Sunday, October 15, 2006

Stories of ambiguity and grief

Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem started an interesting string on the Bethlehem of PA listserv (aka a "meeting" on Ecunet). It read as follows:


As you know, my closest friend died last May. Well, my cell phone quit yesterday and I had to use the backup, and there in the directory was my friend's name.

The more efficient side of my brain had me push the "edit" button to remove a name and phone number that would get me nowhere and that was taking up space in the SIMM chip. I hit the edit button and then found myself going back to the previous menu. It just wasn't a time when I would or could cut that tie.

What's interesting to me as I reflect on my own process of grieving is that I know I won't put his name into the new phone I get tomorrow, but won't remove him from the old one. The soul has its own timetable, it seems.

Anybody else have stories of ambiguity and grief?



This brought back some memories and I wrote the following in reply:

Note #29507 from AGerns to BETHLEHEM OF PA:

I have a couple of audio tapes that I cherish.

In 1999, after my father died and my mother went to a nursing home, my brothers and I were cleaning out their house. Anyone who has done this knows that this is an arduous and emotionally taxing task. We were sorting through the accumulated things of almost sixty years of marriage, and even though a fire had destroyed a bunch of stuff and many moves had caused many more things to disappear, it still took three or four large dumpster loads and several trips to used book and record store to do the job. My parents had many more things than their last little house could hold. They had a hard time letting go of things, too.

We knew we would keep some things: my father's and grandfather's collection of antique tools, for example. My mother's cutting board which was a wedding present in 1940, her paintings and her collection of weird and wonderful Christmas ornaments. I still have Pop's slide rule and belt case, a NASA pocket protector (a souvenir of some job he did once) and a small measuring thingee that looks like an alligator jaw on a popsicle stick. I don't know what it did, but I am sure we could not have gotten to the moon without it. We saved every photograph we found in a file box. We went for these things first and for them we formed a small pile on the sun porch with a sign marked "keep."

After a while, fatigue and time begin to overwhelm sentimentality and stuff just begins to go. The sheer volume is more than one can handle; one can no longer sort memories let alone things. In a short time things would just come hurling out the window into the dumpsters.

Some things floated to the top. My brother had pitched a box into the dumpster, and it split open with a crash. It was a box of cassette tapes. I climbed in and took out the tapes, thinking that there might be things the used record guy might buy.

What I found were dozens of classical music tapes, a few books on tape and some tapes of church services. At the time, I decided that the music would be nice to have on long trips, so I took the whole box and tossed in my van.

This proved to be an example of how both Freud and the collect for purity are right: that deep down we know more about us than we care to admit.

On the drive back home to Ohio, I reached back on popped a tape into the player. I grabbed one of the church tapes. It was just a regular Sunday Eucharist somewhere in Ordinary Time with big organ and a nice choir.
Nothing all that special except that out of the blue came my father's voice, announcing the Gospel.

My first impulse was to eject the tape. In fact, I did, again and again. But each time I would shove it back in and play it some more. And when the sermon started, I found myself rewinding that tape and listening again. It was a wonder that I could drive at all.

Here he was, not dead but alive. And not quavering and stuttering as he was when I last spoke to him. Here he spoke with that wonderful "BBC Voice" of his that he learned in the theater and perfected on the Armed Forces Radio.
This was the voice he saved for reading the scriptures or saying the office out loud. I was hearing him alive again, doing the thing he loved to do the most in the place he loved best of all.

I only have one cassette player now, and it is not in my car. It is a deck attached to my stereo. I can't bring myself to fill my family room with Pop's voice, but I keep the tapes just the same. It is just nice to know that he's there.

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