I woke the next morning after the best ten hours I’d ever experienced passed out on Dad’s couch in the living room. Between the jet lag, general stress and the increasing back pain from the car accident, the stars were aligned just right so I could sleep like I would never wake. But I did. I opened my eyes, listened for any movements in the house but it seemed everyone was up and out already. I was glad to have a few minutes. I didn’t want to get up. Annie, Sally’s terrier, stuck her nose in my face and that roused me for a quick second.
Dad came back in shortly after and began pacing, a routine he goes into when he’s contemplating his next distraction. This morning he was understandably agitated. He stopped short when he saw that I was awake. Shot me a quick sharp remark for still being asleep. I imagine with his insomnia he was likely a bit jealous though he’s always thought I sleep too much. Honestly, I was feeling just as agitated and mopey and I really just didn’t want to get up and deal with the day.
Dad was coping with his own feelings and didn’t have space for mine. He asked me, as though I was already completely able to comprehend serious discussion, if when I wrote my speech for Sally’s memorial service if I could put him in it somehow. I was a little surprised but glad; Dad isn’t the type to share and in the past, he has been so extremely cautious about letting anyone know even his most uninteresting routine activities. I was honored and terrified and still thankfully horizontal. I asked him how exactly he wanted me to do that, whether he had some ideas. He didn’t; “anything you come up with will be fine.” No pressure. He told me that Sally’s family would come over in a couple hours for a quick luncheon and that the place needed to be cleaned up and promptly walked out, presumably to the barn.
Sally’s family started trickling in around 1:30 pm. Dad and I set out the platter of Subway sandwiches someone left at a few days before. Ethel Mae brought a bowl of greens, avocado and tomato salad, deli meats and cheeses that were deemed still edible from Sally’s fridge to contribute. I received everyone with my jolly sociable mask; Dad did well considering his anxiety. I was glad to meet everybody and to feel so included in their family. I stood outside their circle at the table and just took in the moment, watching as Sally’s brother, Phillip, and sisters, Martha and Ethel Mae, were surrounded by their nieces and nephews and daughters and sons. I got to watch them support one another, catch up and grieve and laugh. Sally’s brother, Paul, noticed my intentional observatory step back. He seemed quite amused when he came up to me as I leaned against the outside wall clutching my third cup of coffee as casually as I could. He smirked and said, “I can tell you’re an artist,” to which I replied, “how can you tell?” He said, “Because you’re over here just taking everything in. I do the same thing.” I suppose my retelling suggests that I was also amused. I guess sharing that quiet realization wasn’t something I expected to happen in Northern NY.
The whole family was so wildly engaged with me and so supportive of my writing. I couldn’t believe how appreciated I felt. I was really expecting that coming back to New York I would be in the position of supporting others. And I suppose I was, but I really didn’t expect to be so lovingly received and given a feeling of such esteem. I hardly knew what to do with that but feel extremely appreciative, drink more coffee, smile a lot and wave my hands in animated conversation.
The whole affair was over by about 4 pm. Dad and I were glad to have done it but we were extremely drained. It was time for some good old quiet time so we took Annie to the woods. It was damp and cool and gray out; the trail was drenched so Annie had to stay in the bucket on the 4-wheeler. Dad and I wandered through an open glade he cleared not too long ago and planted a bag full of black walnut seeds. With very few words, he would crack a hole in the wet yellow-leaved earth with the shovel and I’d throw the seed in. He’d pull the shovel out, let the flap of mud fall back into place and press it with his boot before moving onto the next haphazard spot. It was starting to smell like winter.
Just like the simple act of acquiring the beehive the day before, this quick easily accomplished task felt appropriately significant and satisfying. In many ancient traditions, today, October 31st, is New Year’s Eve day, a day in which the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest. It is a time to celebrate the decline of life and the cycle of its renewal. On a day that Dad and I thought of Sally and her amazing spirit that has departed from this particular realm, we encouraged the birth of 30 new majestic beings to join us here. Though Dad wasn’t particularly interested in the symbolism I shared, it was a bit too much “witchcraft” for him; I think Sally would have appreciated my intentional line of thought.
We went to Grandma’s for a short dinner. We ate and talked a little but we were pretty drained and exhausted. On the way home, driving the dark country back roads, I prompted Dad to tell me more about him and Sally. He told me about their first date, though he wasn’t able to go into much detail. He had met her at an archery shoot and later went to her frame shop; he asked her to go on a canoe trip to which she replied,” Oh you have a canoe?” He said, “Well no, but I’ll borrow one.” So they spent a day rowing around Stillwater Lake and picnicking. Even upon prying for more information, he couldn’t give me more. I thought at the time that it was probably not going to be enough to incorporate into my speech at the service. But later, after he went to bed and I sat in the dimly lit quiet with the heat of the cast iron woodstove on my back and the loud kitchen clock logically thunking, I could find the unspoken value of his story.
I was surprised at how composed I was. I woke that morning feeling quite vulnerable but not overwhelmed. It didn’t really feel like Sally was gone. I know I won’t see her again in the same capacity but I do expect to experience her again in some fashion. Perhaps that keeps me from feeling so much loss. I’m beginning to get quite comfortable with faith.