Your library contains a tear-dribbled section concerning grief and how to deal with it. These books will inform you that humans follow a reassuringly predictable pattern as they dredge their way through otherwise surprising combinations of emotions. There’s denial and anger and depression, but an often overlooked step is the one where you let your now live-in relatives bust holes in your house and remodel the hell out of it. In predictable fashion, this step directly involves us.
What is Kurt and Janine’s answer to any ailment? Indeed, a bathroom remodel.
But many interesting steps come betwixt the death of a brother-in-law and swearing at a $2000 shower enclosure; nobody can speak for our beloved sister Elizabeth (who lost far too much to fathom and has no shortage of words to speak for herself), but I can present to you Kurt’s and my personalized grief schedule, as experienced during an unexpected summer of ‘puppies and flowers and rainbows’.
Step 1: Emotional and Physical Upheaval
- Fly the fuck back to Michigan in a stew of disbelief, panic, and tears.
- Arrive and expend two days sobbing and hugging and swearing while sleeping miniscule amounts in a literal heap of family and friends, all while profoundly jet-lagged and also a bit guiltily gleeful to see all of these wonderful people in one place.
- Eat a lot, because it distracts from the hole in your heart by at least filling a nearby organ. Notice that your Sister’s approach is the opposite because food gives her material to vomit, so hand her another bottle of vodka and eat her portion too.
- Play Dish Golf, an invention of the bereaved, using the remains of dish sets from your own wedding festivities and Jamie’s now abandoned golf clubs to launch (or smash) said dishes across the backyard river . . . which is strangely awkward and cathartic for both the associated wedding (have you ever smashed your wedding china while still happily married?) and funeral (try learning golf while sobbing). It becomes such a popular activity that piles more dishes are collected from local resale shops.
- Climb aboard a chartered jet to Dover with a hundred sad people to go witness the highly ritualized military transfer of the yet-to-be-identified bodies from cargo plane to morgue. While taking off, experience a demented appreciation of the potential irony if this planeload of families of planecrash-victims were to crash.
Step 2: Take Action
- Buy some alcohol
- Pitch that unused tent you lugged all the way to New Zealand and back in Sister’s backyard so you have a place to both sleep and hide. (Then pitch another tent next door so the rampaging children can pretend to be as cool as you while not writhing all over your incomprehensively expensive travel gear.) Occasionally you will be annoyed to share this tiny space with another full-size human, but you will get the hell over it because your spouse is still alive to be annoyed at.
- Collect literal truckloads of firewood from the local pallet factory (awkwardly in Jamie’s giant rig, a specific truck you never fathomed driving), because nightly bonfires are required and Jamie would have wanted them visible from space.
- Plan a memorial and party from the ground up, porta-potties, airport and all, because you fare a lot better emotionally when concerning yourself with sound systems and seating layouts and parking. Frequently you will suffer from debilitating heartache that the memorial falls on the one year anniversary of the beautiful wedding for which you just performed the same actions.
-Shop for funeral clothes in a less-than-ideal girls’ day out because everything you own is in storage half a state away. Lament that the economically ruined Monroe Mall adds its own veneer of depression to the excursion.
-Make some art, because apparently every memorial needs a sob-inducing movie, and you’ve been volunteered. While combing through decades of jumbled photos acquired from various computers, shoe boxes, and Facebook, realize that you didn’t know Jamie half as much as you should have and a tenth of what you retroactively wanted. His life was a constant adventure, and summing it up in 15 minutes of still shots seems entirely inept.
- Buy some alcohol
- Drink a lot of alcohol. Swear a lot at Jamie. And then interrogate the assembly of pilots on just how airplanes fly. The answers are shockingly varied and unsatisfyingly incomplete (but cheers to Jamie’s dad for kicking the pants off all other pilots’ answers).
Step 3: Settle in for the Long Haul
- As the crowds disperse and the supply of casserole dwindles, ask that inevitable question of Sister: do you want us to stay with you until you can get some footing on the situation? After an uncertain pause, she will conclude that this is the Unwelcome New Normal – far from anything she would have wanted, but the best one can do under the circumstances. So yes-ish.
- Fall victim to Jamie’s parents’ plan to put you to good use, which involves a whirlwind 2-day Lowes shopping sprint, wherein all materials for a bathroom reconstruction must be acquired while completely unsure of the eventual design, all while desperately trying not to overwhelm shell-shocked Sister with questions concerning such arbitrary details as color and shape and style. Most of her decisions will be made whilst perched upon a display toilet chowing down Jimmy Johns. Absurdity is the new normal.
-Experience a wrenching but watered-down version of what Sister must feel every time you unexpectedly come across a pair of Jamie’s shoes, or find yourself working on a project he was in the middle of, all while using his tools and trying unsuccessfully not to break any of his newly-precious shit.
- Drag that immaculate 1975 pop-up camper out of your parents’ storage so your back can have a break from tent sleeping and you can still pretend you’re not irritating Sister by having to fully move into her house. You will drift into sleep each night wondering when, not if, a tornado will pass thru.
Step 4: Shoehorn in some Additional Grief and Attend Your Own Grandmother’s Funeral.
- Feel wretchedly guilty for your sensation of relief that she died while you were only a car ride away.
- Spend several days in deep appreciation of your extended birth family, who differs vastly in political tendencies from yourself, but is filled with generous, kind, and hilarious people. While standing graveside giving final farewells to Grandma, the funeral director will inquire of this Gun Shop owning family of expert marksmen why there is no 21 gun salute. Did you leave the guns in the cars? Oh no, responds an uncle, they are much closer than that. [Lengthy, uncertain pause]. However, an aunt expounds, they are not loaded with blanks.
Step 5: Find some Pleasure Within the Pain
- Sign Niece up for 4-H and spend a whole languid week at the fair ogling farm animals and consuming vats of deep-fried numminess.
- Venture to Vermont so you don’t have to pass yet another sad birthday in Michigan. Fall in love with the state and its people all over again while murdering, plucking, and gutting 100 chickens.
- Harvest wine grapes, enjoy the company of friends and family at weird events like Drum Corpse competition or just lazily kayaking down a river, help Niece Chloe with math homework . . . do all the things a normal day job keeps you from, but get such a taste for it that you regret not having the luxury of committing all of your time to wasting time.
-Finally get a ride in Jamie’s (dad’s) plane. Ok, yes, sob while doing it, but feel intimately connected to him and that exact sensation that kept him coming back for more.
Step 6: Get some Shit Done
- Earn grocery money repainting and repairing friends’ houses. You really could make a career of this.
- Prevent Sister’s house from burning down while she’s in Alaska and realize that, in this world of coincidence, this is the moment for which you were intended to be right here. An arcing main power line inside a breaker panel is now part of your world of comprehension.
- Rewire Sister’s entire house with dependable, conveniently-placed electrical, including ceiling lights, fans, and more than one outlet in each room.
- Gut, re-engineer, and expand a bathroom. Finally come to realize that Sister’s décor ideal is much like your own, so joyfully design a bathroom you wish were in your own house.
- Swear at a $2000 shower enclosure.
Step 7: Realize you need to Leave Soon and Finish Everything in a Blind Panic
- Finalize that rock-walled herb garden you’ve been putting off because of heat or mosquitoes or whatever lame-ass excuse you devised because you hate smashing your fingers with rocks.
- Order and return several dozen pairs of shoes from Zappos so you can find the perfect one to go back out into the world with. Your efforts will be futile.
- Place everything you’ve removed from storage back into it, including such luxuries as pretty clothes and power tools.
Step 8: Savor One Last Perfect Weekend of Northern Michigan Autumn Before Plunging into Months of Tropical Heat
Step 9: Ungracefully Extract Yourself from What Has Unintentionally Become Your Home
- Stop being helplessly in love with Jamie’s dog and the floppy new puppy.
- Ignore the heartache of abandoning Sister and Niece to an uncertain but surely difficult emotional and financial future (while housed within a structure still classifiable as a fixer-upper).
- Be certain not to speak at all of what you’ve all just been thru together and whether it was successful or not. Words like this beget crying, and fuck if we haven’t had enough of that.
Step 10: Strap on that Backpack and Get Your Ass Back on the Road
- There are few people in your life whose very presence can imbue an instant sense of calm no matter the shit hitting the fan. Be sure this person bookends your Summer Detour as your airport chauffeur, because such service is priceless. And then fold him up into your luggage because you sure could use him out in the world.
- Depart with confidence; Earth is brimming with people who are familiar with everything you’ve just gone thru, and Jamie wants you to meet all of them.
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