“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.