There is no escape for the natural cost of living life: death. The ultimate gift is poetically paid back with the ultimate sacrifice. Such is the cycle of life in the world we live in. Everything that is will one day cease to be. And so it goes.
I have gotten into trouble discussing death on this blog, and I would like to try and address this now. I have attempted in the past to make my view on death a blanket statement, and that is impossible. The other day, my 82-year-old Great Uncle Bob passed away. Just today I was talking to my friend Chelsea who recently lost a friend of hers, one who I would assume is a lot younger than Uncle Bob. These issues are only similar in their final outcome. This blog will be an unbiased view of how I viewed today's events. In no way am I attempting to belittle religion, death, or the importance of ones life over another.
Saying, "you're sorry," is so incredibly unfulfilling for both parties. As someone who just lost a person, there is nothing that the other should be sorry for, unless they are holding a bloody, blunt instrument. Even at that point, I certainly wouldn't accept their apology. If you're the person who was just informed of the death, it is the only thing you can say that sounds halfway correct coming out of your mouth. There is nothing you can say that could do anything, good, bad, or otherwise. There is no applicable way to deal with this situation; only awkward politeness.
My Uncle Bob was the rural refuge to my mom and her siblings. They were born and raised in New York City (Brooklyn to Queens) and relished their trips out to "the country" in central New York. Here they saw things they couldn't see in the concrete jungle, such as cows, horses, and, hell, grass. I heard stories from my mom whenever Uncle Bob came up for some family function, be it a birthday, Thanksgiving, or whatever else was going on that day. She would sing on the stoop, she would look out the window with Aunt Fran and see the mountains, she would get 7 Up floats (they're disgusting in case you were wondering) and just relax. Uncle Bob was also an accomplished chef for the Navy after enlisting as a Marine, and later feeding the faces above the white collars of IBM workers. The biggest fault my mom had for him was when he made the turkey and threw out the tasty--but unhealthy--skin. My mom was up in arms, and my uncle apologized for "wanting her to live longer." It's funny how we don't realize how morbid we are until death becomes a reality.
I was never as close with Uncle Bob as my mom was. He even walked her down the aisle after my grandfather died; Uncle Bob is not even blood relation. I would see him when he was a pit stop for my cousin Suzanne before she spent some time in rustic Park Ridge, NJ. Distinctly I remember driving up with my dad, seeing my Uncle, playing ping-pong in his dark basement, and, for whatever reason, watching the stage production of Cats on his TV. Driving up today it was strange how I knew exactly where he lived and which house was his after not seeing it for at least five years. It was second nature. I guess the trips meant more than I realized.
The other oddity was meeting with the relatives. Once again, I had a fuzzy memory of almost everyone, save my cousin Ricky who is 3 months older than me and is in the Marines, looking like he's 26. There were so many "...Michael?!" introductions I lost count (yes, I was going to count for this very reason). It probably helps that for my show in two weeks I have a ridiculously overgrown beard so I look exactly like my dad, but still. The queer part was that I definitely knew all of Uncle Bob's sons, at least their faces. I had not seen them in probably 10 years. I forgot the exact date, but I'm gauging by how high they held their hands to their sides to indicate how tall I was the last time I saw them.
The reactions at the funeral home ran the gamut. My mom, for all of her best qualities, is not the most emotionally stable person I know. Situations like these are not her forte. I am not blaming her by any means, but she is definitely the opposite of how I react. She walked in and saw the house and started to tear, walked to the kitchen and looked at "Aunt Fran's mountains," and welled up, and god knows what finally put her over the edge into crying town. She is a very emotional person to the point where if I try and console her she'll just get worse.
Countering her, my cousin Sue had a very similar situation to my mother. Sue would spend time during her summer at Uncle Bobs riding horses, if memory serves, at a local ranch. No matter the action, she was up there and was quite close with him. At the funeral parlor (always odd that "hair" and "funeral" both get the closing word of "parlor") she was pulled out on her own fiddling with some paper. I walked over, confused, to see if she needed a hug or whatever shallow comfort I could offer. She looks in my direction, face never losing focus from the paper below her, and asks for some time alone. I look down as I fold my arms and realize she has "Dear Uncle Bob," as the heading. It's at that point I realized that nothing I will probably ever write will mean as much as whatever went on to that sheet of paper.
I never know what to do at funerals. Believe me, I'm not bragging when I say I've attended around 20 wakes/funerals in my life time, but I have a lot of experience under my belt. I never show any real emotion. It might be because no one that close to me has ever passed away, such as a grand parent, first-uncle (don't get me started on my extended family tree and 80 uncles and aunts with only 8 being legit). In a counter to my mom's overly emotional stance, I am very logical. Death is the natural outcome of life. It will always come, so why be so upset when it happens, especially to someone who is 82? What more could you want? He was given no longer than a year to live and passed away in a week. In some perverse way, isn't that good?
Back from the aside. I do not believe I have ever cried at a wake or a funeral. I simply cannot do it. When my classmate Joe Smeen died a few weeks before graduation at age 19 (he graduated the previous year) I was stone faced the entire proceeding. Seeing my friends fall to shambles did nothing to affect my outer figure. Watching his mother break apart in front of my eyes from a few feet away couldn't crack my exterior. I finally broke on the two minute drive from the church to my house. That short trip held all the tears I would spill for my departed friend and classmate. I got home, put on my work clothes, and helped out at the town picnic for about eight hours straight. Ever since I was a child, I was so self-conscious about not crying, and how horrible a person others must precieve me to be. All I want to do to this day is just shed one tear.
Seeing the body is always off putting because you really aren't seeing the body at all - you are seeing the corpse, in its most concrete form. There is nothing left of the person you loved, admired, lived with, etc. Instead, there is an empty shell that closely resembles the person you knew. In many ways you are paying homage to a person's character and their life to what is nothing more than the vacant embodiment of those ideals. Having the body "look good" also scares me. I understand that it is a reassuring measure, but isn't that what people in funeral homes are for? Hasn't anyone seen Rico work on Six Feet Under? I would hope he doesn't look horrible - it's someone's job to ensure that doesn't happen. The creepiest of all creepy things is when my Dad's side will kiss the corpse in the coffin. It is the most disturbing thing I have ever laid eyes on.
We had a small service at the Lutheran church that my uncle was a charter member of. During the mass, something really popped out during the Our Father. I was a...lackluster Roman Catholic, but I attended church often and knew the Our Father like the back of my hand. Printed on the pamphlet passed out was the prayer I have known since I was 4, except there was a weird add-on. Apparently, Jesus went to hell and faught demons before coming back to Earth. When did Jesus become a bad ass? Was this the 41st Thesis, that Jesus is too much of a pussy and needed a death count to make him more marketable? The sandal-wearing, miracle-working, peace-and-love Jesus is out and the "I kill demons and I'm the savior motha fucka" Jesus is in!
When I die (well, according to my mom I'm one of God's special angels and I'll never die, but I have the under at 40), I really hope I don't do it in the dead (see?) of Winter or the zenith of Summer. It was bad enough that we lost a member of our family. Did we really need it to be 100 degrees, too? All the men are in black suits at noon. I went the extra stupid step and wore a dark blue dress shirt to top off my near heat stroke. It was sort of sad that while doing the color guard's gun salute I was too busy counting the number of beads of sweat trickling down my back. I refuse to die until there is a portable air conditioner in cemeteries for situations like these.
The most poignant part of the day came when the American flag was folded into a triangle and passed on to my cousin Ricky, dressed in full Marine garb. There was something so incredibly powerful about the hand off of the flag; the low ramble of the one Marine to my cousin, the passing of the flag, the slow salute, and the rigid twenty year old who had gone through all sorts of horrific training to wear that uniform now weeping in it. The epitome of strength was giving way.
It's rare when a symbol actually embodies what it signifies. I will not extol my uncle as someone who has lived the American dream. He lived a life that deserves just as much respect as the flag receives. He was a simple, loving, caring family man, someone whose worst offense was tossing out some animal skin. There are many goals I have in my life, from having children to making a movie, and getting this thing into book form. After a day like today you realize how trivial they really are. If no one knows me by my writing prowess, or as a top 10 director, or one of the biggest money makers in Hollywood, that doesn't mean I'm a failure. All I have to do is shoot for my Uncle Bob's model. No life can be created without finally paying due for the opportunity you were given on this Earth. He gave more than his fair share back to everyone he touched on the moral coil. I hope there is a heaven if only for him, because he earned his salvation.