Sometimes it's good to be a zombie, to just turn off or turn down one's awareness of their surroundings and let the autopilot take over. I've gotten through long classes or later in life long meetings by drifting in and out of a ”Walter Mitty”-esque daydream or twelve. I've woken up from particularly cool dreams and cursed the morning, or rolled over and tried to go back with little success. I've pulled off superheroic feats to rescue and impress girls I've liked, or lay trapped alone with them in a cave-in where true feelings HAD to be confessed before it was too late. In younger years I'd even fantasized lying in a hospital bed and having some crush visit my bedside and confess HER feelings, but that one declined over the years and completely disappeared after an eleven day hospital stay for REAL, and one in which sending word to my ex-girlfriend garnered little more than sympathy, and no actual visit. Even e-mailing my near-death experience to her in painful detail the second I was home and at a computer again didn't bring her running back in to my arms the way I thought it would. Had the Soap Operas I'd watched with my folks lied to me? Had comic books, movies, and sitcoms done the same? Reality NEVER plays out like dreams, so I'll always prefer dreams. In dreams I've KNOWN how to dance at parties. In dreams I've GOTTEN and KEPT the girl. In dreams I've even been ATHLETIC.

I've tried to restore the lighter tone of this blog these last three days, but my reality has been anything but. Besides a great lunch with a couple of old friends from college that I don't see nearly as often as I'd like, the only GOOD thing that's happened this week is I seem to be getting over my stupid ”driving insanity”. I've been longing for the days I'd get in the car and suddenly be miles down the road without knowing how or when I got there, far more preferable to measuring each part of the journey and hoping I make it to the nearest parking lot to rest. It isn't that I'm not paying attention to the road when I zone out, but that I'm paying attention on a different level, and not paying so much attention that I panic. As one of my friends put it this week upon learning I wouldn't drive to visit a friend if he moved out of state, I was a “real bitch”. Granted, he didn't know the full details of WHY I wouldn't drive and I wasn't about to explain my last six months of borderline agoraphobic HELL, but in a way he was right. This week I've been relaxed and let myself go when driving. When I feel like I'm not breathing I DON'T, and when I feel like I'm passing out I RELAX. In doing so, the opposite of what I would expect happens and the sensations pass, which makes me stronger with each successful journey. This means I'm looking forward to a trip I was previously dreading, but I won't say anymore for fear of jinxing™ it.

It's been an exhausting week with a lot on my mind. I think that combination is what's kept me from overthinking and hyperventilating behind the wheel. Yesterday I joined my parents at not one but two wakes for my mom's cousin. I hadn't made the two on Thursday but I was there from two until four yesterday, and seven until nine, visiting the deceased's family at their home in between rather than go home. At one wake I shared “surgery stories” with an uncle who’d survived cancer 20 years ago after having several feet of intestine removed. I talked about how I dealt with the pain after my surgery by immediately going to sleep for fourteen hours. Every time I woke up I was in agony, and sleep was my only true escape from the uncomfortable tubes and the unbearable pain.

It was a long day and I drifted in and out of reality. The family is a happy one with good memories and a great sense of humor(when I described them thus to my mom today she muttered, “that's how it's SUPPOSED to be, not all doom and sourness like US.”). One cousin told great boyhood stories about going to the racetrack with his uncles as a kid, or the time he almost drowned reaching in to a pickle bucket on the farm and slipped, landing headfirst and struggling until his grandmother saw him and somehow found the strength to pull him free. One tale about the time he told someone to bet ”333” in the lottery as a joke took me by surprise given my recent ruminations about that number. His surprise came the next day when the guy thanked him profusely and showed him a winning ticket. I considered playing the number last night MYSELF after hearing this tale, but fortunately didn’t, since it didn’t come in.

Yesterday was long and today was longer. I was nervous about being a pall bearer not just because I'd never done it but because I feared my dizzy spells. I've driven without passing out. I've made it through meetings without passing out. I've even walked and played my instrument through long processions, one as long as twelve hours, in the last few months. That foundation gave me confidence, but the real strength came in the ability to turn off that part of my mind that CAUSES symptoms by WORRYING about the very symptoms it’s CAUSING, in a vicious cycle. Today was long and unreal, a dreamlike blur.

First there was quiet solitude, saying goodbye one last time at the funeral home. When it was time to leave my mom kissed her cousin on the cheek and said goodbye, breaking down in tears as my father and I escorted her out.

Second came the vehicular procession to the church, with a detour past her home as is the tradition. On the way back we were directed by police around an accident, and later would learn the driver of one of the vehicles was a friend of the family on the way to the funeral. He never got there, but showed up distraught at the house later. He was unharmed physically, but the person who'd run a light and cut in front of him was in the hospital with a broken leg, and that's where he spent most of his day.

Third was the intimidating honor of carrying in the casket. Her son-in-law, her cousin, her son's best friend, her daughter's godfather, and her husband's nephew rounded out the group and I followed their lead, surprised at how light a shared weight can be, even going up steps. Inside, there was a wheeled cart to guide us.

Fourth was the mass. The priest had some comforting notions to say about the journey she was taking and why we feel sadness, anger, and confusion. Back when people thought the Earth was flat, the sight of a ship disappearing over the horizon was terrifying. It looked like it fell off the edge of the world. But though we can't see it, we know it's still there and somewhere on another shore what got smaller and disappeared for US, is getting larger as it arrives for SOMEONE else. I liked the metaphor a lot. In her anger my mom said a lot of things today like she wished SHE was in the box and even asked ME if there was a heaven. I thought the priest’s metaphor was apt. Just because we can’t see heaven, and can’t see those who have began their journey, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have faith that it IS there. Without faith, what does ANYTHING we do on this world matter?

Fifth was the journey to the cemetery. We got shuffled around and I ended up at the front of the coffin this time. It seemed heavier somehow, especially going down the steps, but we saw our precious cargo to her ride without incident. There were some more words said by the funeral director at the grave site and we were invited to think of our happiest memories before tossing a flower on the grave. Tearful hugs were shared all around.

Finally we gathered at the family's home one more time. There was food, and my mom's cousin's four grandchildren were brought to the house(having been spared the other events they were too young for--the oldest of the four boys is five). Other than one incident where the boys wandered into a room they weren't supposed to and got excited upon seeing “gramma's shoes!” and thinking she was in the house somewhere, they brought much-needed joy with them. One of the woman's friends had moved to Florida and the last time they spoke she told her she'd NEVER come to New York in the winter again. My Aunt simply told her, “Yes, you will,” and she was stunned today by how that came true. At one point the doorbell faintly rang but no one was there, and the husband speculated his wife may have come to join everyone eating and keeping company. Last night when a curtain in her kitchen snapped up by itself, we pondered the same possibility.

I think it's going to be hard for the family later after things quiet down and visitors depart, and the reality of the quietness sinks in. Just as today was a blur for me, I'm sure her immediate family were “going through the motions” and just EXISTING, getting through the day minute by minute. Every weekend the parents used to visit their son's grave, and now the husband will be visiting TWO graves side-by-side. We get through life not in big steps but in smaller increments, the best way to tackle any problem, and ironically “sleepliving” through the longer stretches is the only way to get through them sometimes.

It didn't feel right to post something as offbeat as yesterday or to review a movie tonight. Comic relief is important, but with everything that's been happening I had to visit this subject one last time. I'll share one story of this woman's grandchildren though, to close with a lighter note. Earlier in the week to emulate their uncle, one of the boys decided he wanted a goatee and drew one in--WITH A RED PERMANENT MARKER. While the adults were making preparations and sitting around absorbing the reality of what had happened, the boy came out just when they needed to smile the most. The ink would take a few days to wear off and in the interim, he had to go to school like that. God bless the children.


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