Edel: Party as Precordial Thump

Edel: Party as Precordial Thump July 29, 2014


I had intended to blog prolifically this weekend from Edel, updating with pictures of crazy shoes, karaoke, and hilarity. But on Tuesday of last week, my sister-in-law’s father died unexpectedly.

Vic isn’t just my sister-in-law. She was one of my best friends in college and my maid of honor before she married the Ogre’s brother. Her parents helped her throw us a wedding shower, and helped me throw her a baby shower. They were at our wedding and at each of our children’s baptisms. We saw them every summer and every holiday. This wasn’t just the father of my sister-in-law, like some relative twice removed. It was my friend’s dad, my sister’s dad, who told my kids they could call him Pop-pop just like his own grandkids did.

The funeral was on Saturday in Dallas. My dad drove me to Austin on Friday, went to his office to work while I did the cocktail-and-crazy-shoe thing, then picked me up at 10 and drove me back to Dallas. We got in at 2 am, and after being greeted with the wails of a very cranky Lincoln, I fell asleep around 3. We were up by 7 to get ready and make the drive into Dallas for the 9:30 rosary and funeral. Afterward, I stayed long enough to find Vic and her mom and give what condolences I could, kiss my kids and the Ogre, and then jump in the car with my sister to head back to Austin.

Traffic on 35 was murder, as always. The 3 hour drive took us 5, and I missed the whole day, arriving with barely enough time to change for dinner. I was not as I had been the day before, either. I wasn’t bubbly or excited. I had just watched Vic and her family have their last Mass with their father, his coffin being taken slowly up and back down the center aisle of the church by the stricken faces of his brothers, sons, and son-in-law.

I left the reception feeling conflicted and guilty. I wanted to stay with Vic, even if there was nothing I could do. I felt like a traitor almost, slipping out the door and pulling the black mantilla off my head, uncovering the bright-blonde-and-pink I had done especially for Edel. Like I was shaking the dust of grief off my feet and whistling my way back to merriment. It made me feel shallow and soulless.

I couldn’t quite muster up a convincing smile when I got back to Edel, and the effort exhausted me more than I had expected. I spent most of dinner sitting next to Hallie and talking quietly, and I was grateful for the excuse her presence gave me to avoid small talk. When the dancing started after dinner and Jen’s excellent talk, I used my nearly-dead phone as an excuse to go back to my room for a minute, get my phone charger, and wonder glumly how I was going to make it through the rest of the night. Part of me was bitterly disappointed that I had missed most of the event I had been looking forward to for nearly a year. Another part of me hated that first part for being so selfish as to come back at all, much less come back and be sad about what I had missed. I kept seeing Vic’s face while she walked behind her dad’s coffin, her daughters, our little nieces, near her, her belly swelling with a son, a nephew, a grandson who would never meet his grandfather. I kept thinking of the women downstairs, and how badly I wanted to be down there.

I knew I couldn’t just stay in my room, and I didn’t really want to. I headed back to the party and walked headlong into my friend Martha, who scrutinized my face and knew what was going on, or pretty close, at least. She asked if I was okay and I brushed it off, unwilling to make serious right next to a room with some rowdy karaoke spilling out. I went back in, plugged my phone into a wall, and got another drink. I said hi to someone, then someone else, and pretty soon a few hours had gone by and most of my melancholy had faded with the help of music, laughter, and cocktails. I was even dancing, which I never do (for good reason). By the time we were kicked out of the ballroom at midnight and the lobby bar at 2, it was gone completely. Rebecca and I headed back upstairs, where we split a burger from room service and talked till 4, finally falling asleep in our cozy king-sized bed nearly in mid-sentence.

I woke up at 8 and lay  in bed for a half-hour, wanting to go back to sleep much worse than I wanted to go to Mass. I half-talked myself into skipping at least six times before I gave up and stumbled out of bed and into the shower. I was glad I went, because Rebecca cried and even though I was worse than useless, at least she wasn’t alone.

After Mass we packed up, checked out, and said goodbyes. My sister picked me up and I went to brunch with my siblings, my sister-in-law, and my brother’s new girlfriend. My brother and his wife took me to Book People after, where I wandered around in an awestruck daze, picking out books and souveneirs for the kids.

Traffic on 35 was murder, as always. The 3-hour drive took us 6 and I missed prayers and bedtime. I asked the Ogre to let anyone who could stay up, stay up, till I got home. After a hectic, emotional, and draining weekend, I craved the balm of little hands around my neck and smacky kisses. We were only 10 minutes away when we entered a traffic-change and narrowly avoided getting smashed into by a drunk driver.

Shaken, I called the police. My sister and I watched the car swerve wildly back and forth across the three-line highway, far enough back to keep safe but close enough to read the license plate. I felt like a jerk for a minute, because no one likes a tattle-tale, but in the end funerals are much worse.

When we finally got home, only the girls were still awake. I read them a book I had bought in Austin, about how it rained so hard one day the poppies ran red until the whole world was red but the poor poppies were white. A hedgehog was trying to paint them red on the very last page.

Instead of getting up afterward I stayed there and lay with them, thinking about death and life. When it happened, I thought maybe the drunk driver was some kind of cosmic sign, like a hyperbolically divine finger-wagging — bad on you, Calah, for leaving your family to go have fun. You could have died, and then you really would have felt like shit.

In the dark, with the sound of my childrens’ deep, even breathing, I went back through the weekend in my mind. The cocktail party, and my feet hurting. Tackling Heather instead of sticking out my hand and saying “nice to meet you” like a normal person, then giving everyone hugs and realizing later that my armpits were totally sweaty and rank. Getting ready with Rebecca. Meeting Leticia and feeling that expected blink-blink recognition of a kindred spirit. Meeting Haley and feeling that same, though unexpected, recognition, then waxing eloquent over her tattoo for an uncomfortably long period of time. Then that recognition again, with Will Duquette‘s wife, and Sarah. Leaving reluctantly, falling asleep in the car while my dad drove, only waking up at a gas station like I used to as a kid when we’d take long summer roadtrips. Sleeping briefly but sweetly, with my baby curled up next to me. The funeral. My niece’s elfin face, with a child’s happiness but a heaviness behind her eyes. Vic, with her courage and her tears. Her mom. Her brothers. Their family, and all those unshed tears weighing them down. The sheer weight of grief. The incompleteness of it all, without her dad’s kind, generous smile. Saying goodbye to Evie, as she was telling Charlotte that she was feeling sad about her Pop-pop. Saying goodbye to my kids. Charlotte crying that she’d miss me, and happily losing interest when I promised her I’d bring her something. Liam falling down the stairs backward as we left, and leaving him crying in his father’s arms. Lincoln, struggling against his car seat and wailing. My sister, and laughter on the long drive. Rebecca and Martha, asking if I was okay. Hallie, and the hidden well of kindness I saw in her as she talked with everyone who caught her eye. Sarah, talking about drowning in plain sight, trying hard to laugh away her tears. Jen, saying “it is good that you are here,” and me, not entirely believing it, the way I haven’t believed it all this time. Trying to run away a little, even if only to my room, the way I always do before I realize I have nowhere else to go. Coming back and having fun, then really having fun, then having a little bit too much fun. Dancing even though I don’t dance. Dancing for a long time, and coming back to dance, even though my signature move is the water-sprinkler and I only spice it up with the grocery shopper now and then. Loving absolutely everyone for not caring, since the dancing wasn’t the point.

Or maybe since it was the point, but not the way dancing is usually the point. We were all there because we needed to dance, desperately, and probably we’d all long since forgotten how. I am sure that I wasn’t the only woman there battling guilt and melancholy. I’m sure I wasn’t the only woman there who had serious misgivings about whether this time, or any time, is an acceptable time for apparent frivolity. After all, there are the kids, and the husband, the bills, the laundry, the job, the dog, and the inescapable fragility of life. To turn our backs on these things, on any of them, for any reason or any length of time…it always feels a bit like selfishness. Sometimes I guess it is. But this time, it was something else.

Edel was a little bit rebellious. It was a little bit of anarchy, a little bit of revolution, this little group of wives and mothers banding together for no reason other than to refuse to bow to the suffocating weight of isolation. Life has always included death. Mothers have always been uniquely aware of this, poised as we are on the precipice between death and life, facing death to bring forth life, sometimes finding death instead of life, but always fending off a multitude of physical, spiritual, and emotional deaths to preserve life in our families as best we can. But when that struggle to safeguard life begins to feel itself like a kind of death, whether it’s because of isolation, depression, or despair, it sometimes requires extraordinary measures to shock us out of it.

That’s what Edel was, at least for me. It was a way to find hope amidst the tempest, with all the glorious superficiality of Sir-Mix-a-Lot and Kelly rapping, and all the glorious depth of Jen reminding us that we’re building cathedrals. It was a party, sure, but it wasn’t just a party — it felt more like CPR or a precordial thump; this loud, raucous, desperate attempt to bring us all back to life within our lives.

I was tired yesterday when I went into Book People, and I blamed exhaustion for the impulse-purchase of a children’s book I’ve always hated, The Runaway Bunny. Our copy was torn to shreds by little fingers a few years ago, and I was too relieved to replace it.  But after I read my kids that story tonight, I came back and watched them sleep for a minute. I always thought the mother bunny in that book was kind of pathetic, really. I mean come on, doesn’t she have a life? Does she really have nothing better to do than to follow her kid around while he’s trying to get as far away from her as he can, and transform herself into everything he needs?

It wasn’t until last night that I realized the key to the story. It’s that she follows him around, transforming into everything he needs, as opposed to everything he wants. She isn’t trying to win affection or buy his love, she’s not tagging along behind him in a desperate bid for “helicopter parent of the year”…she’s just safeguarding his life, is all. She’s saying that she won’t let him go without a fight, without a struggle, without making sure he has a safe place to land. That she’s being a mother is actually the point of the book, and I thought for the first time maybe ever, but certainly for the first time in years, “this is exactly where I want to be — and it is good that I am here.”


For the soul of Anthony Baca, and the souls of all parents who left their children behind.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. 

Related Edel reading:

Jeni at Patron Saint {of Poopy Diapers}

Nell at Whole Parenting Family

Jess Fayette

Melanie at The Story of Our Souls

Sarah at Fumbling Toward Grace (grab tissues, k?)

Lauren at The Loveliest Hour

Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas

CajunTexasMom at Ora et Labora et Maternitas

Leticia at Crazy Face (seriously though, get more tissues)

*I’ll update with more links as they are published!

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