Friday, March 6, 2009

Look Behind You

For a close-knit family, the days before and after a funeral can feel like a black hat filled with little scraps of unpredictable emotions, events and circumstances. We all pass the hat around, pulling out pieces at random, none of us knowing what will be our fortune for the day. You might be the one to pull the “call the funeral home” scrap. Maybe Uncle will get the “confront hidden anxieties” card. Mother usually gets stuck with the “deal with everyone else’s crap” card at the same time everyone else pulls the “stop making good decisions” card, and we all takes turns with the “cry one minute, laugh the next” card.

Yesterday I pulled the “find a deep well of patience” card. Or maybe I should call it the “10 boxes of fruit, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and For Better or For Worse” card.

Back up—remember, dear reader, that the Berry ½ Marathon, 5K & 10K is this weekend? Right, this weekend. Same day as Grandpa’s funeral. My commitment for the marathon is to get a bazillion bananas, oranges, apples, and bagels over to the race. I had to pick up tons of fruit on Thursday—Thursday’s been the day on my calendar this week to Get Stuff Done.

Ha! Says the Grand Scheme of Things.

After Husband and the kids walked out the back door on their way to school and work in the morning, I picked up my coffee and started mentally listing where to start. My parents, who had spent the night with us that night, had to make it up to Cleveland, Tennessee that day to start making arrangements for the funeral on Saturday. There was a service to plan, people to talk to—the usual funeral related details. I planned to make them breakfast, see them off, and then go tend to my fruit, bagels, and finding something in this town for me to wear to a funeral on Saturday. It looked like a jam-packed day.

The night before, my parents had parked their Toyota Highlander behind Husband’s truck. About five minutes after leaving, Husband walked back inside and leaned against the doorway looking at me. “Yes?” I said, thinking he had forgotten something.

“I just wrecked your parents’ car.”

And by wrecked, he means wrecked. The car is probably totaled. Sometimes I think he thinks his truck is a space shuttle, and he needs to slam down the gas pedal to make it take off at enough speed to clear the atmosphere. This is apparently what he did on Thursday morning, Day of Too Much to Deal with Already. I didn’t know a truck could go from 0 to 40 in three feet, but that’s what their car looked like. He bashed the Highlander’s face all in—the front bumper hung off the car and the white Styrofoam padding exposed underneath looked like the dazed, toothy grin of a cartoon boxer. If we lived in cartoons, the Highlander would have had little stars circling over the hood.

As I pointed out to him later, if he had hit a complete stranger he would have stayed to relate insurance information, help them out, do what needed to be done. He’s a stand up guy that way. But since it was me and my parents, he decided the best thing to do would be to take off. He went to work.

He left me to go downstairs, wake up my tired and emotionally drained parents, and tell them their son-in-law had just wrecked their car.

Have you ever had the experience of talking to someone who does not speak your language? You talk, and they look at you with this blank look of incomprehension. That’s the expression Dad’s face held when I told him. Mom, on the other hand, burst into laughter. Hilarious. Laughed and laughed. Dad’s head turned from me to her, still with the blank look. He said “I’m not sure I understand your reaction.” This only made her laugh harder, but now she pressed both hands over her mouth trying to hold it in, which made her eyes water. “It’s…just….a…car…” she said between bouts of giggles.

She’s right, of course. In the Grand Scheme of Things.

But damn, what a headache.

Insurance companies were called, family members were alerted as to the change in the day’s plans. The wrecker service came to pick up the Highlander from our driveway, with the guy tossing out his wrecker-service wisdom: “I guess your son-in-law don’t want his mother-in-law coming around anymore. He hit you hard.”

They still had to get to Cleveland and I still had to get my fruit, but Dad had to go down to the Renaissance Marquis and help his brothers get Grandma ready for the journey. Mom stayed home to wait for Enterprise Rental in Rome to get a car for them to take to Cleveland. Kroger’s on the way home from the Marquis, so I stopped and picked up my 10 boxes of fruit. Now the van smells like warm fruit salad.

I called Mom to see if Enterprise had called. Yes, she said. They’ll have a car for us by 1:00.

Good, I thought. I’ll go try and find some funeral clothes for me, white undershirts for the boys, and all those little odds and ends we usually don’t think to buy. I tried TJ Maxx, but no go.

I called Mom to check in. Enterprise now says 3:00. Maybe.

I went over to Kmart. Nothing there. I called Mom again, told her I was on my way home. The smell of warm apples in the car was starting to make me dizzy.

By the time I got home, Enterprise had completely flaked out and now admitted they did not have a car and probably would not have a car for some time and they had been stringing us along all day. Mom and Dad decided to call my little sister to come pick them up. She drove up from Atlanta, loaded them into her car, and took them up to Cleveland last night.

(Let me just warn others: Enterprise in Rome is terrible. Avoid them. Horrid customer service.)

Periodically throughout the day, I called Husband just to fuss at him. He expertly responded with phrases like “You’re absolutely right, dear” and “whatever you say, whatever you need, dear.” I forgive him; he’s going to get enough ribbing this weekend when everyone is together. (I learned in the course of the day that several cousins and uncles have backed into other’s cars, or backed into garage doors, or generally caused a ruckus in the driveway of their in-laws in years past.)

It’s hard to stay mad--and why bother, when the family gathering of a funeral provides so many other emotions to pick from?


  1. You are brilliant.

  2. First of all, I'm just really sorry for the rough time you've had. The loss of grandpa, of course, but also just the all of it that comes with such a loss--the kind of stuff that's real but that's not often owned up to, as you do here.

    your story was poignant and funny and frustrating--just as it sounds your last couple of days were. thanks for sharing. i wish you and your family all the best.

  3. thanks for inviting me to read this. it was truly poignant and funny and frustrating all at once, and i felt the heartbreak.

    it struck me that both of your parents' reactions made sense: incomprehension, on the one hand, and resigned laughter, on the other. you can cover lots of life with these two reactions.

    Thanks again. And best wishes.

  4. “I’m not sure I understand your reaction.”
    Absolutely priceless!

    I'm sorry for your loss.