Wednesday, June 10, 2009

First Day, Richmond

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."


Birdie said...

In my one visit to Laceyland ("The World's Scariest Theme Park"), I remember trying to keep up with the twists and turns of conversation flying by. James brought up Star Trek and I quickly jumped in, grateful to be able to contribute something. You turned to me, surprised that I knew what obscure reference he was making. Like everyone else in your family, James found a way to make me feel welcome.

I remember dissembling my brother's apartment, dismayed at how quickly the evidence of one man's life just disappeared. That's when I realized that the evidence is really in our hearts; and we can honor someone's life by carrying forth some part to change the world—even just one tiny corner of it. Think of all the people James affected with his loving ways. It is a beautiful legacy.

Melissa said...

thank you for the update sweet Patrick.
I do love that James paid attention to the ideal we hear all the time of expressing that love that one feels. I also love that you have all found some moments of laughter.
Many hugs and kisses to your family xo

Greg said...

Yes, it's good to know that you are all together and doing all this thinking and pondering and reflecting and laughing together. Thanks for the update - love to you all.

Marta said...

thanks for this patrick. love to you all.



Jeaux said...

Patrick you’ve outdone yourself with this portrait. So straight from the heart, deeply felt, and easily told. Just wonderful. “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.” The wisdom of dogs. They’re at peace, but understand our lingering qualms.

What surprised me most, in the most immediate way, though it shouldn’t have, were the little habits of mind, "must tell that to mom," that cropped up more often that I could have expected. That’s when the term loss comes home in the most intimate way. If had a money jar to tax those poignant moments, I’d have enough for a weekend in Paris by now.

I’m glad you ate the cake instead of stomped it. And that the kissing and hugging continue. A living tradition is a memorial like no other.

Java said...

Thank you Patrick. Thank you for reminding me to treasure the moments I have with my loved ones, even the ones whose speech is hard to understand, and whose monologues can get distressingly boring. It is good to have these loving memories.

Hugs and kisses abound.

Butch said...

I'm glad you are back with your family to share the good times with the bad. My heart goes out to you.

Heidi Petrelli said...

I'm happy to know you are with your family at this time.
I also read the obituary in the paper and it was wonderful.
(for a great guy)
My sympathies and blessings

Catherine said...

These posts are amazing and so reassuring, Patrick. Can't thank you enough for them. You and Margy and Paul and Mary have been in my thoughts all these days and hearing about you all helps anchor the thoughts. Be well and be in love.

MartininBroda said...

Patrick, I wasn’t sure I should say something here, let me say I read both posts, it was hard to keep self control during this, this wasn’t the only sentence I failed: “When we wandered about town, he was just as likely to be warmly greeted by a canine friend as a human one.”

And: “Regrets and guilt are useless emotions, and most of the time they're self-indulgent.” That’s true, and it’s often hard to find the right way to live with the ones around us. You know my best wishes are with you, but the reason I write this, sorry if that sounds pathetic, what a great model you are in such grief not least for a self check, hope that doesn’t sound too selfish.

Love Martin

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

I am very sorry to hear that you have lost your brother. Your words about him are a beautiful tribute.

tornwordo said...

I see him hanging out talking to you even still, yammering on even though you can't hear him. You write so lovingly about him. So sorry for your loss.