I feared it would hurt being in the place where I expect to see James around every corner. There is some of that. I already thought I saw him once, coming up the sidewalk to my sister's place, where I am staying. I keep forgetting he's dead, and making plans to do various things with him. Things pop up that trigger the thought "must tell that to James." Holding hands for grace the first time at dinner last night, when it was just four of us, was a punch to the gut I hadn't predicted. The circle was just different. I could feel it. Apparently Saturday night, both Cleo the cat and Fang the dog sensed something was amiss too. Quite uncharacteristically they followed Mom and Dad up to bed that night. Neither of them stayed for long, but they seemed to need to tuck the folks in. For Fang in particular, going upstairs (where baths happen!) is VERY unusual.
Being surrounded by people who knew and loved James, though, makes a big difference. Brian came to be with me on Saturday, and it wasn't until he was there that I realized how helpful it was to have someone to talk to who actually knew and liked James. Here of course, there are hordes of them. It just so happens quite a few of them had seen James in the last week. More than one person has identified James as his/her best friend. College professors, retirees, gaming pals, former co-workers, men, women of all ages have described him as their 'buddy' a lot. His contagious happiness, kindness and forgiving spirit has been mentioned several times, independent of the obituary Dad wrote (see below).
There have been funny stories too, as there should be. Mom says her most vivid memory of him presently is his face turning bright red from laughter, sometimes having to run into the kitchen to spit when he'd been caught unprepared by a comment. Another friend, one who keeps a curse jar (ten cents a letter, apparently), told about a time when she was recounting to James some mistreatment she'd suffered at the hands of a former spouse. Suddenly James began rooting around in his pants pocket, pulled out a handful of change, threw it in the jar and yelled "asshole!"
We've also, in the most affectionate manner, been able to do a bit of laughing AT James too. We've all acknowledged how he could sometimes just BORE YOUR FACE OFF, when he got going on the minutiae of some new game, or documentary he'd seen (one involving sea turtles was particularly memorable), a favorite TV show or god only knows what. The man remembered detail. Dear GOD he remembered detail. It was heartbreaking to see when he knew he was losing his audience, clearly not know what to do -- so he'd talk faster. James had something called pressed speech, which meant he was prone to speaking so quickly he was indecipherable. At its most extreme he would simply leave syllables out, in his need for speed. He was always quick to offer assistance in any way he could, sometimes offering it two, three, or EIGHT MILLION TIMES. He never took offense at the refusals though.
Hearing about the joy he brought other people though, at the lift they always felt when they ran into him, while not surprising, is balm to my vague fears about whether he was truly happy. Being in his environment, around people who knew him in different ways than me, I'm remembering that yes, he really was that happy, straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get guy. And on the subject of the kissing: I've learned that James began the habit back in 2005 when Dad suffered his second, more frightening heart attack. There is even more comfort in that habit now; James had breakfast with Mom and Dad on Saturday, then he took some stuff to the dump for them, as a favor. Before he left, as always, he hugged and kissed them both. That expression of love is their last contact with him. I guess I can say the same thing, even if my hug and kiss was back in December. And yes Jeaux, we are maintaining that tradition.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, we had some of the birthday cake last night. We all agreed it was one of the best ones Mom ever made. I'm glad we didn't stomp on it.
Tomorrow the four of us will tackle his apartment.
Below is an exerpt of the obituary Dad wrote for the local paper.
"Our beloved and loving son and brother, he was a man of principle, a gentle, generous man, and a staunch dependable friend to many, always ready to help others in the most practical ways. He knew how to care for others. he had a great capacity for happiness and brought happiness to others, and he knew how to forgive hurts. His wit was quick and always kind. We cherished his company and will cherish his memory all our lives."