Tag Archives: grave

You Know You Just Can’t Stop It

You Just Can’t Stop It by the Doobie Brothers from the LP What Were Once Vices are Now Habits

The kids, last year.
The kids, last year.

As a Dad, quite possibly the worst thing in the world is having your kids hurt and knowing there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.  Most of the time, that’s not something you have to be concerned about.  There are skinned knees.  Sam, my son, once went into a bounce house with a bunch of 12-year-olds and got tossed out, quite literally, and cracked his head open.  I picked him up, carrying him to my house, spotting the gash and realizing immediately that he needed stitches.  I arrived in the ER looking like I’d walked out of an AP photograph from Beirut – blood coating my shirt and Sam crying.  At the end of the day he was more upset he didn’t get a balloon from the party, looking up with his big blue eyes until the nurses all said “awww” and gave him a balloon from the Cancer Ward.

Abbi once put her bottom teeth through her bottom lip . . . she tried jumping from her bed to her sister, Hannah’s crib.  Needless to say, she missed, landing face-first onto the floor.  After an hour in the ER, the nurse sprayed some saline on it, charged me $150 and sent me on my way.

But this weekend was the kind of circumstance that put us in familiar territory – territory none of us had thought we’d face so quickly.

Andrea and her Father, Hal
Andrea and her Father, Hal

The kids’ grandfather, Andrea’s Dad, passed away exactly one week ago.  This came, for me, about a week after my own grandmother passed away.

Grief itself wasn’t what was hardest, though, it was a location.

After you lose someone, things spark your memories and your sadness at the most random times.  Sure, in the first week or so, nearly everything makes you crazy.  But even today, for me at least, the most random things can throw you into a place and a time for which you were never prepared.  Walking by the Bath and Body Works the scent of a body lotion wafts into my personal space, and I’m in bed feeling the warmth of Andrea’s presence near me.  A James Taylor song comes on the radio and I’m back at Methodist Hospital at a birthing class . . . by myself . . . because my wife went to a James Taylor show with her best friend informing me I had to attend our birthing classes.  The smell of pumpkin puts me with the kids at Valla’s pumpkin patch in Omaha.  The sound of a train has me both in Texas, stopping by the railroad tracks and getting out of the car with Noah and his mother so he can see the Tarantula Train go by in Grapevine.  The smell of hot chocolate has me singing the song from the movie Polar Express with Sam and Hannah.

Friday, though, was a torrent of memories I knew were coming, particularly for the kids, and I couldn’t stop them.  There’s no way to stop them.

Hal Andrews, their grandfather, had a memorial service at the very same mortuary I used for their mother.  It’s not the cemetery so much, though that had its effect on some of the kids.  It was the mortuary itself.  None of us had been inside that business since March of 2011.  There really was no need.  But Friday came barreling at us with the thunderous sound of a locomotive.

The kids were not prepared for what was coming.

Two in particular, Sam and Abbi, just didn’t spend any time at the cemetery.  Not that they had to, mind you, but having avoided the place created a conflict that was as unavoidable as being tied to the train tracks by Sindely Whiplash.

Understand, there were relatives, lots of them, who had not been here since Andrea passed away.  That being the case, they all wanted to go up and see Andrea.  This didn’t bother me, as I’ve been there more than a few times.  It bothered the kids.

“Oh, Dave, what are we doing here again,” was a line Andrea’s uncle asked me, and it was most appropriate.  That was likely the thought going through the kids’ heads that day.  Abbi came inside for quite awhile and then went out to the car under the guise that she needed a bottle of water.  In reality – and she voiced this – she hated the room.  She hated the large, multi-benched, soft-lit room that was going to stage the memorial service.  This was the room where they first said goodbye to their mother.  Hannah and Noah went to the grave, put flowers down, all of that.  Abbi avoided it until all the relatives were up there and she realized she should go.

We all grieve differently, so bear that in mind.  But they avoid the grave, cemetery, all of it like the plague.
“I can’t go up there, I just don’t want to.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like dealing with it.  I’d rather avoid it,” were Abbi and Sam’s responses.
“Well…it’s just a place,” I told them.  “It’s not her, it’s not where she is.  It’s just a stone and a piece of land.”

They wondered why I go up there.  I’ll be honest, I go more than I thought I would.  Not every day.  Hell, not even every week.  But there’s a reality that the kids don’t understand, and likely won’t until they’re married themselves.  We talked all the time…about everything.  Now, when it was midnight and I wanted to go to sleep and she decided upon hitting the pillow that she wanted to have an in-dpeth conversation about whatever was bothering her . . . an hour or more conversation . . . that I wanted to scream to the heavens.  Still, silence that conversation, permanently, and things change, drastically.  The entire dynamic of your life changes.  So sometimes I need to talk . . . even if it’s a monologue and not a dialogue.  On those days, at my most confused or most difficult, I go up there and talk to her.

But when my kids had to face it, I had to simply be there, watching.  I spoke at the memorial.  Andrea wasn’t there to say goodbye to her Dad, so I felt I should as her surrogate.  It wasn’t brilliant, nor was it prosaic.  But it said what I needed it to say.

It also showed that in the worst of circumstances you can face the worst with grace.  I told the people facing me that this was a hard room for the kids and myself to enter.

By day’s end, at the reception, my oldest was consistently ready to go home and leave the grief behind.  I wouldn’t let her, not because I am mean or pejorative in my authority.  It was because sometimes you have to deal with the bad things that happen around you.  Sometimes bad things will happen . . . and this last couple weeks have been filled with bad things.

Sometimes you stand against the storm . . . because you know you just can’t stop it.

The Last Page

It’s funny how a rock can have such a connection.

This is the final page of the story, the first book in the tale of our lives.  I guess, in a way, I was happy that it wasn’t there.  I was pleased that the plot of grass, sometimes muddied by rain and too much watering and sometimes vacant, like any other section of lawn made it somewhat difficult to see where Andrea was.  That way, you see, I didn’t have to face that last few lines of the book.

But the lines are written now.  It’s an epitaph.  I struggled with that . . . a long time.  I didn’t want something cheesy and I didn’t have space or room to do more.

So I stopped to make sure it was installed, since I was getting no answers from the cemetery, and there it was . . . in plain view, shining and new against the grass, the pink creeping over the clouds and the grey granite contrasting the green of the grass . . . reflecting the orange hue of the sky.

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think it would affect me the way it did.

I honestly thought it sounded cheesy and silly to think this was me avoiding something.  Every day I deal with the missing things in our lives and I do it fairly well, I choose to tell myself.  I’d come to terms with the fact that this is the way things are.  I’d come to a crossroads and chosen the path . . . only to veer off the road as often as possible, just to keep things interesting.

I don’t know how to describe what I was going through when I got there.  I’ve missed her more than I thought possible, but I’d come to terms with her being part of our lives but no longer in them.  I’d come to terms with raising the kids and Abbi leaving and Hannah going to high school.  I have dealt with Noah getting angry and losing his temper.  I have dealt with Hannah not turning in assignments.  I have dealt with being the man who had to tell each of those children . . . her parents . . . mine . . . and her sister that Andrea’s not coming home ever again.  These are all burdens that I had to bear without her help.  A year ago, this close to her birthday, when I started writing, I was angry about it.

Tonight . . . I realized I really missed her.  That’s all.  I’m not still pining for her loss or grasping at the loss of the woman I loved.  I can’t bring up any other way of putting it other than that.

I miss her.

In my head I came to realize that I could put her to the back of my mind and fool my emotions into the fact she’s just gone, not gone.  Instead, after this, it’s like I finally read the last few lines of the story.

The funny thing about that is I alternated between emotions in wave after wave for the near half hour I sat there.  I was relieved.  I don’t know what it is about cemeteries . . . or more to point, those stones . . . that draws us.  I felt so much more connected and able to finally tell her things.  To ask her things that I normally would never have dreamed of bringing up before.  I’d talk and then see that photo and . . . I’d miss her again.  I realized I hadn’t checked that epitaph, either, so I went around to see it.

I can’t take all the credit.  The first two lines are mine.  I wrote those in a song for her some twenty years ago.  The last two are from a BB King song I used to sing for her – all the time.  I can’t really sing it any more.

I don’t play or sing her song, not after our video last year.  It’s very hard to deal with that way and it’s hers, not mine anymore.

But I should explain . . . just because I felt these things, just because I miss her, doesn’t mean I’m falling back again.  I left feeling a sense of nostalgic happiness.  The story’s over, but I know that it’s the foundation for the stories to come.  I cannot fight missing her, she’s a part of my life, as well as the lives of Abbi, Hannah, Noah and Sam.  For the first time I realized that I was living with her and living on and it’s okay to miss her.  But by the same token, I am living with it, not fighting it any more.

So it’s true, this story has ended and I am happy with the last lines we’ve written:

Fly on, my sweet angel.  I love the way you spread your wings.



Pronoun Trouble

There’s an old Looney Toons cartoon that has Daffy Duck getting the business end of a shotgun over and over again as he constantly shouts “SHOOT HIM NOW!  SHOOT HIM NOW!”  At a certain point he looks at the camera and says “hmmmm…pronoun trouble.”

I’ve been running into similar grammatical troubles.  Oh, I don’t end up with my mouth upside down on the top of my head or staring down the barrel of a Winchester.  My troubles tend to be more verbal trouble.  Or perhaps most appropriate is tense trouble.

It started – or at least I recognized it – when I was in the office of the monument company trying to hold it together while buying Andrea’s gravestone.  I agonized over the picture that was to be put on the stone.  I could have picked one from our time in Texas, which is probably closer to what the kids will remember her like, but I settled on one from when we first were dating because it just…I don’t know…glows.  Her body language, her smile, the way she looks, all of it are just her at the peak of happiness.

My Favorite Picture of Andrea

When I went in to the company to look at granite colors, costs, installation, all of it, I ended up making the woman at the company cry.  I’m not sure how she does her job because I certainly couldn’t.  I held it together – barely – and then came time for the picture.  She picked it up and immediately said “oh…she’s beautiful!”  That’s true, but I caught myself replying “yes, she is….was.”

Past tense.

I’d been using the past tense for awhile, and I hadn’t really noticed it, I guess.  It’s not that it feels uncomfortable, it’s more that it’s just difficult.  The hardest thing in the world is looking at those pictures and the videos and everything as I dig through boxes and such and come to the realization that where the discomfort was hitting me so hard this time I realized that I only used present tense because the woman in front of me had.  I’d normally have said she “was” all the time.

I also started to – and I know this is crazy – hate the letter “W”.  “Is” become “was”.  She was younger “then” became younger “When”.  She was my best friend…when she was around.  The tense changes the entire characterization and description of life in general.

The thing that bothered me a little wasn’t that I had to use it so much as the fact that I was able to use it so readily and easily.  Part of me thinks that it’s because I was there . . . I saw it all take place.  I saw the color drain and the life pass out of her body.  It’s hard not to have that image creep into your consciousness even when you’re remembering the good things.  The use of the pronouns and verbs makes the image flicker – if even just for a second – and in the blink of an eye the emotions of that day wash over you all over again.

So . . . as Chuck Jones used to say . . . I want so badly to be Bugs Bunny, but in the end, we’re all really Daffy Duck . . . with pronoun trouble.

The Last Thing

The Last Thing by Manoucheri from the LP The Blind Leading the Blind

I posted several months ago about the very last thing I’ve avoided since my wife passed.  It is a source of consistent consternation for my wife’s parents and I’m sure disappointing for the cemetery, but it’s the finalization of the gravestone for Andrea.

You’d think this would be easy, I guess.  I’ts just a stone, a piece of granite, after all.  The thing is . . . there’s a reason they use  the line “written in stone.”  I know, deep down, that a stone is for us, for everyone that goes to visit the site more than it is for her, she’s not really here any more after all.  I know this, but I can’t bring myself to believe it.

It’s just so . . . final.  I mean, I’ve done it.  I’ve spoken again with the monument company and looked at designs.  I’ve decided what it needs to say and I’ve looked at what I want to do.  I have done all this and now I’m still not sure what I want to do.  I was waiting for the refund check from the IRS to come in, which it did, and then I’d do the final stuff.  Now, it’s here and I am having a really hard time facing it.  There are countless options for this, in case you hadn’t realized it.  I have no idea what Andrea would have wanted, we never talked about it.  She never asked for an epitaph.  We never even talked about it.

I know that once that stone is in place there’s nothing more.  It’s over.  It’s completely finished, all the pieces of our marriage, parenting, all of it are gone.  I would love to say that I am OK with that but as I tried to look at the designs last night and even as I spoke to the rep on the phone yesterday I found myself choking up and trying so hard to avoid the rush of emotion rising from my belly up to my eyes.  It’s so hard to look at what other people have done and then realize that you’re putting a price on the final resting place.

When we looked for a place to put Andrea, something you have to decide just a day or so after you lose your loved one, it’s a crazy, emotional and blurred mess.  You should, as I did, take someone you love and trust with you.  My Dad was that person.  I don’t think my Mom would have been able to handle it and my Dad was having a hard time, I could tell.  He was the reasonable one there.  It’s so easy to go either direction – to spend the world on everything because you don’t want to skimp . . . and to spend nothing because you’re seeing the dollar signs grow.  When they said Andrea needed a different coffin due to circumstances I won’t spell out the cost went up.  When they talked about whether I’d want to eventually be buried with her the costs would go up.

You sit there, at age 40, staring at this and suddenly you have to face the rest of your life.  Are you certain you’ll never love again?  Are you certain that you’ll be in California at the end?  Are you sure that you’re supposed to spend eternity with this person?  You look at the ring on your finger and realize that the vow is now broken.  “‘Til death do us part” has actually come to pass.  You are no longer married and that starts to hit you next.  I ultimately, not knowing the future, gave Andrea her own grave, her own spot, and figured that as long as I could I’d visit.

So now I stare at designs and try to force my eyes to stop watering and read other people’s sentiments and realize that they’re too cheesy or too religious or too sad.  I asked about one that had a tall, black gravestone and realized that it might work.  When I asked, though, the cost was over three thousand dollars.  I simultaneously felt guilty and scared that I didn’t want to spend that much but then started to wonder “doesn’t she deserve this?”  It’s like her birthday all over again and while you might think I’m taking this lightly it’s weighed on me for over a year.  I’ve sat and wondered how I’m going to deal with it and how I’m going to deal with this.

Putting this stone in place shuts the last door to that world.  I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s literally sealing the vow forever.  It’s saying, for good, this is her in eternal rest.  I said yesterday it’s like the day of the funeral when I tried to leave the cemetery and my legs buckled.  I still feel that way.  There are days I get mad because I feel like she didn’t fight hard enough to stay with us.  Then there are days I wonder if I was too awful to her or not attentive enough and she didn’t feel like she could stay.  I get mad she did this to our kids and then defend her to those same children because she fought so hard for them for so many years.

I am angry that I’m limiting what I’m spending because I want to say she deserves better but cannot justify paying that much when her daughter wants to travel to New York and her sons want to have new bikes and her middle daughter wants to start guitar lessons again.  I pay the tuition and deposit for the kids’ school and realize that three thousand dollars saps our funds dry and that doesn’t include installation fees.

I’m making an appointment to finalize the color of granite and the type of stone.  My kids don’t want to be part of the decision, which I understand.  Part of me wishes he had someone to share the burden but part wants to do this one last, very personal thing for myself as much for her.

In the end I’m going to keep it very simple.  On the front:

Andrea Andrews Manoucheri
Born October 30, 1970  –  Passed March 26th 2011
Beloved wife, mother, and friend

It’s hard to walk among mortals when you’ve learned to fly with the angels.

On the back, if money and space permits:

She made me think of the rough times I’ve had
and changed them with one smile
Like the morning sun, or a blessing from above
She helped me learn to fly up with the angels
Fly on, my sweet angel
I love the way you spread your wings

That was her nickname from me, the song I wrote for her.  I signed every card that way: I love you, my sweet angel.  So when the stone comes I’ll put it in place.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that I cannot just spend everything on her any more.  I realized this evening that it’s not the size of the stone or the color of the granite, it’s the sentiment and the love that pushed my choices.

So I find it fitting that her epitaph is something that I’ve always believed.  She was here a short time, just enough to get the five of us on track and then she had to leave.  Why?

It’s hard to walk among mortals when you’ve learned to fly with the angels.

Playing Catch-up

So, after three months, the IRS finally managed to get me a check in the mail.  This, by the way, after I yelled – while at work – at the “customer service” representative and made her cry.  I get that I was mean, I even get that I was frustrated and probably could have held my tongue a little better than I did.  I daresay, though, that I held my tongue for far longer than most people would have.

But in the process I’m having to catch up on soooo many things.  My kids’ tuition, which normally was easily paid, was behind because I’d counted on this refund check.  The deposit for next year is overdue.  The registration packet, all of it.  The car payment.  The phone bill.  I cannot in good conscience have my kids in Nebraska for the summer and not give my folks money to pay for their expenses.

But the biggest thing, the one that I’ve avoided and tried to prevent dealing with this whole time, is finishing the gravestone for Andrea.  I know it’s something I should have done, literally, a year ago.  I know that Andrea’s folks are not happy that it’s not there yet.  I also know that I did the preliminaries and I don’t want to face it.  It’s like the day of the funeral when I tried to leave the cemetery.  It isn’t easy.  It’s really the most difficult thing and it seems to be the last, most permanent reminder that it’s all over.

I get it, by the way.  I know that it’s been over since March 26th, 2011.  I understand that she’s gone and that she’s not coming back.  I’ve done everything for the kids since then.  I’ve raised them, fed them, housed them, bought uniforms . . . all the stuff that Andrea dealt with – far better than I did – I faced and not well.

It’s the last thing I wanted to prevent happening.  It’s like I had the opportunity to say “no, I don’t accept this!” and was doing it.

But now I have the check.  It’s the last obstacle – the money – that I had to getting the stone finished and in place.  I can’t spend a ton but I also don’t want to skimp on her.  It’s like the last present I can give her.  The problem is that is feels like the birthday I screwed up all over again.  She wanted something amazing and I gave her a replacement for a decorator item the kids broke.  I want to give her life and instead I’m sealing the grave forever by signalling everyone that it’s here she’s resting for eternity.

I asked the kids if they wanted to be part of it, if I should send pictures and get their ideas.  They don’t.  Abbi, as she’s often done when the topic of her Mom . . . when it comes to her death . . . comes up shut down.
“I don’t really want to, Dad” is her response and I can’t say I blame her.

But like so many things, it has to be done.

Now I just wait for the finished product.  I have that long, at least, to pretend that it’s not over . . . not completely.

The Final Sign

My Favorite Picture of Andrea

Tell Me What You Want (And I’ll Give You What You Need) by The Doobie Brothers

There is one final task, one last thing that I’ve put off and stalled far more than the average widow or widower likely ever would. I wish I could say there’s some massive, glorious artistic reason, a bent that drives me to wait until perfection is reached but I’d absolutely be lying to you if I said that.

Andrea died and there were so many things I had to choose, so many things I had to decide that were life changing or even permanent options that we should have made together.  I never thought about where we would spend eternity.  I had to walk through the cemetery with a map of open plots that showed where there were openings and determine where I should put Andrea forever.  I was about to choose one of the first places we found, a simple little spot under a big tree when my Dad told me to wait and look around.  That I might find somewhere that might fit a little better.  I can’t lie, there was part of me that was so tired, so exhausted and depressed that I just wanted it to be over.  Andrea was normally that voice of reason.  She was the one who would look at me and say “Dave, just look around.  I like this one.”  I didn’t have her to help me make the decision so I was lost, literally wandering around a cemetery trying to figure out what would be the best place.

This came after having had to decide on the flowers.  Decide on the casket, but since we had been through so many things and her body was in the shape it was in we only could choose from two different caskets, the costs rising exponentially through the decision making process.  It’s really strange, the things you have to decide upon.  That first day, just about an hour after my wife passed away, the hospital forced upon me a list of decisions I had to make.  A list, not a simple handful, but pages of information, things I had to determine.  A long line of items that just kept piling up and staring back at me, telling me, “yes, Dave, you’ve lost the person you loved more than anyone else in this world, but figure it out, kid, you have to get home and tell your kids the worst thing they’ve ever heard.”

The funniest thing is, in that entire list, between a mortuary, the casket, what kind of service, reception, rosary or not, the thing that kept jumping out at me, the craziest and most inane of things, was the item that said “find clothes for your loved one in the casket.”  I kept staring at that list and only could see that she needed clothes and I didn’t know what to dress her in.  I didn’t know what to do.  There were so many massive, horrific decisions I needed to make and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was going to have to find something that Andrea would have approved of wearing forever.  It’s funny, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I obsessed over it, to the point that I must have worried everyone, my daughter, Andrea’s best friend too because the two of them took over the duty and went out, together, and Andrea’s best friend bought her an outfit and jewelry to wear for eternity.

Had I not had all these amazing people, from my father, mother and kids to Andrea’s best friend and sister, I would have failed, fallen, and collapsed on my knees with no idea where to turn.  I would have never made it.  It was an amazing testament to the people who loved Andrea and love me, but also an indication to me just how ill prepared I was for everything.

The last decision I have to make is proof that I just cannot face all the difficulties sometimes.  You see, Andrea sits there, in the ground, in a spot that I finally chose after spending that extra time my father prodded me to take.  I’m glad he did.  Sitting there in a spot forever she lies under the shade of one of her favorite trees, a crepe myrtle, another crepe just behind her.  Both trees smaller now, but looking to age well and both shade her from the intense heat of the sun and shower her with flowering beauty forever.  The funny thing is as much as I’d like to say Andrea’s in a great spot and would love where she is, I picked it knowing more that we’d think of her, that the trees would remind us of her choices and her life.  I picked the spot so we’d be happy to come visit her.

Still, as perfect as her spot is, I have up to this point refused to decide on her gravestone.  That’s the final choice I haven’t been able to let myself make.  Over the summer, Hannah found some old stones in the cemetery surveys my mother did for the Nebraska Historical Society that had ideas she and her siblings wanted to put on the stone.  Andrea was my angel, and I told her that.  She was “My Sweet Angel” and I even wrote her a song with that as its title.  I wanted her to have an angel, but something that stood out.  I wanted to have the winged letter “A” that Hannah found on a stone in O’Neill.

I want it to be a stone that’s not a run of the mill choice.

But I still can’t bring myself to buy it and put it on the ground.  It’s not just the cost.  I knew it wouldn’t be cheap, I even researched the places that will cut the grave marker for me.

It’s just . . . final.  It makes it real, finally and permanently real.  That’s the best I can come up with, though it’s not all of it.  I don’t want to do it.  Every time I think about it, every time I look at the stones or talk to the granite company I just start to fall apart.  I don’t want to do it, but I know it’s just so disrespectful not to.

It’s the final sign, the last bastion and hold on the former reality that I have.  Once I place that it’s like it means it’s really happened, that she’s really down there.  I have to see it, written in stone, that she is gone, she left me and I have to carry on without her.  I hear all the time, people say that we’ll be together again.  Is that really fair?  If she’s in paradise, I’m left here without her.  Seeing the amazing wonder that is my children growing, but living in the hell between sleep and waking.  I am left here for years without her and it really bothers me.

Andrea deserves better, I know it, but I can’t let go.  I keep looking and keep holding back.  I know I have to make a decision soon, but I just cannot bring myself to do it.

It’s the final sign.  The last letters on the page that lead to the new story.  It’s like not wanting to really know how the story ends and make the book last longer than it has.  Except this time I’m the writer and I really do know how it ends.