September 28, 2008


The family had just sat down to my birthday dinner when TankDad thought he'd inject some of his dry humour into the proceedings.

"We've added to our real estate in the Townships" he announced with a lilt to his voice and twinkle in his eyes. I know my father's mannerisms. He thought he was being clever about something. There's never been any land in the country.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"We've bought the plots next to your grandparents and mine" he said, pleased with himself. "The monuments are up and the engravings've been made: Stewart C., 1929- and Shirley E., 1934- . Only the years of our demise have to be filled in. You should get out there sometime and take a look" he chuckled. Apparently he thought it droll that their names should already be adorning their final resting place.

But it devasted me. We're not a close family by any standards but my folks've always been a steady presence regardless of what was going on. Dad'll be 80 next year and TankMom isn't far behind. They're invincible as far as I'm concerned. There's no world without them.

Dad's flippancy knocked the wind right outta me. At first I tried to play along: "You're sure it's all been paid for, right?" I asked sarcastically, eyebrows raised in mock selfish concern for my own financial responsibility in this endeavor.

He assured me it was all taken care of and continued on about how the cemetery people had recommended they not engage the local tombstone engraver who was something of an unsavoury character, yadda yadda yadda.

Whatever he said next was lost on me. I crumbled. "Please don't talk like this" I cried, lowering my head into my hands, dissolving into tears in the middle of the restaurant. I was not willing to be confronted by the brutal reality of my parents' mortality during my birthday dinner. Or anytime, for that matter.

We TankPeople are not for the most part raw-emoting folk, particularly not in public places. Mom and Dad were stunned into silence by the off-the-chart display. "Well I didn't expect this" Dad finally mumbled.

I know he didn't mean to put me off. He thought he was being funny. It's genetic, actually: episodes of inappropriate expression run in the family. We can't help it.

After a few minutes I pulled myself together and we carried on with a perfectly fine meal.

Now some hours have passed. Intellectually, I'm perfectly well aware their making such advance arrangements is a gift to us, their children. And it affords them some peace of mind. Nonetheless I'm unable to wrap my brain around Mom and Dad not being here forever.


MFairbanks said...

Well I think its no coincidence that you, while usually stoic as you admit, were especially vulnerable during your 49th birthday dinner with your parents. It's the last of your 40's and it's hard not to allow that some magnitude, even if you could still pass for 38 or 42. And as with all birthdays, reflections of time, changes and the heartbreaking inevitability of having to say goodbye to the ones we love feels especially current during these annuals. So, then, for your father to essentially spring this on you, regardless of his attempt at lihtheartedness, was likely the straw that broke the camel's back on an already emotional during an already emotional weekend. Whatever. anyway... your parents are not dead yet. They are alive and they love you, and you them. Enjoy them... yes, perhaps even more than ever, if indeed you are afraid of losing them without having said it all I know, it's a cheesy concept... but if I had the chance to do it all over again with those I have lost, I surely would have spent greater time... made the most of what was left, yeah. So that's my solution segment.

As for my weak attempt as wisdom, well, surely you realize (likelier even more than I) that such are the seasons of change. Everything changes, nothing stays the same. Cliche aplenty, but I do believe that the more you fight life's inevitable changes, the harder life becomes. The more you try to protect yourself in a little cocoon, pretending mom and dad will be around forever is a game that super-sensitive folk like yourself would be wise not to play. And burying your head in the sand and pushing it out of mind is scary, too. So, what you did here was wonderful - process it. Allow others to hear you share about your concerns, granting them an oppotunity to offer their individual support and personal stories. I think it's great that you finally have begun to really open up in your bog, its definitely more interesting as you reveal more of your personal dimension.

Finally, as for the writing, I can tell you wrote this when the event was still fresh in your mind as it was well-constructed yet natural, running at a fast clip but still thorough. Great job. ;-)

Matt said...

Reading this, I felt like I was 15 again, at my mom's burial, reading the double-gravestone with my dad's name next to hers ... "James W. R .... 1923 - ". No end date. I hated it. I didn't want more death, more of a reminder of it.

I'm sorry for your hurt, Tank. I wish I could tell you it'll never happen.

Mark in DE said...

Forgive him since I'm sure TankDad never thought of it, but I find it highly inappropriate to bring up this topic on your birthday. Your birthday dinner should have been about YOU, not your parents' final resting place.

Your emotional expression is perfectly understandable. No need to apologize for that.

Happy birthday, you handsome devil you!

Mark :-)

SharkBoy said...

Oh my friend! If I can give you one piece of advise it would be to enjoy the moments you do have with them... the pain doesn't go away that quickly after one passes. Many a time now I find myself wishing I had said this or done that while my dad was still alive...

tornwordo said...

I think your dad IS kinda funny.

This reminds me of a package mom sent from the lawyers. It was everything I'm supposed to do when she dies. She specifically wanted me to look at the "do not resuscitate" documents. Ack. I put it in a box in the way way back of the closet.

michael sean morris said...

It took me 14 months to sign off as executor of my mother's will. I had her lawyers calling me and everything. The other day I told her I'm just signing everything over to her boyfriend, except for a few mementos.

Dantallion said...

Remarkable how perspective must change as you are in your sunset years...I'm guessing I might do the same thing if I were that age...

MuscledHairyHung said...

Your reaction was perfectly normal!
I've lived in NYC and now Long Beach, Ca. while the majority of my family remains in Massillon, Ohio. I traveled there every year or so until Mom dies 2 years ago today, in fact. I saw her a couple of weeks prior and had a short conversation with her in the hospital. After I left the room, both of us in tears like all good byes, I turned round and walked back in and asked her, "are you coming out of this hospital Mom, still in tears..."cause if you're not there are things I have to say to you" Both of us were crying openly as I told her she was the hero of my life , how much she meant to me when i was a child, how close I had always been to her, that I named my teddy bear after her (still have Bev) and only later in life did I realize what an incredible environment her and Dad had made for us, to have all turn out so well, happy honest, well rounded people that so many kids don't have the privelage of having. When I saw her two weeks later she was out of it from morphine. I delivered her eulogy within 3 weeks of that conversation. I would be happy to sit at dinner once more with her and Dad, even if only to talk about their funeral arrangements.