest that I had felt since she died, and this fact mystified me. Perhaps it was finally getting some sleep; perhaps I was just too emotionally exhausted to host an internal war that morning; perhaps the love of my family and friends pulled me to the other side; or perhaps, all of the above were true. In any event, I was feeling relatively normal. Ish. Emphasis on the “ish.”
Figuring out what to wear to your child’s memorial service feels like the most trivial thing on earth. I hated that I had to go to such an event in the first place, and choosing an outfit for this just seemed, well, shallow. Still, I couldn’t really go in my pajamas. Well, I guess I could have, no one would have dared say a thing, I suppose, but I wanted to show respect for my daughter. This meant I had to make this decision, however trivial. I had a “new” blouse I had purchased at a resale shop the week before Alice’s birthday. It had been a very long time since I had purchased clothing for myself, and I had nothing nice to wear for Alice’s birthday party, so I bought two blouses at that resale shop. The one that I did not wear to the party had been lying on my hope chest since the day I bought it. Alice had held it up for me several times in hopes that I would wear it. “Dis!!! Dis, Mama!!!” she would cry. Mostly, she did this as I was about to go teach Pilates or hit a yoga class, so I had to deny her, but one night I put it on, after work, just for her. This is the blouse I decided to wear for the service. I chose a black skirt to match. I let Alice chose my outfit.
At some point this morning, I was made aware someone from my own private SEAL team had requested people wear colors to celebrate the joy of Alice’s life. Somehow, I missed this memo. Again, I hadn’t really been functioning on all cylinders that week. My shirt was a blue/grey/black pattern. But, Alice seemed to prefer it, so I stuck to my guns.
After I was dressed, and had my hair done, I began to assemble the possessions of Alice that I had laid out at the visitation so that I could place them at the sign in table. I was surprisingly calm while I did this. This was about the extent of my contribution to the day’s events. My friends and family handled literally everything else, and I just can’t thank them all enough. Everyone contributed in whatever way they could. As grief-stricken as I was, I was fully aware, and grateful, to be witnessing the power of a community coming together to aid someone in need.
Meleva and Famke had spent the night, and Meleva basically took over the care of Grace that day. And thank God for that. It was good for Grace to have someone like Meleva in charge, and it allowed me to just “coast” that day, which is what I desperately needed to do. It was all I could handle. Grace was warmer to me that day than she had been in previous days, but it was still good for her to have someone a little less devastated than I was in charge. Grace rode with Meleva and Famke, which was great because Grace loves checking out other folks’ cars. Nothing makes Grace happier than getting to ride in someone else’s car, or enter someone else’s house. Meleva’s help in the days she was here was priceless, and I’ll never be able to repay her, I am sure. And, let’s be honest here, no one wants to be in a position for me to literally pay them back anyway. And I would not wish my circumstances on another living soul.
Most of the people that had been helping me that week were at the Ebell already that day, getting the place set up, for which I will be forever grateful. There was an immense amount of work to be done. I could not have done it. No way. Even if I could have handled it emotionally, I would not have had the executive functioning skill to do it. Although I did feel better, it was quite clear that my brain was still not up to par with its former self. I still could not multi-task. I still could not focus very well. And long-range planning? Hell, even short-range planning? Forget about it. I didn’t even try. I knew it would only result in disaster. This was very obvious.
Some beautiful soul had gassed up my car and left mineral water and a box of tissues in the cup holders. It was so nice to feel so cared for, and I was touched beyond words. I still have no idea who did that, but I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Someone else had removed Alice’s car seat. Who did that, I don’t recall. I knew before this day that the car seats had been removed from the cars, but I guess I had forgotten who had done that for me. Maybe one of the Grandpas? It was the right thing to do, but, wow, that hit me hard. I do not remember crying that morning on the way to the service, however, so I guess this pain remained a silent thump in the chest. I took off for the service. I was calm. I couldn’t believe what was happening, but I was calm.
I had not left the house since Monday—nearly a week. It felt very strange to be outside. The world outside felt like scenery from a film. I felt like was traveling in a clear tube through the world around me. I felt as if I could see, and hear, and even smell my surroundings, but for some reason, I could not actually touch them, and therefore, was not convinced that they were real. This experience reminded me of that movie “The Truman Show.” I was Truman, and I was beginning to suspect that my surroundings were not real, but a set. Of course, I knew this wasn’t actually true, but that feeling of questioning one’s perceived reality, was very real, and very large.
My friends set up the giant, gorgeous room, they got the programs ready, and mounted the photos, and set up a sign-in table, and placed a marquee, and set up the A/V situation and everything else. I know for certain that Bubba, Rey, Todd, Stacy, Jon, and Clara were involved. Family helped too, I know. I know others helped as well, but I have no idea who. Betsy, my sister from another mister, brought me my favorite drink from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, as she had done every day that week. Catie and her incredible mom set up a kid’s area in case some wee ones grew restless, which was genius, and which I certainly would not have thought to do. I was completely unaware of how everything was managed. My gratitude to everyone who helped is undying. I just cannot believe how lucky I am to have such great people around me. All of you who helped; you saved me. Truly.
I arrived at the venue about 40 minutes early, I believe, but a few people were already there, beyond those that were helping. I realized immediately that in order to stay composed, I was going to have to remain in “business mode.” This meant I could not hold eye contact or hug anyone for longer than a split second, or I knew I would dissolve into tears. I felt I could handle this day, but to stay composed, this is just what I had to do. I greeted people as I moved by them. I had to keep moving, or I would stop moving all together, was the sense that I had.
Bubba was walking around with a clipboard when we arrived. Nothing says, “I am running this damn show” like a calm man walking through crowds and emotional chaos with a clipboard. Again, what I would have done without him, I just have no idea. One close girlfriend later told me that she had to trade in her male best friend, because, “He would have been barely be able to make it here, much less run the show. Bubba is a keeper.”
I set up the sign-in table. Stacy, I think, had purchased a beautiful book and pen for the purpose. I remained composed as I did this. I glanced up to see people staring at me from all parts of the room. There was nothing creepy or malevolent in the stares, and it did not bother me, per se. I was, however, very aware of it, and had to tune it out a bit. I am sure that in their shoes, I also would have stared at the temporarily composed, grieving mother arranging her toddler’s beloved worldly goods at the sign-in table at her memorial service.
I walked toward the front. I saw my wonderful neighbor Kaye and her father Joseph sitting near the back. They are the sweetest people you would ever want to know and hand known Alice since she was born. Joseph or “Jophes” as the girls called him, was all decked out in coattails. They both looked devastated. My stomach hurt.
I noticed some flowers large floral arrangements had arrived, and went up to look at them. Two were from Melissa and Bob’s office. One was from my MOMS Club. I teared up over the generosity and love all of those folks had shown me. The folks in my neighborhood, the MOMS, the other founding parents at the school we helped to start, were all so incredibly supportive of me, the mind can barely fathom it. The support still comes to this very day. When we chose this neighborhood, we chose a real winner.
I noticed the slideshow of Alice’s little life playing on the giant screen. I stopped dead in my tracks. I had chosen many of the pictures, but I had nothing to do with arranging the slide show or with choosing the music to play with it. I think “Tears in Heaven” was playing when I first looked up and saw a picture of Alice and I at one of her first swim lessons as a baby. The water shot out of my eyes like a cannon. Who would have known, on that joyous day of swim class, that I would ever be looking at a larger-than-life-sized version of that picture at her memorial service only 16 months later? Who would have known? I stared and stared at the images on screen, and the giant photos we had blown up. I could not believe that I could not just reach in there, and pull her out, alive, onto my shoulder.
Those are the sorts of places your mind goes to in the early days after a sudden loss.
One question that did not really come up for me then, or to date, is “Why me? Why my family?” I am not sure why this didn’t come up. Seems like a natural question. But, for me, it just didn’t come up. I know that in part, I knew one can’t ask a question like that without unintentionally inferring that it would be alright if it happened to someone else’s family. And I certainly did not feel that anyone, anyone deserved what happened here. All I knew was that it had happened to me, to my Alice, and that the only way through it, was going to be to go through it. I didn’t feel I had the luxury of wasting time asking “Why me?” Guilt was more my demon.
As the slide show played before the service started, I could here people chuckle here and there. I could here a collective “AWWWW!” here and there. I heard a lot of sniffles. I turned around, and saw a lot of tears and shaking shoulders. I stared in disbelief for a moment, and had to look away. I was not going to make it, if I took it in any longer. People looked completely wrecked.
I saw my dear friend Ramsay, sitting near where the family was supposed to sit. He looked like someone sucked the air out of him. Ramsay, well, Ramsay always knows just what to say to me. That day, he just hugged me and said my name, “MON-roe.” There really is nothing that you can say. I knew everything he wanted to convey without a word, anyway. I was so touched that he had agreed to play for the service, that I also, was without words.
A few folks came up to me before the service. They would just look at me with a look that said, “Shit, Melissa” and hug me. Several people came up to me, but a few stand out in my memory for whatever reason. My friend Chris is a professional writer, and had written a terribly moving Facebook post about Alice the day after she died. I hadn’t seen Chris in some time (reproduction wrecks havoc on one’s social life), and was so very touched by his words. He also had the foresight not to name me in the piece, which I really appreciated since not all family had been reached yet at that point. Chris came up to me that day, just cocked his head to the side, and hugged me. I teared up. I was so grateful that he had come.
My friend Patrick also came up to me. I’ve known Patrick for years, he is the one that introduced me to Bubba, as a matter of fact, but I had not seen him in months. I was very, very surprised he had come, and was deeply touched. Patrick is a wonderful person, but the funeral of a two-year-old isn’t something I would have guessed was really “his bag.” I looked at him, and thought, “Damn, Patrick must REALLY love me, because this is certainly a huge surprise.”
I ran into the father of Alice’s little yoga friend Evie in the stairwell. He could not have been kinder, and looked utterly devasted. He and his amazing wife and Evie were all there, and this, made me cry a bit. Alice was not going to grow up with Evie, after all. This seemed completely impossible to digest.
Every single person that attended meant the world to me. Many I had not seen in months, or even years, and I stood gobsmacked at the outpouring of love and support. There are no words to describe how helpful it was to see all of those friends and family there. I was well aware that this was not what any single person there hoped to be doing that day. There are no words to express how grateful I was to them for showing me that much love, despite the grimness of the event. One really learns the impact of the relationships one has nurtured over the course of time, in times like this. Knowing that so many people showed up to support me at what was very likely going to be the darkest hours of my life, saved me. It really did. Thank you all, from the bottom of my broken heart.
I found Bob and Melissa with Bubba and other close friends over at the side of the venue. More chairs were being pulled out because there were no longer empty seats. I chatted with them a moment before going back to our sitting area.
I sat with Grace and Meleva and Famke in the front row. I recall, in my 20s, being excited if I had tickets for shows in, or near, the front row. I felt a little guilty about it now. I should have been more specific in my wishes, apparently. I would have given anything to have not been in a position to sit in the front row on this day. It still felt just impossible that this were happening.
We were supposed to be camping on this day. We were supposed to eating breakfast on the beach in front of our tent with Nancy and Mike and their kids. Alice was supposed to be following Lenore, and Grace was supposed to be following Julian, and the adults were supposed to be laughing and possibly enjoying the breakfast of champions. Instead, I was at my child’s memorial service. I thought about that and thought about that and it still did not make sense to me.
I was not angry. I did not blame, beyond the blame-of-self that is guilt. To this day, I have not experienced those two hallmarks of grief. We had no idea why she died, so there really was nothing to be angry at, no one to blame, except myself since it happened on my watch. My great college friend Tommy, whom I have known for 25 years, kindly offered, more than once, to sit on the phone and listen while I yelled and cussed. He lives out of state, but wanted to do something that might help. But I didn’t need to yell and curse then, and haven’t had the urge since. Well, that’s not true, I have cussed. But not about Alice. Under duress, I just like to cuss sometimes, a fact Tommy is well aware of, thus his kind offer. It feels good to pop one off sometimes. Sometimes, it feels REAL good. And if you do it right, no one gets hurt.
The service started. I stared. I knew it was happening but I felt at the same time like it was happening to me in another dimension. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was happening. I knew that. I was there. I knew that. But “there” did not feel like what I knew of as “here.” I realize that that last statement makes me sound cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, but it is true.
The officiant spoke for a minute and then a string trio played “Amazing Grace.” The trio consisted of my sweet friend Jessica, and the couple that owns the house I rent. They are all professional musicians, all of them are very kind, and all of them knew Alice, so it was very, very special to have them play. I will be forever grateful to Jessica, Leah and Jason. I heard a lot of sniffles behind me as they played.
My dad, who is a talker, and a Pastor, and not without irony, the one that taught me to cuss, read Mark 10:13. He made it through, and I am not sure how. I can guarantee you that I would have had a hard time speaking at my grandchild’s funeral. Pastor Pat has ministered many funerals, but I must admit, I wondered how he would manage to get through this one. But, he did it. Thank you, Papa.
An aside: Once I was in the car with my dad and my stepsister Mandy. Dad was really ticking off a list of expletives (Dad’s favorite time and place to swear is while driving the car). Mandy asked, with an evil grin, “What time are you preaching on Sunday, Pat?” Dad answered, “Listen, little girl, long before I was a pastor, I was a Marine.” That explains everything, you know.
The eulogy was given by Jennifer, the officiant, after that. I barely recall it. If there is something stranger than hearing your perfectly healthy two-year-old eulogized, I don’t want to find out what that is. She talked about things that Alice liked, habits she had, the trip we had just taken with my family. It was surreal. Perhaps I’ve overused this word, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it.
After this, Bubba read one of Alice’s favorite books, “I Love You Through and Through,” and said a few words of his own. I barely made it through that, but I did. I teared up, but I managed to not collapse. I could hear Alice trying to “read” the book to her dollies while Bubba read the book. It broke my heart.
The String trio did “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” after that. I sang this to Alice every single night, multiple times, at bedtime. I would hold her, her head on her blankie on my shoulder, and sway and pat her back, and sing. She would pat my back softly while I did so, perhaps comforting me for having such a terrible voice, perhaps comforting me because she knew I was in for a longer rendition than I had signed up for, or perhaps, just simply comforting me. In any event, my heart sang an internal “AWWWWWW!!!!!!!” every time she did it, and the fact that she would do it no more was crushing. At that “up above the world so high” part, she would motion towards the sky and twinkle her fingers. On round one, she would lift her head for this part, but in the later rounds, her sweet little head stayed on my shoulder, yet she would lift her arm and twinkle her fingers absent-mindedly. I knew then, that it was time for bed.
I teared up hearing this song, played so beautifully, by people Alice knew and loved.
J-Do (Jennifer Donkin) then read a beautiful passage called The Unfinished. She made it through, but you could see it was hard, and this broke my heart. J-Do is an amazing woman, and great, great friend, and is the friend that knows the most about my spiritual beliefs, so she was enlisted to communicate to the girls what their Mama believed if I went before my time. It never occurred to me that one of my girls would go before their time. I would never (intentionally) impose my beliefs upon my girls, but I knew that if I went while they were young, this was an area they would likely have questions about. J-Do was slated to be their guide.
At this point, Grace asked if she could go home. She was antsy, and clearly emotionally over-stimulated. I whispered that there was only one more song, could she wait? She said she could and laid her head on my lap.
My dear friend Ramsay played next. He looked gutted. I felt bad for asking him to do it for a moment. I could not have done it (no matter that I am a terrible singer, but if I could sing, I could not have done so at the funeral of my dear friend’s baby.) He had agreed to play two songs from his repertoire that I love that seemed fitting. He was slated to play the traditional “Pretty Little Feet,” transitioning into Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light.” I have always loved the song “Pretty Little Feet,” and Alice certainly had them, so I had thought of it. But as Ramsay sang, I realized the song was fitting for other reasons. It speaks of trains, which Alice absolutely loved. And it speaks of a mother, father and sister, and not needing any man. Alice, was never “gonna need no man.” I cried.
In the middle of Ramsay’s first song, Grace lifted her head off of my thigh, turned back to me and asked, rather loudly, “This is our friend?!?!?!” I said it was, and guessed she either noticed us speaking before the service, or that she assumed everyone that played or spoke that day was our friend. I said, “Yes, he has been a friend of Mama’s for a long, long time.” Grace responded, authoritatively, “Well, he is a very good singer, Mama.”
When the song turned into “I Saw the Light,” I sort of hoped people would join in. In my fantasy world, the song would lift everyone into song, and thus my mood would improve. I saw folks mouthing the words, but I suppose it was too somber an affair for people to bust out into song. I love that song on any given day, and I love how Ramsay does it, and I thought it would be a perfect ending to the service. It is a melancholy, yet uplifting song. It acknowledges your sadness, and elevates it a bit, without denying the validity of the sadness. At least, that is what it does for me. Ramsay did it beautifully, as always, and I will be forever grateful.
The officiant ended the service. I asked Grace if she still wanted to go home, or if she wanted to go to Janet’s for the lunch. Grace LOVES Janet’s house. She would go there daily if allowed. But, this day, she couldn’t do it. I think poor Grace had had quite enough of the throngs of people. Meleva said she would take the girls home, which was awfully kind of her. She would of course, then, miss the brighter side of the service. But, great friend that she is, she took my tired girl home.
I turned around, and saw an enormous line of people behind me, lined up to pay their respects. I had not realized just how packed the place had become. I was awestruck. And touched beyond words. There were friends I see all the time, friends I hadn’t seen in ages, ex-boyfriends, current and former clients, former students and classmates and teachers, musicians and music fans from the crew I hang out with (or, hung out with, before I reproduced), but most heartbreaking, were the teachers and parents and kids from my girls’ school. I mostly held it together until I saw them. Alice’s little two-year-old boyfriend Neyson was there with his Mama. He looked at me, and simply asked, “Alice?” I lost it. I mean, I just totally lost it. There were moms from my neighborhood and from the school that we helped to found. The new principal from our school came, despite the fact I barely knew him. My yoga teachers came. My college roommate, and dear friend of 26 years, Jen Rooney Cianci flew in from Chicago. My sweet friend Pamela came with Rachel, my new friend that had lost her daughter the same way I lost Alice. I could NOT BELIEVE she managed to come to my baby’s service, not five months after she had lost her sweet child. What an amazing woman. The line just went on and on and on. And I soaked up all the love I could get.
I got to the back of the line and looked up to see a very tall man, just absolutely shaking. It was Davey, a friend I’d met through two separate friends, but had not seen in ages. In fact the last time I’d seen him, I think I was pregnant with Alice. I was so very touched that he had come, and felt so very bad that he was so upset. Behind him was my friend Maynard, whom I have known since we were five or six years old, I think. We used to write plays and make up dances in grade school, and then force other students to take part. his presence, meant the world to me. Lynn, who is my “other mother,” and actual mother of my friend Betsy, was there, which was not surprising. But her husband was also there, which floored me. Ed, he isn’t much for events of any kind. And Ed knew and loved Alice, and had a new grandson. I was so incredibly moved that he had come. My dear old friends Rob and Rhonda came, which meant they had left their restaurant three days of the last four. It is possible that they had not left their business for 3 days in the entire previous year. I was just gobsmacked by the outpouring of support and love.
I also saw Chunyi Qian, one of my favorite teachers. Chunyi is about four foot nothing, but wears giant heels, and walks with a very big stick. Chunyi was very eager for me to get married and have babies while I was in acupuncture school. One day in class, she was going on about how fertility was considered to dwindle at 35, even in Eastern Medicine. I was 34, and unattached, so this was not the news I was hoping for. I asked a question about it. She said, “How old are you?” I told her. “You have boyfriend?”she asked. “Not at the moment, no,” I replied. “I can get you pregnant any time, but first you get boyfriend, I can’t do everything!!” she scoffed and scolded. I laughed my butt off. When I told her I was pregnant with Grace, she literally jumped up on me and wrapped her legs around me like I was a soldier coming home from war. She is a trip. When I came upon her in the line that day, she just looked at me, tears streaming down her face, hugged me and just kept saying, “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry…” I lost it.
Speaking of “sorry”: that whole day, through that whole line, I had the overwhelming urge to say “Sorry! Sorry! So sorry!” to everyone in turn. I wanted to say, “I’m sorry you have to explain death to your two-year-old child who played with mine.” “I’m sorry you have to question your own child’s mortality now. And your own, frankly.” “I’m just…….SO SORRY.” I felt responsible for the immense amount of grief in the room, in the community, in our extended family. I really did. And, you know what? I still do.
People were invited back to Janet and Mark’s beautiful home for a luncheon afterwards. What Janet and Mark did for me that week is immeasurable. I’m sure I am not even aware of even half of what they did. Feeding throngs of hundreds, in their home, was only the tip of the iceberg, I am sure. They are the greatest of people, the greatest of friends, and I love them with my entire heart. I was one of the last to arrive, because I waited until the Ebell was empty before leaving. On my way out, one of the parents from Alice’s school showed up with her child. She had the wrong time, and looked so upset. It broke my heart, but at the same time uplifted it. It meant so much to me that she had made the attempt.
I rode over with Chrislie and Tommie, the parents of one of Grace’s best friends, sweet Elle. Chrislie and Tommie had been by every day that week, helping where they could, and had been so very supportive. They are truly wonderful people, and I was glad they rode with me. I am not sure it would have been good for me to be alone at that time.
When I first walked in, I saw Ramsay talking with our friend Don. I hugged them. I hadn’t seen Don in ages, and was touched beyond words that he had come. Then I looked up and saw my friend Tess sitting on the staircase directly in front of me with her little girl, who is three years old. The little gal walked up to me, and handed me a beautiful bag of treats. I can’t for the life of me remember what that fabulous little gal said, it was something along the lines of “I’m sorry,” I only knew that it made me tear up a bit. The little ones get right to the point, and refreshingly say whatever comes to mind. They aren’t “managing” you or stuck in space while they try to come up with the right thing to say. They just say it, and you know, the wee ones almost always say the right thing.
I talked to Tess and her awesome husband for a minute, but none of us had many words to say. I talked to Don and Ramsay for a bit, but, same thing, none of us had many words. This is truly unprecedented for Ramsay and me—we basically never run out of things to say. If, on the off-chance, we do run out of things to say, we’ll just make shit up, and no one seems to mind. I do, however, recall trying to explain to Ramsay the slowness of time that I was experiencing. I told him that I felt like I was moving through molasses inside a rocket ship, like I was traveling in a vessel at a great speed through time and space, but that I could only move very slowly inside of it. That’s the only way I can think of to describe what I was feeling.
I saw Melissa and her sister Joy, who I freaking love with everything I have, standing off to the side. Joy has three girls who bookend my two girls in age. If all the girls were together we had a five-, four-, three-, two- and one-year-old. Joy was crying, and staring at me. I stared back. I knew, she, like every other parent there, must be thinking, “Holy Toledo, if this could happen to them, this could have happened to my family.” I knew that is what I would think, if it weren’t happening to me. I went to hug her. I don’t think we exchanged many words either.
Some friends were already leaving, having been there for an hour or more already. My friend Dan walked out with his incredible girlfriend Alex and their posse’. I just love Alex. And, I love Dan. Dan is the consummate goofball. Dan will seamlessly suck you into the craziest conversation you have ever had in your life within two seconds of greeting you. Dan was not goofy that day. Dan adored my girls, and would coo and gush over them every time he saw them. He once told me he was afraid to have children, because they might not be as perfect as mine, and he’d feel terrible about that. He just cracks me up. This day, Dan just hugged me, and patted my head, and said the sweetest things a person could say at such a time. I was deeply grateful.
I walked through the family room to head outside, where the bar, and therefore, most of the guests were. As I headed through, I looked over my left shoulder for some reason. I saw our friend Terry sitting on the couch, elbows on his knees, completely frozen, and looking at me. I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t move, and I don’t know why. Terry is married to Mark’s niece (and my dear friend) Sarah, and is about seven feet tall. OK, maybe he isn’t quite seven feet tall, but he is surely six foot five or six.
We see Terry and Sarah at various events at Janet’s through the year, but they live in another county, so we don’t see them terribly often. He always fussed over my girls, however, and they ate it up. Turns out little girls love big, giant men.
Anyway, so, there we are, both frozen and staring at each other. He got up, rushed over to me where I remained frozen, and gave me the biggest hug. I very nearly lost it. I have no idea why this moment was frozen in time for me. I have no idea what made me look over, or what makes this memory, out of all the memories of that day, stick out for me so much, but it did. It does. It remains one of the most profound, mysterious, vivid and visceral memories of that day, and I just have no idea why.
I got outside, and Mark offered me a drink. I saw Bob doing magic tricks for my extended family, my dear friend Crista, and my friends from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. I used to teach a Pilates mat class at CHLA and had become good friends with many of the students. These ladies have terribly rough jobs, and sadly, have to go to a more than one funeral a year. It’s fair to say that none of us thought they would be coming to MY child’s funeral. The thought sickened me.
My cousin’s girls, Lizzie and Emmalee, were LOVING Bob’s magic show, and were helping out at the drink table and were just the sweetest things on this planet. Every so often, one of them would just run up to me and throw herself around me, and look at me with a beatific grin. I thought, “They must be angels.” They even look like angels, all white-blonde, sweet and holy. Their enthusiastic love, for a relative they had never met, was healing beyond words. I commend Jessica and her husband for raising two wonderful girls, and my Aunt Polly and her husband Doug for raising Jessica to be such a wonderful mother.
Love, as it turns out, really does help. It’s not just a cliche. It heals. And it heals swiftly. What are we on? It’s-not-just-a-cliché-#4: Love truly does heal all wounds.
And in a case like this, there is no such thing as getting too much love, because the hole is so very, very deep.
The rest of the afternoon is a bit of a blur. I remember talking to Fran and Kelly and Big Mike. I remember a very tender moment between Janet’s daughter Anne, and myself. I remember my Aunt Nancy from Alabama walking around with her own ashtray container so that when she snuck outside to smoke, she didn’t leave butts in the fancy neighborhood. Aunt Nancy. Cracks. Me. Up. I remember her husband, my Uncle Danny, telling me that he had been worried about me, but that after seeing the unbelievable outpouring of love, support, and generosity I was receiving from my friends here, he knew I was going to be ok. I remember laughing with my two stepsisters Mandy and Sarah. I remember loving words with my stepbrother Darin, his wife Alison and their two adorable kids. I remember hugging my brother, Sarah, Tucker and Zeke often, and without words. I remember finding out that my friend Linda, who is in the wine business, had donated all of the wine for the luncheon, which was unbelievably generous, and for which I am deeply grateful. I remember trying to eat, but not getting very far with it.
Eventually, my mom told me that we needed to clear people out. Janet and Mark had plans that night, and we needed to get the crowd out. My mom, stepfather, and my brother’s family were all staying with Janet and Mark. Again, Janet and Mark did so much for us that week, and always, I am unsure how I can ever repay them. We had all been there for hours, so it was time to move on. I invited the family, the stragglers, and my friends that had flown in for the service back to my house. Lord knows we had enough food and drink there to feed an army.
I got back to the house with a few friends, and greeted Grace. Grace was clearly overwhelmed by the grieving masses at this point, but I did get a good hug before she went to play on the front porch, as had become her custom that week. Prior to this week, Grace had never before played on the porch, but by this point, it had become her sanctuary. She’d pull some of her toys out there and play either by herself, or with Famke. At one point, she was out there playing by herself and I overheard her saying, “Poo poo, pee pee, vomit, throw up, fart, trash, stinky….” and every other “bad” word she knew in quick succession. I laughed, because it reminded me of the toddler version of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” She was stressed out. And as previously discussed, releasing a string of expletives can feel good when you are stressed out. She was toddler cussing, and I could not blame her. Nor could I scold her without being a massive hypocrite, for I could have really used a cussing fit right about then. For the record, I do not cuss in front of Grace, so this penchant for cussing must be a function of nature rather than nurture.
She still does this on occasion, and I fondly refer to her as “Toddler Carlin” at these moments. Secretly, or now, not so secretly, I am proud of her for finding a release and having the presence of mind to go outside, alone, to do it, far from the ears of friends and family who might not find it as funny as Mama does.
The remainder of the night? I have no idea. Just no idea. I know Ramsay came back with my beloved friend Danny McGough (whom I call McGough-who). I know that Fran and Kelly came. I know they came with vodka and coconut water (again). I know my ex-boyfriend Michael came, which meant a lot to me. Michael is a geologist and mountaineer. We’ve always remained friends, and I looked forward to him taking me and the girls on a backpacking trip in the Sierras when they were old enough to do so. I know that Jen Rooney Cianci came by. I was so glad to be able to steal a few minutes outside with my dear old friend. I know Crista came bearing four pounds of See’s Candy. I know that I really only like the toffee and the caramel variety, and I know that my father went through four boxes and systematically ate most of the aforementioned favorite candies. I know that I said, “I’m sorry, Dad, did you just come to my child’s funeral and eat all my favorite candies?” I know that he and I both laughed at that point, because, Dad and I, we can speak the truth to one another.
I know that at one point, I looked around the gathering, and realized, as I often do, that I have a higher-than-average percentage of redheaded friends. What that means, I have no idea, but it is definitely true.
At some point during the previous two days, I had decided to cremate Alice rather than bury her. I finally decided that I didn’t want her in the ground here, should I move away from L.A. one day. I wanted her with me and Grace. Still the idea of cremation seemed awfully intense to me. So, so final. For some reason, it felt more final than burying her. I guess, maybe, this is because one can dig up a buried person (should one think that would be helpful and one wished to risk arrest). I wanted her remains with me, however, so I made that extremely difficult decision. She was returned to the funeral home too late on Friday for it to happen then, so she was scheduled to be cremated Monday. I felt uneasy about this.
I decided not to tell Grace about this; I just felt like four was way too young to try to comprehend cremation. Other than cremation, and the few details we knew about how Alice died, Grace has been told everything. When she is older, I will answer her questions about cause of death, what happened the day Alice died, and cremation as they come up.
Eventually the house cleared out, except for Meleva and Famke. I may have even gone to bed before the house was clear that night. I just don’t recall. It was, after all, a very big day.