Before the Funeral

It’s an oddity: When I stopped posting regularly, my reasons had much to do with the death of my grandmother. So I start to post again, just in time for another death in the family, one so sudden I’m having a hard time processing it. Two weeks ago, Joyce was diagnosed with brain cancer. She died today.

Mum and Joyce have a real bedrock friendship. I think they’ve talked every Sunday for the last 50 years, telling each other their lives as they happened. They have that cinematic difference: Joyce stayed in the dying steel town, married youngish, and raised up three kids largely by herself. Mum became an English professor and moved thousands of miles away from Homestead, from Munhall. She also ended up raising two kids largely by herself, but the family support was way, way different. Joyce’s mom, who is still alive at like 101, abandoned the family when Joyce was a kid. She never helped Joyce or her brother Kenny with anything. My grandparents had their foibles, but they always were there for Mum.

And Joyce was there for them, for us. When my Grandma Fran was dying — my mother’s mother — Joyce helped us manage the day to day that was difficult from several states’ distance. We wouldn’t have made it through without her. I’m friendly with Joyce’s kids, especially Nikki, her oldest. We have kiddos just months apart in age, and our dudes are both techies. She was so much cooler and older than me when I was kid, but a couple decades can level things a bit. We’re both oldest daughters who have daily, concrete relationships with our mothers. Who had. That tense change is such an unbelievable bitch.

The week before has been this tragicomedy of technological failures and unanswered phones. Joyce’s cell went unanswered for five days, and because of some fucking cloud bullshit, Mum didn’t have Nikki’s number. They hadn’t thought to contact Mum because everything was happening so horrifically fast: I still cannot believe that just a week ago Joyce was lucid enough, alive enough, to call my mother and give her the weekly rundown she’s done for nigh on half a century. Mum called me today, early. Joyce had a brain bleed. They didn’t expect her to live more than 24 hours.

She called me again, not three hours later.

She’s gone, she said.

I stood in the kitchen hugging my husband, sobbing. My child heard my weeping and came and wrapped their thin arms around me.

I don’t have anything. I am poured out. I walked through a day of errands and domestic chores while a pathetic fallacy rained down and blew fog all over everything. I’ve been letting the chickens out of the coop because the snow has heretofore kept them penned into our yard. But today, I looked out and found them in the neighbor’s fenced yard, the one who has a dog I call The Moose, and I had to go out there, jumping from ice flow to ice flow, and beckon them back. More like a bathetic fallacy, I thought: this is ridiculous.

Mum came over to drink wine and reminisce, after a day of near misses and almost gettings together. Grief must be scheduled like anything else. A version of “Girl from the North Country” came on the channel we were listening to, one by both Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. I’m not much of a musical person, but that song is me right now. Here, now, listen.

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