24 June 2008

Reciprocal Pain

DH and I were out to dinner, at one of the many family-owned Italian restaurants in the area. Amid clinking utensils and glasses, I began to inadvertently eavesdrop on a nearby table. Inadvertently, because I heard a few words, and then tuned in to the rest of it.

They were behind me, so I could not see either speaker. They were both women, and the reason a phrase caught my ear was that it had to do with one of my old jobs, at Ye Olde Evile Bank. I did estate work there, where my clients were the stiffs. I handled the closing of bank accounts, the transfer of car titles, the filing of the last year of life 1040 tax return. (What, you thought you were exempt from taxes when you're dead? Hahahahahaha. Uncle Sam has other ideas.) I handled many, many final details at the end of someone's life. Canceling credit cards. Transferring the title of the house into the name of the surviving spouse (if there was one) or into the name of new owners. I found a lot of what I did there fascinating. I'm very nosy, and I was in to every. single. detail. of the decedent's lives. Sometimes fascinating, sometimes sad, sometimes downright eerie, like the husband and wife who were married for 68 years and died within an hour of one another.

I digress.

The two women were talking about the title of a car, a vehicle that needed the title transferred. I wondered why, and ran down the mental list of reasons why you transfer a car....sale....gift....death. Sure enough, the next phrase I heard was "funeral home" and my attention was hooked. One speaker sounded like she was either crying, or had a tremor in her voice. The other was calm and rational, a list-maker, someone I identified with!

This had to be a recent death; not only because of the mention of a visit to a funeral home to pay a bill, but also because they were opening condolence cards. The more they talked, it became clear that the lost loved one had been a life partner of the speaker with the tremulous voice. Her pain was still raw, visceral, almost tangible.

It crept from their booth to mine, tapped me on the shoulder, and announced its presence. Like a cut that doesn't hurt until you notice the blood, I was taken by surprise with this stroke of grief. My losses aren't that recent. Auntie died in October. More than six months have passed since she died. My cousin's death was in May of 2005, three long years ago. Both still hurt. Yes, they hurt less, but they still are the first thing that comes to mind whenever anyone talks about death and dying.

We got up from our booth and walked past the table en route to the exit. I looked, of course, wondering if I'd be able to match voices to faces. It wasn't difficult. The trembly voice belonged to a woman approaching 90; the calm list-maker was in her late 40s. Mother and daughter, maybe, but more likely mother and daughter-in-law or niece. As we walked outside to the car, the sun was shining brightly in the parking lot, and I looked down at my shadow on the ground. Shorter and squatter than I am, it made me think of how fleeting our lives are, the brief moment in time that we're here.

I wondered, too, as I got into the car, if I'll ever stop thinking of my aunt and my young cousin when someone mentions a recent loss. Part of me hopes not; I'd like to be able to tell my cousin's daughters stories about their cool mama, when they get old enough, which will require me to remember those stories of adolescent mis-behavior. Likewise, I'd like to tell stories to Auntie H's two grandkids (my second cousins) about her.

Right now, I can't tell much of a story about either of them without at least tearing up somewhere in the middle. Hell, I can barely write about them without being emotional. My therapist claims that this is very normal, that my progression through the stages is grief ought not be measured by time. "It isn't a race," she reminded me gently. "Grief takes time to heal. Sometimes a long time. There isn't a set schedule."

Sure, sure, sure. I feel like I ought to be further along in the process, though.

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