Not Present

Watching my grandmother die was profoundly reassuring. While grandma is gone, she has a life for me that is a consolation. I had seen people engaging with dead bodies before on television, and I had thought it maudlin, disturbing, and pointless. Yet, when she was lying in the casket, I touched her face and felt a profound sense of resolution that I could see her and touch her. She was dead, but she was present.

Being present is my greatest challenge. When my grandmother died, before the funeral, my mother and my aunt stayed in a casino hotel in Espanola. It made sense given all the people that were taking up every space. My mom lost her wallet, she thought, somewhere in the casino. Overtaken by the obvious emotion piled upon the aggravation and stress of a lost wallet, my mom had what anyone would call a meltdown. As it unfolded, I felt a typical response: run away.

Mom started to cry and freak out and my aunt looked at me, “Go and comfort her!”

She might have well have asked me to pull a rabbit out of hat. I remember the moment vividly because of my complete and total befuddlement. This woman was falling apart. I felt a mix of anger, helplessness, and a profound desire to change the channel.

“Jesus Christ,” I can hear myself thinking, “It’s a wallet!”

I think I may have said that.

A woman I was involved with lately, finally, told me when we parted, “I’m feeling anxiety about saying goodbye.”

Good, I thought, she’s being honest. But these moments had often resulted in what Bruce Springsteen calls a “fire fight.” A spiral he describes so well. Comfort? Pull it together! Where are you? I’ll be there later! Leave me alone! So I am.