My niece, to whom I haven’t spoken in probably decades, is having her father cremated.
D. died Christmas Eve morning.
Mourning a ghost is a very particular thing; it runs on the biographical fuel of memories, speculation and family-grapevine news.
I got the news from another brother.
When I saw I’d missed his call last Tuesday afternoon — at home I usually keep my cell programmed to all sounds off yet I am programmed to constantly check it — I knew he wasn’t calling to wish holiday cheer, and knowing him like I do I knew he would never leave a death notice on voicemail.
In the seconds after he said he had something to tell me, the actual confirmation of death was a mere formality. The living have to hear this even, especially when we already know death is being confirmed. It’s why families absent their children for years and years always hold hope that kid will come walking up the driveway escorted by a gaggle of cops, even though that kid is now grown up and otherwise unrecognizable to the people who bore and raised him.
They need the bones.
After nearly six weeks of no news after day after day of nothing but grim news with fissures of daylight — D. gained weight; he is eating full meals; he accepted Jesus Christ with the nod of his head — my gut told me it was about time that something be said.
It was time for news of the bones.
The older we get the more I am noticing how vastly different my brothers and I are from one another. It’s as though we sat and watched the exact same movie and they came into the lobby talking about a western.
Confused, I swear I had just seen a 3-D disaster, so I stand outside their fraternal, butch, loud circle and give them all the room they need to wrestle, posture, proselytize and flex and come up with like-minded narratives of the wreckage and carnage of our collective lives despite or really because we have four mothers between 10 step- half- and full-blooded siblings.
Some of my brothers kept saying there was a miracle afoot, that D.
could surely leave the institution in Detroit where he labored beneath a respiratory machine and go to rehabilitative hospice. That he was eating well and responsive and even sometimes speaking were signs that anything was possible.
All along I thought he should die.
I thought he should let go and slip into the nothingness of no pain, no wondering, no worrying, no debt, no swallowing, no breathing. I was thinking: If he is in such terrible pain and even asking the doctor if there wasn’t one more thing he could do for him, why wouldn’t D. want all that business to be done? Doesn’t he have any concern for his own quality of life?
This realm of thinking that sometimes went on for hours until the overcast Cincinnati days turned darker and the street below was still a lonely place because this thinking feels strangely like judgment and sounds pious when the words are spoken aloud.
I know not everyone possess neither my fearlessness for death nor my certainty for my soul when I am done. I said once to my oldest (blood) brother if D. has made peace with God then he should just let go, and my brother answered that he was holding out for a miracle.
As soon as I got the news D. was dead, it washed over me during my outburst of weeping that was really wet-eyed laughter that death, too, is a miracle.
I was so overjoyed.
We get so engrossed in the televangelical nature of folks rising from the brink of death and walking on blade-legs that we forget sometimes death is best, that it is an eternal respite from turmoil and grit and that it is an inevitability shared by all people regardless of race, gender, class or sexual orientation.
We’re all going.
Death becomes us all.
D.’s absence might come harder and be far less philosophical for his children and his parents — two old people with pasts they thought they’d probably bury with themselves before they’d bury any of their children.
But I, for one, am happy for him.
Besides his children, his own death might just be his greatest accomplishment because, frankly, it was that one last hustle, that final sidestep he could not pull off.
Not even D., who spent the greater part of his life running his mouthpiece, pitching the most improbable scenarios trying to get money, to get out of trouble, to get inside, to get another fix, to get another chance.
And now, one of the craziest, funniest, coolest and longest playing Funk records I have ever listened to does not have a worry or an anxiety in this world or the next.
This is the most perfectly metaphorical time of year to die, for God to have come for D., for isn’t this the time we like to tell of the baby born in the manger because his parents were turned away, that God sent that boy to show a sin-sick world love, grace and mercy?
There’s nothing more merciful than the hall pass of death in the midst of excruciating pain, toxic painkillers and psychic uncertainty.
On the precipitous of this, the new year, I am putting down behind me all D.’s pain and confusion and all the reasons why — whether they were reasonable or not — he ever felt he needed to snort, slam, swallow or smoke all those years; I am laying down every heavy-lidded interaction we ever had; I am burning with his body all my film strip memories of him brandishing a gun and threatening my mother, the woman who helped raise him less than two blocks from his own mother’s front door.
It’s all dead.
I won’t need to repeat it anymore.
I walk among the living.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: email@example.com
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