Thank you for your condolences

I have decided that when I die, I don’t want the wake thing, at least not as we do it these days. I don’t want two days of lows and highs, then the terrible closing of a lid and all of these people crying and crying…I mean, there were some wonderful tributes made to my brother in law – a note from a woman who had never seemed particularly close to him and yet whose words of tribute were so on-target we read them again and again, and re-appreciated the fact that my BIL was a man who never said a bad word about anyone, who was quick to lend a hand anywhere, who seemed to collect off-beat, undervalued people the way some people collect bottle-tops; he made them feel like they “fit in” sometimes for the first time, ever, in their lives. He didn’t care who you were, how you voted, where you worshiped (or if you even bothered) or who you slept with. He simply took you as you were, and offered you whatever he had. He didn’t go to church every Sunday, but in many ways he embodied the advice of St. Francis: “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words.”

He never needed to preach.

In the end, finally, perhaps the best thing you can say about someone is, “he was a good, good man.” The tributes were wonderful, moving – often funny – very instructive and warm.

But my goodness, grief is an ugly, ugly thing full of gasps and low animal moans and otherwordly keenings, and I want none of it when I die.

I told my DH yesterday that when I die I want no wake. A funeral mass will be okay, but then just put my rented casket on the back of a pickup truck and bring me to an Irish pub, somewhere, and have everyone drink a flock of Guinness and dance a few reels, and then cremate me.

And I don’t care what you do with the ashes, just don’t put them in a vault, in some mausoleum. Scatter me to the four winds, or leave me in the back of the closet. Throw me into the garden with the mulch. That’ll do.

My family and I thank you – so many of you – for the hundreds of condolences we have received via email…I cannot promise all will be responded to, but please know that all are tremendously appreciated. I was surprised and moved to see that so many blogs had linked to the news of his passing – but I should not have been surprised. By and large, the bloggers I know are large-hearted and generous people, very quick be kind, and I know that most readers/commenters of this blog, no matter their creeds or political leanings, are good folk who know when to draw a blade and when to sheath a sword. My gratitude to you is inexpressible. I pray God blesses all of you for your kindnesses.

As to the few unhinged extremists (on both sides, it must be said) who thought the occasion of a death in my family was part of some huge cosmic connection involving the state of the nation, Dan Rather, Karl Rove, Lee Harvey Oswald, Joe Wilson, Harvey Milk, flouridation in the water, Russ Feingold, Wilford Brimley-for-Quaker-Oats, Mitt Romney and the White Salamandar, Juan, the-guy-who-cuts-grass, Jack Bauer, Michael Milkin, Al Franken, St. Germaine, John Kerry’s Magic Hat, the REAL Pope Paul VI (as opposed to his “communist double”), colon-health, DDT, Sir John Falstaff and introducing Hayley Mills as Pollyanna…I can only say it plainly: Please seek help.

When your political obsessions cannot be held in abeyance long enough to allow someone to mourn (or if you cannot prevent yourself from suggesting that the universe required mourning in order to silence a very minor blog which dares to disagree with you) then you are deeply troubled, deeply enmeshed in your hate or your paranoia, or you are perhaps truly mad, and you need help.

I don’t have anything wise to say, sorry. I may have learned a few things over the past days, but I haven’t processed them, yet. We’re all very tired, and I think I’m not up to writing…the very little reading I have done has been depressing on all counts. Even the good news is depressing in how it is presented.

It is a day for Yeats, and for wondering if in fact the center is not holding, for wondering “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born”…but perhaps I will look at Whitman, instead, and hold on to the image of sparkles from a wheel…and all that is promised, therein.

Where the city’s ceaseless crowd moves on the livelong day,
Withdrawn I join a group of children watching, I pause aside with them.

By the curb toward the edge of the flagging,
A knife-grinder works at his wheel sharpening a great knife,
Bending over he carefully holds it to the stone, by foot and knee,
With measur’d tread he turns rapidly, as he presses with light but
firm hand,
Forth issue then in copious golden jets,
Sparkles from the wheel.

The scene and all its belongings, how they seize and affect me,
The sad sharp-chinn’d old man with worn clothes and broad
shoulder-band of leather,
Myself effusing and fluid, a phantom curiously floating, now here
absorb’d and arrested,
The group, (an unminded point set in a vast surrounding,)
The attentive, quiet children, the loud, proud, restive base of the streets,
The low hoarse purr of the whirling stone, the light-press’d blade,
Diffusing, dropping, sideways-darting, in tiny showers of gold,
Sparkles from the wheel.

– Walt Whitman
Related: A few staggered breaths and he is gone

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • pendell

    Another encouraging thing to read is Revelation 22, when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit wrap up the book. All the evil in the world has finally been removed, and the dead in Christ rise to enjoy their reward.

    Joy does come in the morning.


    Brian P.

  • anniebird

    Death is exhausting, no matter how those who survive choose to meet it, wouldn’t you say?

    My own experiences with it – including the very recent death of a beloved sister – make me think that the ceremony surrounding dying is really for those who continue to live. Anything we can do to make it easier for them – including giving them the comfort of knowing what would have pleased us – is worth the discomfort of discussing the end of our lives.

    I hope there was some comfort in the rituals of saying goodbye for you and all who loved your sweet brother in law, A.

  • Julie D.

    But you’ll come to MY wake, won’t you? Because I have already given my family orders to make it a good ‘un.

    Coming from a family that didn’t even pick up my grandfather’s body from the hospital when he died (yes, you heard me) I was thrilled and delighted to see the process that Catholics have in place for mourning, both the good and the bad. It was at my beloved father-in-law’s funeral that I realized what a good thing it is to let people have their fill of grief, even to the point of being tired … because it was then that we were able to move on from his death.

    So I will be having a wake…

  • Wordsmith

    You really have an amazing way of expressing yourself with language.

    I certainly don’t want a lot of crying going on at my funeral.

    I think we can never underestimate the number of lives we affect in this world, and what a difference each of us makes.

    I still remember to this day, a smile that a stranger gave me as I was passing her by on my way to class. I regret not stopping to chat with her, but there was just something pure and beautiful in the look she gave me.

    When I first began teaching gymnastics to kids out here where I live, I told one girl “good job” at the end of class. I said it earnestly, but didn’t give it a second thought of having said it. Apparently, just those simple words had a dramatic effect on the child, and her mom explained to me how her daughter had come home that day so excited. That really shook me up, how even the smallest things can linger and have the power to move mountains within others.

    Take nothing for granted and always live a life worth living.

  • Jeanette

    I have become so used to Southern funerals where the wake is the day after the person dies and burial the next day that I had forgotten a Northern funeral where you have two exhausting days of probably two visiting times each day and how hard it is on the survivors.

    Give me a wake if it makes my family feel better, but I won’t know and I won’t care.

    Anchoress, may God bless your family and may you have no more deaths or sicknesses for a long time to come. You haven’t healed from the last one and now a new one, but remember God does not give us more than we can bear.

  • Renee

    I am so sorry for your loss, Anchoress. Your brother-in-law must have been a unique man, more like your brother-in-heart.

    No original words of comfort from me, but one phrase keeps running through my mind for you:

    The Sacred Heart of Jesus~
    A Man of Sorrows, Acquainted with Grief.

    With Love and Sorrow,
    Renee P

  • Renee

    Acquainted with the Night

    I have been one acquainted with the night.
    I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
    I have outwalked the furthest city light.

    I have looked down the saddest city lane.
    I have passed by the watchman on his beat
    And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

    I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
    When far away an interrupted cry
    Came over houses from another street,

    But not to call me back or say good-bye;
    And further still at an unearthly height,
    O luminary clock against the sky

    Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
    I have been one acquainted with the night.

    Robert Frost

  • karen

    Even in your great sorrow, you think of us. I am ever appreciative of your thoughts and words, A.

    Please let your sister know she is close to my heart in these days of loss.

  • Ellen

    Anchoress, when I die I want a funeral Mass, then lots of prayers – LOTS of prayers. Like St. Monica I don’t care where they put my body as long as they remember me before the altar of God.

    I’ve always thought would be kind of nice to have my corpse exposed in a Tower of Silence like the Zoarastrians do and let the birds feast on me.

  • Jean

    My condolences, Anchoress. I went through three years of losing a relative each spring and fall. It never gets easier. But I give you my unsolicited advice: Let your family choose how they mourn you. Let them choose how they say good-bye. It matters not to you, but it’s closure for them.

  • benning

    “Wilford Brimley-for-Quaker-Oats” – Huh? Heheheee!

    Yeah, you’re home again!

    Glad you’re back. We missed you. We always miss our friends and, when they’re gone for more than a day or two, we worry. I saw quite a few links to your post about your BIL. And that was fortifying, y’know?


  • singleton

    I really appreciated your St. Francis quote

  • newton

    I’m not used to the long wakes, Anchoress. Down in Puerto Rico, the funeral happens the same day after the death, if possible. Burial happens the next day, if all the relatives are present – many arrive from the States or from somewhere else.
    Your sister will still need your for the time to come. Comfort her. She will always appreciate your love.
    Also: who could be the numbnuts who would use your brother-in-law’s death to throw trash at you? Don’t those people know the meaning of mourning for a loved one? Have they ever? Do they ever care? Jerks!

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