I memorialize a lot of musicians and other pop culture figures here. I do it because I think it’s important to note their passing into the next plane. I also do it because, like most living people, death scares me. It’s a natural fear, although one uniquely human. I’m pretty sure mole rats don’t sit around in their burrows obsessing over the inevitability of their deaths; they’re probably too busy hunting for food or making baby mole rats. It makes me wonder if our big brains and the commensurate level of self-awareness are really worth it.
What this boils down to is that I take death pretty seriously. I hurt a little for everyone who is left behind when someone they love passes. (The person who died is actually okay at that point; whatever fear, pain, or suffering they experienced while alive is gone.) I grieve along with them. I also grieve for all those I’ve loved who are no longer here, people and animals alike. (We lost a beloved kitty just a few days ago, and I can’t tell you how much Mom and I miss her.) It all adds up to a lot of heartache. Sometimes it is easier, sometimes it’s better, but it never really leaves you. But suffering over that pain is a choice. And while I feel that pain and grief, I don’t wish it gone. I don’t revel in it, but I try to accept those emotions and feel them. It’s okay to hurt; just don’t make it the only thing you feel.
Which leads me back to today’s song. My extended family recently became a little smaller in number and a lot less fun. My mother’s cousin, Mike Foster, died several weeks ago. It is still a raw wound, but I know that he’s not really gone from the Universe. (Mike and his family are Christian, but I don’t think my beliefs conflict too much with their vision of heaven.) He’s not here physically and that’s what hurts, but his energy is still part of everything else. Mike was generous and open and loving with everyone. And, like my much missed Daddy, he never met a corny joke he didn’t tell to everyone within hearing distance. Mike had a wonderful sense of humor, even if it did make you groan occasionally. For whatever reason, his passing made me think of this wonderful old John Prine song. (I know I’ve probably posted this one before, but I’m too lazy to look it up right now.) I know Mike wouldn’t want people to be sad about his death. He’d want them to celebrate his life and have a good laugh in his honor. And for people like me who take death a little too seriously, this is a great antidote for that.
Have fun in the next plane, Mike. Love you.
So Melancholy Christmas has kind of become Pissed Off Christmas. Or in the case of this song, Pissing Drunk Christmas. Which is not really anything new in my family.
I don’t mean to imply that my family is anything like the bitter, dysfunctional couple in this Pogues classic. There have been relatives on both sides with alcohol problems, but mostly we’re social drinkers. When I was kid, it seemed like everyone got a happy buzz going, and then indulged in a high-spirited (loud) discussion (argument) about some trivial thing. Who was the greatest baseball player? The Searchers or Red River? Etcetera, etcetera. Sometimes the discussions would be political, but no one was ever really angry. At least, I don’t think so. My memory is hazy about all that business; I was generally too busy playing with my mile-high stack of toys to pay much attention.
Of course, that was Dad’s half of the gene pool. My mother’s side of the family was always more sedate, but I really don’t know what the grown-ups did there, because I had a passel of cousins to play with. (My brother and I were the only kids on Dad’s side until we were teenagers.) I do know that Mom’s family was more (publicly) polite, conservative, and religious, so I suspect things were more or less pleasant.
Holidays are about the same, just smaller. There’s always good food, some wine and beer, and somebody gets more than a little loud at least once. It’s all good. And least we’re not the couple in “Fairytale of New York.”
We’re finally getting the family together to honor my Uncle Paul, who passed away suddenly a few weeks ago. My father is the oldest of five; Uncle Paul was second. He was a good, kind man with the same biting sense of humor and fierce loyalty my whole family shares. He was also intensely private, to the point of paranoia. He believed in conspiracy theories and aliens, and tended toward conservative politics. He loved to say things that would provoke my father into an argument. (I need to mention here that arguing about things is not just a family pastime, but might actually be genetic.) He drank too much and loved animals, especially dogs. My uncle was an interesting guy. I might not have been super close to him, but I loved him.
This song came up on the computer the other day, and I knew it would be perfect to dedicate to his memory. Sting originally wrote it for the brilliant album The Soul Cages, a song cycle he wrote after the deaths of his parents. He had a difficult relationship with his father, so many of the songs dealt with his conflicting emotions about his Old Man (my term, not his). My relationship with Uncle Paul certainly wasn’t the same; we got along just fine and dandy. But the question is always there when any loved one dies. “Why should I cry for you? Why would you want me to? What would it mean to say, I loved you in my fashion?”
What would it mean indeed.