Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Funeral (and wake)

Andy, Antonio and i were late leaving for the funeral. The night before we had rushed home from the Rosary and Mass because of illness. I wasn't sure i was feeling up for going to the Funeral, and was almost sure that Andy wouldn't be going. She surprised me by saying she felt better, and was up for driving down with me. By the time all this was worked out, i didn't think we had time to make it to the funeral home before the procession left for the the cemetary. Fortunately, i know where it is, having been there for four funerals and numerous visits on various birthdays of the departed.

We made it there, Andy driving because it was my turn to be ill and because i was growing more distraught as the morning went on. We arrived before the procession, by about ten or fifteen minutes, and followed along with them to the mausoleum. My grandfather surprised me by wanting to be put in the armário (cabinet) rather than be buried in the earth.

This funeral was like the other four i had been to at this cemetary. All the usual suspects of my extended family. People i saw, at most, once a year. Sometimes once every five years. People who i recognized but i could not name. Some people who i couldn't even recognize, but who still seemed familiar. Cousins and their families and friends of the family. My grandfather's only living brother was there, of course. Another of the brothers, Joe, died within the last few months, and i wonder if David is going to depart soon as well.

Having Antonio there to run around and be rambunctious saved me from complete despair, and i think helped my father and grandmother as well. The priest was quite supportive of the little whirlwind of life running around as he gave his talk. The service was quite short, i think at the request of my family. It seemed like it was done within five minutes of people being seated, and when the priest said "this concludes the services" i think most of those in attendance were a little shell-shocked.

The entombment was meant to be close family only, but of course everyone else hung around for it. I don't think they meant to be rude, but they certainly didn't pick up on the hint that it wasn't generally announced, and the priest said "you can go home now," and that the close family were individually asked to walk to the armário. The crowd moved together and watched as they put the coffin into its place. I watched Antonio run around and yell at things in the morning sun.

After the casket was in place, the workman started putting in the mortarboard and caulking, and it seemed like enough was enough. People started trickling away to the plaza outside the mausoleum, where people lingered and consoled the grieving for what seemed like a long time in relation to the ceremony itself, but was in reality just ten or fifteen minutes. I re-acquainted myself with a man i met when i was a boy, when i went fishing with my grandfather. He was a young man, possibly a teenager, at the time, and didn't speak that much english. I didn't recognize him at first, but seeing him reminded me of that fishing trip, and i was glad he was there.

We had planned on going home directly after exchanging things with my mom, because we didn't want to get people sick at my grandmother's house, but we ended up staying. I'm not sure why, exactly, and we didn't talk about it. We just ended up staying. Despite having not announced a wake of any kind, much of the extended family arrived, with food and drink, and stayed into the evening. The grandkids all stayed in a separate room, with Andy (and sometimes Antonio). I don't think we wanted to be around a lot of people, so we left that for our parents. I'm sure i dozed off in the chair i sat in... and i know i just stared off into space most of the time i was awake. I've been doing that a lot since then, too.

I feel like an outsider to that family, like i feel in most social settings... i don't really understand the customs and i don't speak the language, and really don't hold a lot of the same views of life. I feel like my dad is much the same, but he's allowed because he's a rebellious musician. I wonder if my grandfather ever felt that way, if it's something that runs in the family. In any case, when we left, i felt like one more large family event had gone by and that i hadn't done the proper thing by them.

I drove us home, as Andy had taken ill again, and contemplated going to work the next day.


Today i can't concentrate or remember much of anything. I don't know how to deal with this other than to ride it out and keep talking to people. Simultaneously, the only thing that i want to do is curl into a small ball and sob.

Andy suggested i seek therapy to deal with this. It's a good suggestion, since i've always had issues with death and the concepts around cessation of being.

I've been wanting to write more about the funeral and wake, and i will. Just not right now.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Viewing, Rosary, Mass (Funeral and wake another time)

I didn't imagine on Monday that today all of these things would be done already.

Tuesday night we visited my family in Mountain View, and learned that all the formalities of death would be done by Thursday. Andy had offered our services for producing the programs for the events; apparently, while the funeral home offers such services, the prices they charge are inordinately high. It cost us a few hours of effort, but I think everyone agrees the personalization we put into it was worth it.

I notified work that I'd be gone for the days, and then did my best to get ready for it. Fortunately, i still possess a suit or two i can fit into. I don't know why i was so fixated on wardrobe, my grandfather wouldn't have cared if i had worn a sweater and jeans. I know i don't really care that much for my extended family's opinion. Perhaps i felt like i needed to look well for my grandmother, for my father. I have thought in the past that i didn't really realize my place in my family, but i feel i'm starting to. I feel like a tenuous link in my familial chain, connecting its past with its future. I feel fortunate that my grandfather got to see the future of his family before he died.

After the programs were made and the family attired properly, we headed down. We made it to the house before anyone else was even dressed; I took my aunt, who had made all the arrangements, to the funeral home to make sure the body looked ok. Seeing the shell of the Giant from my youth lying still in the wooden box reminded me of the other two viewings i had been to in this very same funeral. We were greeted by one of the owners of the funeral home, who dealt with us very brusquely. We asked for his advice of where to put programs and flowers and pictures and the guest book we brought, and he pointed out that "the family was going to take care of all of that." As if, because we didn't pay enough, he couldn't deign to say "this is where people will come in." I understand these places offer their expertise as a service for hire, and i have no idea how much money was spent for their services to begin with, but it seems like someone in his business would have more tact than that. I felt like we were trapped in an episode of six feet under.

We decided, upon seeing the body, that the lips were too pink, and we asked to speak with the cosmetologist to correct it. We had to wait for an hour (an hour after the viewing started!) to speak to him. I decided that grandma should probably not come until after all the corrections were made. My father showed up when just my aunt and i were there. The three of us had a chance to grieve together, which was good. I hadn't had a chance just let go, and for some reason i felt comfortable doing it with them, and they needed to be able to do so as well. I had expected to have this experience with my dad when we first saw each other at the airport, but it didn't happen until we were both there in the presence of the lifeless husk of our shared ancestor. My aunt probably hadn't had a chance to let go since it happened, as she had busied herself with making the necessary arrangements. I can't say it felt good, but it certainly felt necessary.

I went back to the house and waited to take my grandmother to the viewing. She wanted to go near the end, and i can't say i blamed her at all. Andy had gotten very quesy in the early afternoon... Antonio had given us both a present in the form of a stomach bug. We're still recovering, and it peaked in intensity for Andy between the viewing and the Rosary. I think because i hadn't had much of an appetite and hadn't eaten that much, i was spared the worst of it. In any case, we ended up taking turns taking care of Antonio (along with my mom) during the Rosary: he refused to sit still or be quiet. We arrived too late for me to be a pallbearer, which made me a little sad. We had to leave immedately after the mass because of the sickness, and didn't get a chance to meet with the extended family... I would get to see them all the next day, which i will write about later.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Adeus, avô

This past Sunday, February 12, 2006, my grandfather, Antonio, passed away. He's the first grandparent I've lost to death. While I am loathe to depict him as more loved than the other parents of my parents, he arguably has had the biggest effect on my outlook on life. My Omi in Switzerland taught me many things: don't put more food on your plate than you'll eat, wash the dishes when you're done, recycle, save when you can, and walk whenever possible. Opa is a little more distant, less hands-on. Avó Maria taught me things as well, but her way of looking at the world never really was echoed by my own heart.

While I don't speak that much Portuguese, I understand enough to know that as long as I've known him Avô Antonio never had a hateful or spiteful thing to say. Some of his notions regarding the unknowability of history (because, hey, were you there to see it? How do you know it really happened?) I found amusing. He gave a lot of time to contemplation; He had that understanding and empathy that so many people don't have, that allows you to see past the immediacy of situations and recognize life as a brief, fleeting opportunity to take care of one another.

Growing up, I always assumed that he had always been this way. When i was a toddler, he was a Giant to me. A Giant who always gave me a smile and a reassuring pat on the head or shoulders. A man stronger than any other i knew, and also gentler. He seemed to live utterly without fear. As I got older and started out on career paths that demanded long hours, and little time for family, he advised me to work to live, not live to work. I am told by family that the one time in my life i had been spanked, it was by his hand. Just a single swat from him was all it took for me to start behaving: not only on that day, but in perpetuity. Even in my young mind, I recognized that he wouldn't have struck me unless I had really done something wrong.

I discovered only much, much later in life that he hadn't always been this benevolent, kindhearted man. Stories i have heard of his youth are completely foreign to my conception of him. They are stories of an angry, even violent, man. Hearing these stories made me feel bad for my grandmother, my father, and his siblings. The more I thought about it, though, the more I appreciated the enormous change my grandfather made. He became someone completely different, in part because i think circumstances in his life forced him to reasses how he lived and behaved, the kind of example he set for the people around him.

He had devoted his life to caring for his daughter Alita, who is developmentally disabled and requires constant care. I think that drive is what kept his heart beating as long as it has, and I think in large part contributed to the dramatic changes he made in his outlook and treatment of others. His only concern in the last few years was taking care of her, and making sure that she would continue to be looked after when he died.

By accounts, he died in his sleep. He sat down in a comfy chair, dozed off, and for whatever reason, decided to stay asleep. When i first heard the news, it was described to me as "collapsing" followed by attempted resuscitation by the EMTs. I had, in my mind, imagined him walking down the hall and falling down... followed up by having current applied across his chest to try and get his heart to beat again. Not the peaceful end I had always imagined for him, but a frightening, painful struggle against the approaching end. It kept me up Sunday night, imagining my fearless, kind, strong grandfather scared and hurt at the end. To hear that he passed with a slight smile on his face put me at ease, and gives me some solace when i contemplate his absence in my life.

I will likely write more over the next couple of days as more thoughts come to me in my sobbing fits. I will talk about his numerous professions, his optimism, the effect aging had on his ability to be physically active. About his family and how much we'll all miss him.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Radio can be fun

Yesterday Andy and i heard an ad for Mighty Leaf Tea and couldn't help laughing uncontrollably at various phrases used. We are children in big bodies, when "loose leaf," "mighty leaf teabags," and "full bodied flavor" all elicit howls. For those who haven't heard yet, Angie is going by Andy these days, in a long-desired effort to ungender her name. Most people i tell about this disagree that Andy is a gender-neutral name, but i think she's ok with it being on the masculine side. She's definitely planning on having chest surgery, but i think that's the extent of the body modification she's going to undergo. It's not that she wants to be a man, it's just that she doesn't feel the need to carry around a bunch of extra weight she finds utterly (udderly?) pointless. When Antonio is done with them, i think she will be, too.

Andy has fully recovered from her post-pregnancy-minor-complication surgery; She's
healthy enough to go to the Union hall to wait for work, and healthy enough to go to the gym and exercise, and go out on dates. She's really enjoying SF; not having to explain the term "poly" to people helps immensely.

New Year's Resolution

This year, i told myself, i will learn an instrument. For some reason, i feel the need to start at the beginning and learn to read sheet music. Progress is elusive: i know what the lines on the sheets of music represent, but i still have a hard time remembering the notation for note durations. When i was young, i knew this better than i know it now. I could even play a recorder reasonably near what the notes on the page instructed. Where did that go? The same place my fluent Portuguese went, i suppose. I hope that some remnant is buried in my brain, but i fear that it's all been flushed from memory.

On the other hand, i'm starting to remember c++, which is slightly more critical. I also have a great relationship with Antonio, which is highest on my list of priorities.

So that's what the ISO setting means!

It only took 14 months, but i've finally started using the manual features of my spiffy camera. I knew there had to be a way to take low-light pictures, i just never bothered tweaking the settings by hand. The camera does so much automatically, i figured "it will adjust for low light when i turn the flash off, right?" Well, not so much. That seems like something it should be easy to put into the software: Turn off the flash, bump up the ISO setting (which is the digital equivalent of having "faster" film). Alas, no. The next step is figuring out how to make that setting persistent, since most of my pictures are indoors and relatively low light.