Thursday, December 20, 2007

In John's Honor

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t use the word “cunt” to describe my mother, but she had just been particularly vicious, and my father had died only an hour before, so I considered it a special occasion. I believe my exact words were, “I don’t care what that cunt thinks of me.” Karla’s heartbroken expression said that she didn’t want to either.

I refused to return to Los Angeles right away. Trudy wasn’t answering her phone, and if she did I’d probably say something I’d eventually regret (see above), so I resorted to email, once again. I wrote that although I wasn’t there at the end, “Dad knew how much I loved him and that I did my best to spend time with him and care for him while he was ill.” I went on to say that I was distraught and wasn’t ready to come home yet. Instead, Karla and I would organize John’s memorial from West Virginia and fly home together at the end of the week. I continued, “I know we all want to figure out the best way to memorialize Dad, so I'm sure we can come to some decision that will satisfy everyone. I would love to hear your thoughts.” I also informed her that, while I respected her desire to have an open casket viewing before the cremation, I did not want to remember John that way so I would not attend.

Trudy answered, “I'm sorry you are having a really hard time. I am having a terrible time dealing with this also, plus being sick with a bad sore throat and an earache. I'm glad you have each other there to lean on. I had to face this all alone. I was going to the mortuary tomorrow to take your Dad's clothes, but there is no need to do that now. Just go ahead and plan what you want. I will make arrangements for the insurance company to pay them directly. Love, Mom.” Realizing she had lost control and exhausted all other avenues of manipulation, Trudy was taking her threat level to red. I left it to Karla to appease her.

For a couple of months I had been telling Trudy I didn’t want a formal service for John when he died. He hated all things, “depressing,” and I am convinced that his own funeral would have been near the top of that list, right under spending a year lying incapacitated and incontinent in various hospital beds. Karla and Leo agreed with me that what Dad would have wanted is a party. At first, our mother balked at the thought of bucking tradition. But once my sister offered to hold the event at her very fancy country club, Trudy came around pretty quickly.

While Karla paced the kitchen floor, debating the merits of various hot and cold hors d'oeuvres with the caterer over the phone, I sat at the breakfast table writing John’s obituary. As is customary, I first listed his name, age, the date he died, and the cause of his death. Then, I laid out what I considered to be the major events and accomplishments of his life, and some personal details: “John will be remembered and missed by all who knew him for his great intellect, warmth and laughter, not to mention his boundless enthusiasm for San Francisco, The Great Depression, World War II, the Democratic Party, and a good cigar.” When I got to the part where surviving family members are named, Karla and I struggled a bit over how to describe Trudy. In the end, we settled on, “beloved wife,” over, “loving wife.” (I preferred, “one helluva wife,” but Karla didn’t think it would fly.)

After my sister and I were satisfied with it, I emailed the draft to Leo, my eldest nephew Brian, and Trudy for approval. My sister-in-law responded, “Mary, this is excellent! John would be so proud. Love you!” Brian wrote, “Great job.” My mother wrote, “I would omit ‘age 87,’ and ‘after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.’”

I told Trudy that all the other obituaries in the paper listed the deceased’s age at the time of death. I then explained that I had written, “Along with his two brothers, John enlisted for service after the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” because I thought it efficiently gave a feel for the era as well as John’s, and his brothers’, patriotism and sense of responsibility. Trudy replied, “Okay, leave in the part about Pearl Harbor, but I really don't like the, ‘at the age of 87.’ Your father was very sensitive about his age. You've put in his date of birth. Let them do the math.” Aghast, I read the email to Karla, who snickered and commented, “Huh. I never knew John was sensitive about that.” Neither did I.

In Trudy’s honor, I omitted John’s age from his obituary.

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