I found out later of course there was more than met the eye, there was discord in the Valley of Paradise, etc. but still it's a wonderful memory. I was really looking forward to experiencing this place again and seeing this house, even though now Gloria's sister and her husband live there and many of her siblings are dead. But I did want to re-meet the living siblings and some of their kids.
Early this morning, however, I received an email from Gloria that her brother John had died suddenly. He had not been too well but they had spoken the night before and he was preparing food for her arrival. Gloria is of course in shock and beyond sad. The whole family is gathering for a wedding and now there is a funeral. It's not an indie film from the UK, though, so it's just sad.
While the grieving is of course for the direct family, so I feel idiotic even telling you about my sadness in this matter, it does exist. Because this was another remnant of a very scattered past that I had hoped to briefly in some way reclaim. This is, however, obviously not the time or place. And the fact that - as with so many people - they have drifted away or were tangential to my life - makes me feel even less tethered to the earth than usual.
Then there is also the realization - again - of my own mortality. How short life begins to feel in these moments and how scared I am that I will not finish the work I think I am supposed to do while I am here. Because this comes in the context of writing about my grandmothers and their deaths, it seems a bit like a pile on.
On the most selfish level, I'm not ready to die is basically what it comes down to, and my mentor who was a friend of the family's but so much more than that, died when he was 51 and writing about his family and teaching at Fordham - where I teach now. This confluence of similarities freaks me out. On the other hand, I seem to be relatively healthy and stopped certain self-destructive tendencies many years ago.
However, speaking of the book, I will be visiting my father's cousin and grandmother Dick's favorite niece, Sharon, in Connecticut on Monday. I will be meeting her in New London, which was the scene of some of the worst events of my childhood - which had nothing to do with her - then going to her family's place in Mystic, and staying in their summer cottage for the night. I may have met Sharon when I was a baby, but we've never met as adults. This is very exciting for both of us, because we both have lots of gaps in our knowledge of 'Dickie' that I hope we can both help each other fill in some of those holes.
Crucially, she knew her Aunt Dickie in a different way than I did, and I am hungry for another point of view of Dick and her parents, her sister (Sharon's mother) and brothers. Also another POV of my father. It should be quite illuminating.
This past week, I have been writing The Book - mostly by hand in composition books - the only way I can draft it - indicating where primary sources and photos should appear. It's scary. It's exciting. I re-read the 163 pages already written and/or transcribed and it doesn't all suck, which is a relief, but now I'm writing after having done all the systematic research. There are some issues of voice and structure that remain unresolved but realizing I can only figure it out by writing a crappy draft and then dealing with it.
Today, however, I was rattled by the death of Gloria's brother plus the disturbing sound of an alarm that kept going off inside our building from 430am onward, near our door. It is basically a car alarm - but located inside and sometimes just goes off For No Reason. Just a weird-ass day is what I'm saying...
Sometimes, it's just best to say hooray, today I am alive and that is good.
There is an odd shame that comes with mortality, like it connotes a failure on our part. Probably a modern first-world problem. We should be able to do something about it, right? Well, no, wrong. Apparently not. This is the deal and always has been since the moment we were born. Just feeling more real than usual these days.
So for this event, I will say a prayer & a blessing for Gloria and her family that they find some solace in the fact they are all together in this sad time. I hope her niece can still get married, too. That there is a way to have both the grief and the joy. This is the solace of aging - realizing it is both.
I remember writing Gloria's mother a condolence card when her husband - Gloria's father - Frank, died. I drew it myself and attempted to draw a silver-lining around a cloud. I was young then. Death seemed very far away. It doesn't now. I now have to balance a sense of gratitude for being alive with a kind of shame at having not Become All That I Should Have Become etc...on the other hand: I'm still here and have found love in this life, even if at a later date. And that really should be enough. And in the end, it is.