Sunday, February 21, 2010

And in the End

Different versions of this essay, about how I'd like my memorial service, have appeared in various publications, but I'm repeating it here--only to ensure that that nobody calls me a "wretched soul" (from the hymn "Amazing Grace." I never did like that line). Not that I'm planning on going anywhere soon, so you can ditch the panicked call to 911. Just consider this a proactive measure on my part and listen up pals:

THIS is how I'd like be remembered.

For starters, I want my greyhounds, Elvis and Lucy, at my service. They may be confused and a bit scared, wondering why their human has left them and they're suddenly living with someone else. But they must be at my service. If any one thing were to capture my essence, it would be found in the love I have for these dogs. Elvis and Lucy are as much a part of my family as blood relatives and close friends. They sit. And stay. In the row reserved for family.

I want people to laugh. Really. I hope my friends will muster the courage to stand up and tell funny stories about me because I will have died without tears and regrets. So I never married. Never had kids. Never had the corner office, wrote a best-seller or squeezed into a pair of size two jeans. Know what?

Don't care. Doesn't matter. I was happy. Content. Grateful to wake up each day healthy, in a warm bed, with a roof over my head, a job to sustain me and people who loved me.

Amidst carnations (take note: my favorite flower), I'd like my sister, Jennifer, to talk about that joke she played on me, the one where she convinced me that her house was haunted. Pam, my best friend, should 'fess up about us attending a Donny Osmond concert--uh, in our forties. Richard can share memories from our time at Dublin High ("it's all your fault!"), and Deb can laugh about that time in New Orleans when we feared we were being sold as middle-aged sex slaves.

Shared lives and experiences. In good times and bad, through grimaces and grins, we held each others' hands for strength and support. And laughed. Always, we laughed.

Music must be an integral part of my service. Friends may know me as an Elvis Costello fan(who do you think my dog is named for...that Presley dude?), but there are many songs I hold dear, mainly due to fond childhood memories.

Moon River by Andy Williams. Just about any sixties tune by Johnny Mathis or Herb Alpert. The instrumental Love is Blue by Paul Mauriat. Clair de Lune, because my father would play it on the piano and as a child I thought he had composed it. I remember hearing it on the radio one day and running to him in hysterics, screeching that someone had stolen his song.

I love the poignancy of God Only Knows by The Beach Boys. The optimistic Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head by B.J. Thomas, and the corny Everything is Beautiful by Ray Stevens. Since lyrics should be somewhat relevant, given the circumstances, this probably rules out Always Look at the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python. My friends can make that call.

Oh, but there is one song that must be played. Someone once quoted these lyrics to me, in an email response to an article I wrote about adopting Elvis. It's from the Beatles Abbey Road, incidentally my all-time favorite album. The song is titled, appropriately enough, "The End. " Just 28 words long, the last eight say it all. The same eight words I quoted just last week in my Valentine's Day post:

And in the end...
the love you take,
is equal to the love,
You make.

And with that final song, my service will be over. Held on a day I hope to dodge for many years to come.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

"And in the end,
the love you take,
is equal to the
love you make."


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Out of the Closet

This morning I began the arduous task of sorting through and emptying the home that Mom lived in for over 40 years. Eventually my sister will join me in this emotional endeavor, but right now the pain is still too fresh and she's just not ready. We all have our weak spots, those Code Red triggers, and hers is the house.

That's okay. These past few months, Jennifer has carried me when I've been weak, hugged me when I've cried and made me laugh when I never even thought I could smile. I'm more than happy to help my "baby" sister through this rough patch.

Besides, I figure I can handle one closet at a time. Really, I can do this. Ninety minutes, a few boxes and garbage bags and voila. After all, how hard can one closet be?

Let me tell you.

Although this particular closet was in my former bedroom, over the years it had turned into a catch-all. The plentiful pillows, duvets and blankets were easy decisions: the good ones would go to Shepherd's Gate, a shelter for abused women, and the tattered ones would find their way to the local animal shelter. But then I started unearthing more stuff, the kind of stuff you think you'll never forget, but lo and behold, here it is suddenly staring you in the face and turns out you forgot about it after all.

Like my collection of TV Guides from 1970. I don't recall why I was so into TV Guide that year. I'm guessing I was frantically checking to see if the Osmond Brothers were appearing on that week's episode of The Andy Williams Show, but why did I save each issue? Only my juvenile old brain remembers why.

I found my autographed black and white 8x10 glossy of Bob Hope, and a personal letter from the late comedian/actor, Freddie Prinze. I recalled seeing him on The Tonight Show in 1974, thinking he was hysterical, and writing to him asking where and how he garnered his comedy material. Even back then I was interested in writing.

There were my school yearbooks and my sister's birth certificate with the original photo and her teeny I.D. bracelet the circumference of a quarter. I found our familiar kitchen fixture, the brown ceramic Dutch girl cookie jar that was always stocked with Dad's favorite Mother's Cookies , and the red dog collar with tarnished tags that had the faded inscription, "Kernel," our long-deceased Cockapoo.

I found a half-filled tube of my Bonnie Bell Strawberry Lip Smacker lip gloss that I wore endlessly in the 8th Grade, and another iconic symbol from the 70's, my Pet Rock. I also discovered a long-lost love letter addressed to me from somebody named Mark.

Who the heck was Mark?

Throughout all this excavating, I was doing okay. My heart grew heavier with each treasured memento and keepsake revealed, but I kept trudging through like a trouper. That is, until I came across a ball of rolled up material stuffed inside a crinkly plastic shopping bag.

Drapes, maybe? Or perhaps a bedspread or small area carpet? I was about to slam dunk the bag into the "trash" pile until I thought better of it and decided to check out the contents. Good thing I did.

It was our mother's wedding dress.

And with that, I locked up the house and left. How hard could one closet be, I wondered?

Let me tell you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Birthday Surprise

I have to admit, I approached my birthday this year with some degree of trepidation. Not for the typical anti-aging reasons (Honestly? I don't give a @#!k), but because it would be the first without my mom. My sister and I are still navigating all those precarious "firsts," never knowing how we might respond.

Talk about your roller coaster of emotions.

That's why it was a nice surprise to not just survive the dreaded day on Saturday, but actually enjoy it, despite the glaring absence of my beloved mom. The office greeting emailed to me on Friday (see photo) helped set the tone and put a smile on my face that never quite left the entire weekend.

On "D" day itself, I went to my sister's for our traditional family birthday dinner, followed with a vigorous evening playing Nintendo Wii. On Sunday, my best friend, Pam, treated me to a luxurious "girls day" of pampering at the Carnero Inn spa in Napa. My body was salt-scrubbed in spots that haven't seen the sun since Nixon was in office, and the facial and massage were to die for.

The entire weekend left me with a foreign feeling not felt in recent months: relaxed.

Yes, my birthday could have been difficult. Instead it was bittersweet. After all, this was the very first one of my entire life when I didn't get that traditional pre-dawn call teasing me, "How OLD are you???" The silence that morning was deafening.

But I discovered that Mom was with me just the same; I felt her spirit through the thoughtful, loving gestures of each and every friend who, in spite of the circumstances, helped make this a special day.
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