on grieving

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Here is something I don't talk about: Cancer. And how too many people I know have it. And how my uncle succumbed to it last Thursday morning. And how I found out as I was walking to the bus stop.

I liked my uncle. He played guitar and let his dog eat cake off the table in the middle of parties and told inappropriate jokes. He loved my aunt fiercely (which was slightly awkward for everyone around them), only drank Napa Cab and listened to pre-creepy era Michael Jackson. When I introduced him to guys I was dating, he tried to trick them into announcing they were gay in Tagalog. He was sarcastic and a little vain, and he wore turtlenecks and gold. He also had a karaoke machine -- the old-school kind with the laser disc. (Your mind was just blown, wasn't it?)

My uncle outlived the doctor's prediction, but the cancer still won. And when he knew he was dying, he refused to wear Depends because he wanted to die in actual pants.

I'm in L.A. now, and the funeral is tomorrow. I dread it. I don't grieve in public, and funerals -- especially the extremely Catholic Filipino ones that involve more hours of praying on your knees than I ever thought possible -- scare me because they never seem to celebrate a person's life and instead are so focused on the incredible loss everyone else is experiencing. (Shouldn't we be drinking Napa Cab and singing the karaoke version of "Billy Jean" and wearing turtlenecks?)

I worry this makes me a heartless asshole, like I'm losing some kind of grief contest because I hate crying in public and don't take comfort in saying the rosary over and over again. But my emotions happen in their own way: Underwater during a swim workout. In the car while commuting. On the couch with a cat in my lap. And I think a lot about death and what it means and how really everything is so finite. And I find myself calling people I love and saying, literally: "Please don't die. Just please don't die." As if my begging has any sort of power.

I don't believe in an afterlife. Or reincarnation (although if reincarnation did exist, I was definitely a cat at some point). I think we get one shot, and what we do with what we have is a very, very important thing.

And you have to salute a man who really wanted to wear his pants.


Layla said...

I think your uncle would approve of the Napa Cab and karaoke version of remembering him. I guess funerals are for the mourners, because really, what person would say, "When I die, I want everyone to kneel for ages and moan and cry"? Instead, funerals are more of a way to give people a time to cry and to know that they're not the only ones doing so. But that's the public mourning -- and then it's done. However, celebrating his life and remembering him fondly can continue forever. Your little tidbits of funny memories are what would make your uncle smile. And those memories are what remind us that the world is still OK. Even when cancer is taking people away from us, it's not taking the memories.

Michaela said...

When I die, I'm going to make everyone run a 5K and eat Del Taco.

Layla said...

YES, that would be the best 5k ever! I think it would need cheerleaders, too.

Michaela said...

YES. And the cheerleaders would all be men in drag. And Ryan Gosling would be there too.

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