The Skeletons and Their Music (Eight Months Later)

Chapter 4 (eight months later)

The car is parked in a concrete multi-level garage. Thomas Richter gazes at the disagreeable and tenebrous weather from his sheltered vantage point. Generally, the sound given from the impact of the drops of rain collectively striking the pavement relaxes and focuses his mind, but today is different. A sensitive man flawed by his inability to provide generous verbal affirmations, Thomas heads to a session of couple’s therapy. Looking to his passenger and wife as they exit the car he is not sure how they came to this. He is as attracted to her as before. Michaela Richter with her blond hair in soft waves, high cheeks, and statuesque figure satisfies all the stereotypical ingredients of central European beauty.

But some aspect of her being changed; the vivacious and amiable woman no longer exists. Always yielding to life’s circumstances and ready to seize opportunity, she is paralyzed with the incapacity to relax. It began subtly; her interest in things that she liked ebbed. At the beginning Thomas thought that she suffered from stress.  She was working as a graphic designer on a special project for Der Spiegel. Living under the oppression of a deadline, often has its price. At the end of the project, she was promoted to a new position with the German magazine. The couple celebrated with a vacation in the mountains of Vermont. Michaela appreciated the efforts of her husband but somehow she lost her way. Despite her success with Der Spiegel she was neither passionate about her work nor time with her husband; she was flat.

The silent and invisible plague exerted an ambush upon Michaela until she cried without reason, and became too crippled to make simple decisions. During the nights that Thomas stayed late at the university Michaela did not eat, largely because she could not decide what to prepare. She was often argumentative with Thomas. She began seeking counsel from a therapist. Thomas has doubts in the authenticity of depression and its symptoms. On the other hand, he indubitably notes his wife’s inexplicable struggles. She has been going to therapy and today has invited Thomas to participate.

In the waiting room, Katherine Andrews plays classical music. This is probably due to the recommendation of some study, Thomas thinks. He listens intently, analyzing the song. Thomas is a musician, and a good one at that. Actually, his talent reaches far past good. While practically still a baby, music seduced him: it was his best friend, his lover, and his career until meeting Michaela in a café. In reviews of his last live performance, critics praised his talent as virtuoso pianist. Indeed this is the rare sort of awesome musical talent that allows a musician to share their gift and not suffer the financial difficulties faced by artists.

Michaela appreciates music. She took guitar lessons as a child and plays rather well, but not often. Thomas patiently and passionately taught her to play the piano, in their early days of coupledom but it was never an instrument she took too. The cumbersome mass of the piano is for a committed musician with resources. Sure, anyone can strike the keys on a little electric keyboard with its price and portability. But the piano requires space, and money and care for its maintenance and transport. The pianist is anchored to the piano. The guitarist can carry his instrument with ease. Thomas cannot help but wonder if he is the anchor that landed her in therapy. Her eyes wander upon the surface of the coffee table and crowd of magazines when, Katherine invites them into her office.

“Hello”

Katherine moves towards Thomas extending her hand.” You must be Thomas.” He shakes her hand.

“Katherine Andrews, family counselor”

The couple follows Katherine to her office.

“Thomas, Michaela and I have discussed some of the emotional challenges, and a repetitive theme is her loneliness and sadness. We are considering medication. I first suggested that you participate in a session to reevaluate the situation. Let us begin with a general discussion on what you observe in Michaela on an average day.

Thomas wants to banish the idea that he is a cruel insensitive husband. He never threatens his wife with fists nor vituperative words. Ignorant to what Michaela has spoken of to this woman, he feels as vulnerable as if he were naked on stage. He hopes to establish that he is sensitive and caring.

He opens his mouth to speak, but Michaela cuts him off.

“I miss Germany and speaking German.”

“Sometimes we speak German. One day we will go back to Germany.” Thomas protests, but it is obvious he cannot say when. He feels unprepared and erroneous in his answer like his first piano recital at six years old when stage fright overcame him and so did striking the wrong keys.

“When”?

“We have been here for four years and married for almost five. I followed you here with the idea that it was something temporary. I see your success mentoring all of these prodigious musicians. I see it in your eyes you do not want to give this up. You hardly speak German. We do not have children, but if we did I would want to have them in Germany. Michaela reacts resolutely.”

Katherine replies. How much time has passed since the last time you went to Germany? Perhaps you or Michaela need a trip to your home country. The reality is navigating a culture and language that does not feel like our own is challenging.”

Nodding his head, Thomas says “I am teaching some summer classes, but we can try to go in August.” Often expressing his want for children and seeing her reticence, he wonders if living in Germany would really make a difference.

After an hour the session ends. I feel very guilty, begins Michaela. It interested me to live abroad, but I always intended to return to Germany. I see you, contented. In fact, you are happier and more content than I have ever seen you. You guide those students with tenacity, and enthusiasm unseen in Munich. I deserve happiness as Katherine said, but you also deserve your happiness. “I could continue working. You can join me in August. Henrik and Nicole are to marry in August. If we coordinate the dates, we could go.”

Thomas reaches for her thigh just above the knee at traffic stop. Thomas, thinking of his old life and distant life remembers Nicole and Henrik. They had all been great friends. He replies. “That would be really great if we could go to their wedding. Despite the years apart, they are still important to me. “

Thomas gently reaches for her thigh just above the knee at traffic stop. “I hear you and think a trip back home would be good for you.”

“Would you like to eat out? Her question breaks their trajectory.

“          Yes”

“Sushi?”

“You know me too well.”

Every couple arrives at the moment when they realize that love is not enough. The problem with love is that it blinds us to incompatibility. What nobody admits is that one can love someone that alters the connection with oneself to the point that we are not certain who we are or what is left. An Alumnus of Boston Conservatory, Thomas’s professional network solidified in Massachusetts as a young man. He regretfully returned to Gemering the summer after graduate school without securing employment in American academia. That July day, he treated himself to an Eiskaffee after interviewing and accepting a job offer as an adjunct professor at Hochschule fur Musik und Theater Munchen. It was a compromise he made to launch his career.  He sat perusing Facebook and particularly sensitive to how inadequate he felt at the sight of carefully edited perfection that mocked his less than perfect situation.  Frustrated he abandoned the webpage and his phone for the moment and took a moment to listen to the music of urban life. Shoes on the cobblestones, conversations on one’s handy, delivery trucks and carts, all came together in an erratic symphony.

The inviting and welcoming personality of Munich is illuminated in the Marienplatz and beer gardens in the summer. This scene is a familiar one for Thomas and his familiarity played patron to complacency.  With images of the world at our fingertips, cameras always on hand, it has become too easy to look outwardly then be present and appreciate what is before us. It is too easy to forget the sincere pleasure of the sun on our cheeks and the smell of coffee. But in the café at this moment, was a woman drawing something while she savored every sip of coffee with a subtle smile. The whole scene of contentedness was a welcome reprieve from the weight of his disappointment.  He wanted to see what she was drawing.

General small talk is not as common in Germany. To approach a stranger just to speak with them is a rare social interaction and trite compliments hold little weight. It is better to be honest and direct than to feign your interest. Thomas found himself missing some of the friendliness of America, even if it sometimes felt vapid. He rose from his chair and approached her.

“Hello. I hope you do not mind the intrusion, but I noticed you drawing and became curious. Most people occupy themselves with their phones when alone, taking coffee.”

Thomas spoke in English, thinking it a skill he must maintain at a high level given his plan to return to the United States and teach at university. Seeing her intense study of the Marienplatz he secretly hoped she was an American abroad.

“No Problem.” She slid the sketch towards him.

Another German, he thought upon hearing her accent.

She shows him what she had been intently working on. It was a drawing of the café’s front window. Pastries displayed in finite detail.

“This is really fantastic. Are you an artist?”

“Ja” I mean, yes. Do you speak German? You speak English with a German accent.” Her smile indicated she caught his bluff.

“Yes. It is just I thought maybe you were not from here. I have to practice my English frequently.”

Switching to German Michaela continues.  “I work as a graphic artist and photographer. It is contract work currently. Apartments here are very expensive now, so I also do photography on the side. I am waiting to meet with a prospective client here. She hired me to be her wedding photographer.”

“I can see your passion for visual arts. You are talented. Some years have passed since my last visit to the Neue Pinakothek.  Have you been recently? Would you like to go?”

Michaela is attractive; the type of woman with suitors abound. This man is different she told herself. There is something innocent, kind, and incredibly sincere in him. At this point, she was not sure if he simply sought a companion passionate about art for the museum, or a girlfriend. Seeing him with his vaudeville three piece suit and shoulder length thick, dark hair the directness of his questions, enticed her. Having gone on a date with a tall dark and handsome Turkish man the night before, it was more red wine and soft flattery misconstrued for amor. Thinking she hadn’t been out with a German in some time, she answers him.

“Alright, what is your phone number, I will next you so you have mine. Then contact me when you want to go”

With her number on his phone about to depart, he paused.

“Umm….I forgot to get your name.

“Michaela Stern”.

“Thomas Richter, freut mich kennen zu lernen.”

They went to the museum a week later. Thomas was more timid and aloof than any Michaela expected, but his talent and kindness provoked and seduced her. Michaela was creative passionate, and emotional in every area of her life. They married after two years of dating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Skeletons and their Music 3

The Skeletons and their Music 3

The Connolly family home is only located a couple of miles from the beach. The women lived comfortably during childhood with regard to material provisions. On the other hand, they lacked the contentment that only children have under a dedicated marriage. This problem is too common; the couple succumbs to their own desires and egos. James and Anna lived like this, forgetting their identity as a couple for the care of children and their independent interests. In their final year of marriage they separated on account of James’s drinking. The relationship became more than the habitual background. It was unbearable. Anna refused to admit this change in her social status. In her eyes a divorce or separation signified an epic failure. Without a doubt the people entering marriage together are not the same with the passage of years. Alcohol only made the situation worse.

The sisters arrive to a house scattered with James’s clothing and trinkets. Combing through someone’s things they have left behind is strange work. In death, we shed our possessions like a skin. The tactile stimulation in running one’s hands over these things is both a foreign and familiar. We remember the clothing someone wore, sometimes mixed with unfamiliar mementos. The combination of it all the artifacts put the former life on exhibition.  James never put much value on material things, and therefore the task is not as tedious as it potentially can be. Nevertheless, it is overwhelming as each piece is a reminder that this is the tangible and inanimate part that remains. As they sort through Jame’s items, Erika, Jen, and Anna are discovering what items are sacred souveneirs, capturing the essence of James and which can be discarded. They are also learning this experience is subjective.

Jen fixed her attention on the floor plan and decor in the house. She confesses to herself how she avoided this place since her matriculation to university. Her time here consisted in holidays, or days of some significance, or short visits. “Contrary to what Erika believes, my life is not perfect. I am das in this house; sad and remorseful.

She regrets lacking the psychological and emotional strength to spend more time with her father. She confesses to herself that when she left home, she thought it a triumph. To see the abandoned domestic life, she feels cowardly.

“Before the alcohol, he was a dedicated father. He learned to make French braids, and sew hems in ballet costumes.”

But Jen could not adapt to the tumult of the recent years and she left.

“Jen, come with me to the garage. I have some furniture there you might make use of.”

Jen has forgotten the fact that James lived alone and had some basic furnishings in the apartment. When he evacuated for a nursing home, Anna employed a moving company and contained the furniture in her garage.

She follows Anna downstairs

Alone, Erika passes by a blouse of her fathers.

Trying to establish a fishing charter from his boat, he designed shirts with the name Fishtales, embroidered in the chest. Fishtales was the name of his last boat, and naturally the shirts were employed for advertising. She grabs the garment, too large for her to wear in earnest and gives a smile as she raises it upward.

Talking with out loud at the encounter “I have to keep this.”

Some minutes after, while she prepares the oven and cuts vegetables, she hears Jen’s voice and steps approaching the kitchen.

“There is no organization accepting such donations nearby? What I mean is a second hand store. Dad had good taste and I imagine that he spared to expense with his furniture.”

“Exactly, he never skimped on anything and for this reason I prefer that you make use of such items and not a stranger Anna replies.

Considering their conversation on the beach, Jen thinks about revealing her sister’s desire for independent living. Indeed, Erika without furniture of her own could capitalize on such an offer. Just as Jen becomes aware of the solution, Anna observes Erika in her culinary tasks and decides to keep that sofa, bed, and mattress for her. Erika in ignorance of her inheritance cannot even gaze upon the collection in the garage. She has the image of her father, scratching himself, dirty with sweat, hugging a bottle of vodka imprinted in her mind. The same mattress and bed were in the apartment with twisted sheets and the distinct smell of a person lacking the ability to bathe.

Jen and Anna make the table while Erika finalizes the meal. The women sit and Jen changes the subject of conversation. She mentions a party at the Odyssian yacht club. Patrick’s parents have a membership and boat there. The culture and atmosphere here are entirely distinct from the experience at Orient Heights whose clubhouse consisted of a trailer.

“We will celebrate the launch of their boat and other boats of the members with music and food. I checked the forecast and it will be a spectacular day for a ride in Marblehead harbor.”

The Crane family represents the typical demographics in The Odyssian. To gain membership here it is not only enough to have money, buy one also needs to descend from the Anglo-Saxon dynasty in the area. Anna asks if Jen would consider Erika’s company for the festivities.

“Yes” Jen responds with detectible reticence.

“I am unable to go. I will be sleeping”

The answer is rehearsed. Erika is opportunistic with her employment as it provides her evasion of social engagements. A hospital never closes its doors and the work schedule leaves employees separated from loved ones as they gather for celebrations. In a family grappling with frequent chaos in the home, missing holidays and birthdays for work reasons is not seen as a sacrifice, but rather a relief. For it was days soliciting celebration that made the burden of alcoholism heaviest to the Connolly family. With the overnight shift, Erika has to schedule her sleep during day hours.  Anna, James and Jen neither understand, nor understood this alternative lifestyle they liken to Dracula. Anna tries to portray her admiration of Erika’s vocation, but this schedule frustrates her. She frets that her daughter’s deviation from normal professional life prohibits a secure life with a husband and children. Jen feels alleviated that Erika, with her frankness would not be in harmony with the Cranes and in this instance, her refusal is appreciated.

Anna is content with the visit with her two daughters. Managing household tasks without a companion is not the life that Anna imagined. In her mourning and solitude she becomes anxious. She asks Jen to chauffeur her to familiar places. She asks Erika to stand on watch while should she need to go into the basement or attic, giving the reason that in the event of an emergency in either location, someone would need to call an ambulance. Both daughters feel the weight of the irrational requests in conflict with the obligatory guilt. Jen manages asserting her independence with obligation. Erika typically accepts whatever task or assistance is requested of her. She knows that in exchange for a free room, one needs to contribute. She volunteers her time and money to the food shopping, meal planning, and cooking, as well as landscaping. In reality, this began gradually as she matured and James grew more debilitated. As the relapses returned with more frequency and strength, she assumed more and more responsibility in the home and in caring for him. At thirteen years old, Erika was easy to manipulate and gullible. She became the perfect enabler in addition to a sympathetic and well behaved teenager. James celebrated her driver’s license by having her drive him to the liquor store. He celebrated her turning twenty one by having her buy him alcohol.

When the kitchen was in order, Jen collected her cell phone, purse, and rain coat.

“When will you come back?”

Jen dwells on the threshold trying to escape.

“Soon, I promise.”

With her departure, Anna and Erika return to their routines. Anna sits in front of the television. Erika sits at the piano. Melt with You, by Modern English rests on the music stand. With a sigh, she starts to play, moving her hands upon the keys. The truth is that Erika is hardly a musician.  Music theory is a mystery to her, and consequently she plays without accuracy of the timing. Music, especially live music enchanted James. He begged Erika to play. Like James, she appreciates music and enjoys playing it despite her lack of talent. Distracted with the events of the past week, she strikes the keys not without error. She reads the sheet music, frustrated, pauses and focuses her attention again. Reading the notes with the words and feeling the emotion behind the sing she shakes off her dissatisfaction. Moving forward using all my breath…..she continues from the beginning.

The Skeletons and their Music:2

Time is linear. Yet there are moments when we are lost in a cycle of hours and days lacking consciousness of the distinction of one day to another. Grief produces this experience as it exercises conscious sedation on the soul. It induces amnesia and clouds the mind diminishing vigilance and perception of time’s passage. This is Erika’s experience of the days immediately following James’s funeral. Grief sedates her such that she cannot dedicate her concentration to anything in particular.  The hours pass slowly and yet each day arrives in succession. Her expected return to work looms.

She thinks about the awkward conversation with her boss about James’s terminal state and the pending need for time off. A policy of three days off for the occasion of mourning a close relative felt so hurried. In her first year as a nurse, she took neither vacation nor sick days. On account of her dedication her boss allowed a week off. Sunday arrives too suddenly and Erika sits beside her sister and reflects upon her return to routine.

“Society expects that we return as we were after our emotional stability is demolished. My life is different and I am different. I am not who I was, but now I am not sure of who I am”, says Erika.

“But there is something curative in returning to work and to friends and to everything that invites us to feel better” Jen responds.

Erika absorbed in thought nods, but maintains her silence.  She considers “These two prespectives are correct.”

The sisters decided to have coffee together and eat with Anna on the last day of their mourning. They rest seated on a bench in front of the ocean. Constitution Beach, on the east side of Boston is not exactly a tourist destination. It has its endearing qualities but no one is going to grant it the title of beautiful. The size of the tides in the northeast United States is impressive with a maximum of four or five meters. The life guards are very diligent enforcing the borders of the swimming area. During low tides it is almost impossible for one to submerge oneself in the water. A visitor faces a long approach to the water’s edge speckled with little stones to a cold and opaque pool. Once in the water the opacity of the ocean floor puzzles the swimmer; they are never sure of what they tread upon. But, it is a safe area for families that hardly sees waves. The only waves are from the sound of reggeaton that sometimes permeate the air. The view includes Logan Airport. It is a matter of opinion whether or not this is captivating. Erika enjoys watching the airplanes take off and land; all these people coming to and fro from destinations all over the world. Since childhood, she envied people in their opportunity to experience other cultures, and speak multiple languages. The airport ignites her imagination and interest.

“Why did you take me to this haggard beach?” Jen breaks the silence with a complaint, the type you only use before life’s most familiar people.

“Because…..it is free, shade and a bathroom are close by. It is across from the airport and I like to observe the take offs and landings. More important, Dad parked his boat here. We spent many hours together as a family here.

 

James kept his boat at a yacht club in Orient Heights. The Connolly family spent many summers with rides up the north coast of Massachusetts and within Boston Harbor. Anna always blamed the drinking culture of the club for James’s alcoholism. The abundance of alcohol and low prices certainly did not help him; but to be an addict is more than economics. Erika associates the spot with summers, eluding in their length that ended and started with the same suddenness. Ten years ago Jen and Erika were sixteen and thirteen respectively. They were between girls and women. Every summer they reunited with friends, a little less as girls and a little more as women.

Jen and Erika grew up in the same house, but their differences in personality always distanced them. Physically Jen is a mix of the two parents, of average height with hazel eyes. She is cautious and conservative like Anna. Her three years in age over her sister give her the advantage of a more established life, and mature beauty. She is dedicated to her job in accounting and has a boyfriend that could win a Mr. America pageant. In fact Mr. America is Erika’s nick name for him, but his actual name is Patrick. They met at University, while involved in Greek life. He went on to law school while Jen is currently studying for her CPA exam. Patrick is the type of man that every mother wants as a son in law; handsome like a J Crew model, tall and limber, intelligent and hard working. Upon his graduation from graduate studies, Erika is sure he will propose to Jen.

Jen enjoyed collegiate life in a dormitory in pursuit of her Bachelor’s degree when Erika decided to stay with her parents and attend a nearby university. She still lives with her mother in Revere Massachusetts. Jen lives with friends in Somerville.

“I think it is time I more to my own apartment, Erika begins. I see you living with friends and I think this would be healthier for me I will not remain in the same house like an old maid caring for her mother. It is time for me to go.”

Erika leans back against the bench arms akimbo.

“Perhaps I will be an old maid, but there is no rule that I cannot live independently.”

“Do you have friends to move with? If not are you willing to take on a roommate? Rent is expensive in this area. It is almost impossible to save money while paying housing costs. Why are you leaving so quickly after dad just died? Mom appreciates your company and support.

“She told you that?”

“Not exactly”

“Try not to forget us Jen. I know you have your social network, your job, Patrick. You are free and living according to your own whims. Mom demands a lot of help with the house. I should not have to take everything alone. We do not blend as you and she do.

Jen sits there pensively.

“Erika, I would never forget about you. We are all having dinner together tonight, are we not? Also, you truly believe yourself to be an old maid? You would find someone if you were to look.”

Erika has only had one boyfriend, Marcos with whom she confused lust and love. She was completely naïve in matters of romance but wanted to alleviate her insecurity and emotional solitude. Finding this particular man, who was ready to participate in carnal pleasures came with a price. Marcos perceived the insecurities in Erika and capitalized on them. Initially, the attention from a man’s desire encouraged her. But after being so charming, his true self was revealed and wounded her more with insults and sarcasm.

James disliked Marcos. He saw his daughter victim of his spell. The problem with addiction is that you become less and less capable of providing support to others as you become more and more dependent on the drug. “With periods of sobriety becoming shorter and shorter, James lacked the ability to give his opinion on the situation. He did not believe Erika to be in any physical danger, only knew she could do much better. It was the eventual occupation with studies, work, and James that separated her enough from Marcos that she had no time for the intense cycle of passion and contempt. The young woman lacking in confidence, is tenaciously focused and goal oriented. Her tenacity is her shield against lust, flattery and insults. Unable to manipulate his way past this, the relationship between Erika and Marcos ended.

Anna still complains about Marcos in the context of his frugality, and lack of a clear career path. Rather than support Erika in telling her she can do better the customary conversion is summarized as follows.

“Erika, look at your sister and Patrick. He is handsome, motivated, polite….Men like Marcos are a waste of time.  Is there no one better that you can attract?”

Looking from the shore back to Jen, Erika begins “where should I look for him?”

“For whom”

“For the” boyfriend that you and Mom are suggesting I find.”

Jen and Anna liberally share their theories with Erika as to why she is single. Generally it involves offers to seek more fashionable and feminine clothing, wear make -up and heels. Or a modification of exercise to stay fit, but discourage muscle hypertrophy. Erika feels the emptiness in all of this. She wants to believe that her functional clothing and lack of make-up give her an approachable quality. High heels simply hurt feet and at her short stature, two more inches do little.  Erika developed a love for sports during her high school years. James taught her to lift weights to improve performance and she continues with this hobby. It is not long before she discovers this to be repellent and counter cultural.  The struggle to accept herself a woman scolded for her nature is great.  Her perceived inadequacy melts only with the attention of men.

The Skeletons and Their Music 1

Chapter 1

“The only you have to do is die.” James Connolly had a very concrete opinion of the priorities in life and that is the legacy he hoped to leave with his daughters. Of his two daughters Jen and Erika, the wisdom stuck with Erika. She realized that if life were to be compared with a book, the beginning and end is the same for everyone. But, the marrow varies. She has been considering her mortality and how the mortality of people dear to her affects her existence.

Everyone reacts differently with the awareness of impending death. The reluctance with which Erika has accepted this business of death was eventually buried to reconciliation. However, she was not prepared for the banshee to arrive howling one night only to announce her intention for James and Erika. Despite her psychological preparation for life after her father, she had not planned to be anguished by years of illness. The banshee parked beside them, she frequented them with the promise of the final destination with nothing of when.

Today Erika Connolly wakes thinking that it is the type of spring day that her father would have liked for preparing his boat. The sun shines, manufacturing perfect temperatures with a light wind. Funerals are peculiar engagements, unjust in their sadness and inevitability. James was someone of the opinion that thought if he had to die, he would like nice weather. Erika considers his likely agreement with his funeral on such a day and it ironically alleviates her on a day where she expects little relief from her emotions. The demise of James manifests today on account of addiction to alcohol.

The morning ends as suddenly as it begins. Erika sits beside Jen and her sister Anna in their parish accompanied by a small group of friends and family. Approaching the alter she thinks, “who are these people filling the church and where were they when we needed them?” She adjusts the microphone in the pulpit. With her short stature, she does this with familiarity. She shuffles her printed papers in her hands. Her mother and sister nominated her for the task of writing and reading the eulogy. Erika wrote it with hesitation. She would have preferred a discussion or at the very least the others’ input with the content. “As many decisions at home go, they allied against me. “ Erika thinks with bitterness.

Maintaining focus on the microphone Erika reads. “The past is history. The future is a mystery. Today is a gift and we call it the present.” She pauses. The church reaches out in the distance with unfamiliar faces. Her legs are shaking as she quotes her father. Jen and Anna chose her to do this because of her talent with facing tense situations and remaining calm. This outward calmness has been rehearsed, exhibiting itself through fear. Darting across her mind, “only one misstep, the failure of the sound system, or a sneeze, will demolish my composure.

“James died too young to die.” Family members and friends told them in consolation. These are the things people say. They feel a bit trite, but true as they pour from our mouths. Someone’s death before the sunset of their lives exhibits the nature of death. James taught the certainty of an anatomical end, but he did not emphasize the tempestuous, or the spontaneous. Sometimes a person’s path in life forecasts the end, but not always. In James’s case, there is nothing surprising to Jen, Erika or Anna. His body wilted away on account of too many swigs of whiskey. There is only the untimely. The shame that accompanies this punishes these women and they edit details relating to alcohol publically. The alcoholism tormented them in James’s final years and the family wants close this chapter, but Erika is not able to close her lips so tightly.

Erika continues the eulogy reviewing the highlights of her father’s life. In the first version of the eulogy she candidly wrote the cause of his death. Upon reading it, the expression on Jen’s face indicated she might lose her composure during the funeral if Erika uncovered the truth. It is not pity that she searches for, only the feeling of loneliness to be mitigated. Knowing that some people might run away from them in the rawness of reality does not scare her. She hopes that they might open themselves compassionately towards the women. Unable to always hide her worry and unhappiness with a stoic expression, Erika has told some close friends the situation. They remained her friends all the more. Jen and Anna are of a very different opinion. In fact, it is only recently that Jen reluctantly and shamefully revealed everything to her boyfriend, Patrick. The eulogy being read today placated her sister and mother, continuing to omit the drinking problem.

James was not very religious in that he did not practice organized religion. But it does not seem right to live out your life and ask your successors to dispose of your remains quietly while they grapple with your absence. All those memories and years deserve some acknowledgement even if some behaviors were deplorable. Anna inquired of James what type of arrangements he would like. All he previously made known was that he wanted to be cremated. “A hot filet is better than a cold chop” he had said. When death announced its imminence he admitted to Anna that a Catholic service was what he wanted. Erika wonders what God does with a soul like this? It does not seem fair to suffer as a slave, to a body never fully satiated by drink and meet a fiery inferno. “If I cannot look for him in the heavens, then I must think of him in the earthly finite. The songs he liked on his boat, his generosity, his jokes; this is where he is.”  Her final point in the eulogy is this. She plans to face her mourning with the parts of James that still exist in the terrestrial dimension.

Erika finishes reading after what presents as an unfair period of time comparatively to the magnitude of the task.  In any eulogy writing, the author discovers as has Erika the lamentation in reducing a person’s life to a few paragraphs. Moving through the aisle, she finally sits in the wooden pew beside Jen and Anna as the priest returns to the pulpit.

“There are times when the street rises to our feet and the wind is at our backs, the deacon begins. And other times it is not this way. There is disappointment. There are failures and moments when the road is not as we expected despite our sincere efforts.” He uses the Irish blessing that Anna chose for the prayer cards in James’s memory. After the homily, the sound of the organ signals the mass is over. Profound sadness injects Erika with its pandemic effect. It seems she is wandering lost behind her father’s casket towards the open doors. Standing in the fresh air with sunlight on her face and salutations from family and some friends, she is perplexed. The stone patio stretches outwardly towards the street of a residential neighborhood. It is the same view as in her childhood, but she is not the same. Behind her the impressive edifice, Saint Anthony’s of Padua raises itself into the sky with its detailed stained glass windows. “We are free now from lies, rehabs, and turmoil. We are also lost without lies, rehabs, and turmoil”, she tells herself.

The group disbands only to reconvene in a restaurant. In the car, finally alone Erika’s frankness exhibits itself. “Ma, who are these people y where were they when we needed support? I do not really understand the need for a meal with people such as this, nor do I understand the strict adherence to the tradition of a meal together when I for one really just want to be alone.”

“Erika, not now”

“I always thought that the collation would be full with people to whom the deceased was important. This group has a priority for lunch.”

“Erika, we are tired too. Let us continue to follow through with what is normal and expected. Normal. Families do this. We want to do it too.”

Erika preserves her silence, understanding what it is to crave normalcy. All the while, her thoughts run. “Mom and Jen only want o to save our image. I guess I don’t blame them. Furthermore, I appreciate for their sake that these people probably have figured out the truth of our circumstances and do not speak of it.  What do Patrick and his perfect family thinks of all of this? He does not seem bothered by the recent revelation that Dad was terminally ill from liver failure.

They arrive at lunch without appetites. The décor in the function room is methodical; fetching for a business engagement, or something without festive expectation. Anna chose salad, lasagna, meatballs, and some pastries for the occasion. Erika generally, jovial and friendly possesses no desire for camaraderie, sinking in her emotions. Figures that appeared in annual Christmas cards present themselves with the courtesy of strangers meeting for the first time.

With Jen and Anna in other corners of the room, she takes a seat. Using the fork, she moves her food side to side on the plate. Anna approaches with the company of a cousin and her husband.

“You are not fond of the food?” asks Pamela.

Erika sighs before responding, when Anna interrupts.

“Her doctor told her she is overweight and she is burdened with worry since receiving the news” Anna divulges.

Erika, about to lose control, hears Pamela’s voice despite her ire dimming the sounds and voices in the room.

“Your eulogy was beautiful, Erika. You are correct that we are not in holes in the ground, nor present in a pile of ashes after death. We are in our loved ones.”

Strange how kind words can make us feel. Erika appreciates the compliment as we as the visceral reaction. Knowing that these people do not know much about addiction, she shared a peek at the rawness of love and loss. After all, deciding to love someone with hateful behavior is one of the toughest circumstances a heart can face.

The remainder of the occasion passed similarly. Meeting familiar faces and, then meeting complete strangers. Erika and Jen did not know James’s childhood friends. They were part of the past that he carried in stories, but here they were. They confirm the truth in the stories about football games, dances, and habitual homeroom sessions. Ghosts from three and four decades ago, they happened upon the obituaries and wanted to say farewell to a friend.

A man approaches Erika to shake her hand.

“You are James’s younger daughter. We played football together. Did he tell you about playing football? We made it to Florida in a tournament once. Well, I’m sure he told you. “

Erika stood nodding with tears in her eyes.

“Yes. I heard about that tournament.”

The miraculous is a controversial and subjective thing and Erika is a skeptic. The time in her grief and stress has isolated and imprisoned her as if she were in a dungeon. This man validates that she has lost someone worth mourning. Her sadness needs no shield of protection; it does not need to be explained or justified.  Remembering and living this lesson will be one of her masterpieces.