Rest Easy, Pa’s Frank

A week ago, i sat with Crit and Debul and DW at the Bistro. It was dine and dash situation for me. i was trying to get over the pass at a decent hour because another 5+ inches of snow were coming any minute. if i waited, or even hesitated, there was a good chance the road would be shut down or the conditions too rough to drive in safely at 3am (the time i have to leave my house for a 7am flight out of Jackson Hole). we had just discussed everything i knew and everyone was processing many things allatonce. that i was not going to be there for the play. that was number one. and at ages 6 and 7, that makes sense. it only took a quick minute for Crit to proclaim through her sobs that she was sad about BOTH…all of it was making her want to cry. i said i get it. and i did.

As i was gathering my puffy and my hat, i was squeezing the guts out of my homies. “Do you HAVE to go, Mommo?”, Debul asked.

“Yes, buddy. i do. i HAVE to go, and i WANT to go.”

I knew when i cranked up the Subaru and headed up the pass, that it was as equally important that i go as it was that they saw me go. that they watched me drop everysingle thing that was happening in our world, and go to share time and space with my clan, sacred time and sacred space.

you go.

when i called DW earlier that morning, he said “Well, you can’t not go. That was one of the first things you told me about you when we met. That you can’t not go.”

My heart pitter pattered with love for my husband. for his knowing, understanding, and supporting the most important things, while i scrolled through the limited flight options into Scranton, Pennsylvania.

my mom called first thing in the morning, right after DW and the homies pulled out for school. of course, i was floored. flabbergasted. dumfounded. shocked. but not yet sad. i had a yoga class to teach in an hour. 

“Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.” Walt Whitman. i used the same advice when i genuflected in front of the altar and read from the Book of Wisdom in St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, standing in front of so many of the same folk that i read my manifesto tribute to Grammy almost exactly 20 years before. 

it seemed no one knew the protocol exactly. we were all on new turf and out of practice. thankfully and gratefully we were all caught squeaky and rusty in the joints of the Irish Catholic Way-Of-Death (as I heard my dad say a few times). It came back to all of us. 

Last Tuesday, all day long, my phone was dinging. brothers, sisters, and cousins galore checking in. sending love. and asking what i need. dresses? shoes? i’d love to report that at age 42 i have my act together enough to have appropriate attire for a somber occasion in the winter. but they were right, i needed shoes. and there were options a plenty.  my cousins got my back. they were there i suppose, when my Aunt Ruth told me i was dressed like a slut at my grandfather’s funeral. all because of my inappropriate shoes. 

An Irish wake in the heart of ‘ol coal country USA is a ritual to behold. This was my ninth in Carbondale. despite being spread about three different funeral homes; they all play out the same. It’s sad sad sad at first. when you walk in and all your people are there. like a wall taller than any wave at Maverick’s, the love swallows you up. and you cry. you embrace the way Grammy taught us, and you mean it. you give and receive love in a manner that permeates on the cellular level. we share cells. we share DNA. we share a long line of family patterning that runs deeper than any anthracite vein up or down the valley. there are bindings woven at all levels. the freckles on our skin, the flesh in our earlobes, the shape of our feet, the curl in our hair, the stoutness and strength in our physiques. the clever wit, the loyal friendships, the hearty laugh, the fondness of the drink (learning that it is not as fond of us). “for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” Whitman, again.

the turnout was overwhelming. four non-stop hours of other human beings in the town of Carbondale to pay their respects. everyone came. the Doherty clan warmed up the back room in minutes when they sat in the chairs and shared laughs and tears with everyone. they stayed for a good warm while. they acknowledged and respected the sacred space. they just came to be. to be together. the meaning of what it means to “hold space” for others sharpened in clarity for me as i looked around and witnessed its powerful effect.

i have heard about the AOH (Ancient Order of Hibernians) for as long as i can remember, but i did not have a solid understanding of its impact and meaning. when the funeral home was hushed for their arrival, everything held a different weight. They made ritual proclamation, and marched in unison, the unified front of a small town squad. The man who spoke took obvious pride in labeling himself of the ‘Ancient Order’ and there was terrific solemnity. It was a powerful moment. I read years ago that affiliation to something outside one’s self is one of life’s greatest motivators. I was comforted by Frank’s deeply integrated affiliation, and the respect and honor they bestowed upon him and his family. 

The Catholic funeral mass is a sovereign ritual. Not to mention the transition from the funeral home to the church. the final goodbye from the families is one of the most gut wrenching and heart draining experiences i have endured. being a daughter of the eldest son, this was my fourth time being the last family called. it does not get easier. it is awful. yet if i were ever not there to participate in the process, i could not forgive myself. 

The readings, the petitions, the gospel, the homily, the hymns, the incense, the cleansing tears, the reality, the everlasting, the looks over our shoulders, the winks, the hand holding, the hug giving, the tissue sharing, the pews full of love love love. the bagpipes. the AOH lining the steps. i felt like royalty walking outside that church. Frank was revered, and they let it be known. i suppose they know what great comfort that offers a grieving family. being honored and saluted as your body leaves the church seemed like a sacrament onto itself.

Frank showed up. My kids know that. When we come to Matamoras, Pa’s Frank comes over. With Matt and with Barb. He brings jazzards and treats from Barbours. He always did his best to bring his good cheer. No matter the season, the week, the day, or how he woke up feeling that morning. He showed up. He packed his bags and drove to Virginia several times a year to simply be where the family action was. He never cancelled. He never said “it’s too much, I’m not in the mood.” Instead, he strapped Matt and Barb in the car and headed south, and took it as it came. He wanted to be where love is and he wanted to take Matty there too. 

We came together, as we have always done and will always do. We held each other close and tight as we began the transition to our new way of life without Frank dwelling inside the Burnett body that we all recognize in ourselves. The intensity of those first few days offer a sound buffer to the grief we all must work through on our own as we go our separate ways. Grief can only visit where great love exists. May we each find comfort and solace as we begin to sit alone with the uncomfortable emotions in the days ahead.

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holy moly pudding and pie!

in my real actual life, this all happened yesterday:

i woke up in the wee morning…in the early 5’s. DW has been sleeping up at camp for the past few nights. so my windows are open, with the curtains pulled back so far they look like indoor shutters. i’ve been falling asleep to the moon fattening and the creek swelling. i’ve been waking to the horizon pinkining and the flow of the water receding.

it’s the time of early summer morning i have spent with Debul for the past six years. now he has his own room upstairs and sleeps till 7. SEVEN!!!! he doesn’t hear the grind of my coffee beans anymore. he’s no longer in my lap while we chat in whispers and watch the day rev itself up.

i’m on my own now for the first while. while i wax poetic for losing that time with my son, i revel in the solitude it affords me. time to do with what i please. once 7am comes tick-tocking, it’s go-time till 8pm. certainly not in the way it was when we first got out here, nothing compares to toddlerhood, but intense and exhausting in its own right.

i’ve been busier in the past few weeks than i’m comfortable with. the kind of busy that keeps me from hitting my mark with consistency. i’m in that phase where i’m feeling unsynchronized and offstep. once i get my groove on in the morning, i’ve been a wrecking ball of to-do list checking and bullshit busy-ness. summer seems like such a wee short little window and everything has to happen allatthesametime in order for it to all work out. or so i tell myself.

once the homies were up and running, i sent them out of the house. i had a billion things to get together before our trip to town and their chatter, banter, bicker, inquire routine was getting under my skin. i am not a good rusher. hate rushing…yet there i was flailing in a rush. i cut, glued, and sewed up a birthday gift. only to realize once i was on the final star, that i fed it through the sewing machine backwards. it’s a funny thing about rushing. you don’t have time to make corrections for the errors you would not have made if you were not rushing.

once i had my ducks gathered in a sloppy herd, we headed to town. we skittled about our errands quite pleasantly and then landed at Shank’s. I’m the lawn boy (that’s a girl) this summer. it’s quite fun. his lawn is the pride of Painted Hills and i’m honored to care for it a little bit. today’s pattern was diagonal. i was digging it completely until the triangles on the outsides got small, then i got all buggered. Shank and the peeps watched Little House on the Prairie while i mowed. bless his heart.

when we got home, there was more to do. pull out hoses, set up sprinklers, water the garden, water the flowers, mix the gas with the oil, weed whack, chop firewood, stack wood, move things down to the garage, tidy up, come up with a dinner plan, feed the children, check for ticks…

i was weed whacking when i had the thought. of the lady in Alaska. the one who i assume who was living her dream in the bush with her husband and her infant daughter last fall. the one that made headlines when she was attacked by a grizzly bear with her daughter in her backpack. the one i think about from time to time. it could have been me. so easily could have been me, i thought.

my kids were out of sight, and with the obnoxious sound of the 2-stroke engine, out of ear-shot too. i thought about what a distinct difference that was from five summers ago when i barely let them out of arm’s reach. when i never walked to the end of the driveway without bear spray. when i had them attached to me at most times and my level of alertness and awareness was top notch. i wondered out loud inside my head if i had let my guard down too much. had i become too complacent in the safety of our domicile in the heart of the wilderness? today, while whacking weeds, i wondered that.

and once my string ran out, i called it quits. it was enough busy-ness for the week. i asked the peeps if they wanted to ride bikes down the road to meet DW on his way home. Once the mention of recording it on the bike function of the fitness tracker came up, everyone was sold.

we were cruising along. i am trying out a super rad bike. it’s deluxe. i love it a million times over, but know that it is truly too much bike for me. the three of us were giggling and laughing and inside joking while passing each other and waiting up for each other. we practiced staying on the far right side around all the corners and staying within eyesight. no one got off to walk on any of the inclines – a first. it was a really fun bike ride, we took bets on how far we’d make it before we ran into DW.

i took the lead into Monkey Tunnel/Crabtree Lane. Once it straightens out, you get a good look at the narrows. I called back to my peeps “Monkey Tunnel/Crabtree Lane all clear! Crush It!” and i picked up the pace. Debul was hot on my tail…Crit a bit further back. We were so very close to the turn at the end of the tunnel, smiles plastered from speed, when a grizzly bear came out of the turn straight at us at a full lope.

thank the lord for creating the fella who gave mountain bikes disc brakes, and thank Jeff Milton for letting me try out his bike on this very day. i skidded to a quick stop and yelled “BEAR”. Debul crashed and jumped off his bike. he panicked. for the shortest window of time, he freaked. i grabbed his arm and pulled him up. “Get your bike. Get on your bike and GO!” he was still frozen with overwhelm. i looked over at the bear, he bolted in his direction as fast as we boogeyed in ours. he wanted nothing to do with our scene. i looked at Debul again and said in a voice that may not have ever come out of my throat before, “Devlin, you cannot panic. You got this. Breath deeply. You should be afraid, but you should NOT panic. GO! Get on your bike and GO! Crit, GO!”

Crit kept her cool. She was frozen at first, but then turned her bike right around and sped off. She never once looked back. Debul did, over and over again. I thought for certain he’d wreck while looking back over his shoulder. I kept shouting “Don’t look back Devlin, you are safe. I got you. I’m in charge of back here. You are safe. Don’t stop pedaling. Keep a swift pace.” i said “swift pace”. WTF?

you never know how you might react when a grizzly bear is on a run heading straight for you and your two kids in a section of road so narrow that it is almost worthless to plow in the winter. i never knew i would use the word swift. but i did.

what i didn’t do, was bring bear spray. it is mounted on the front fork of the bike i normally ride. i ALWAYS have it. but i’m test riding. and when i walked out the door i thought, 5pm, trafficky road, campsites full, meeting DW on the road, don’t need it. i thought that. the same me that carries it to the garage with me at night if i empty the trash, thought that i wouldn’t need it this afternoon. and truly, i didn’t. but when i saw that bear’s paws lifting off the ground and pounding back into the dirt, i sure as hell wished i’d had it. i stayed back, just a touch, to give the kids a head start. it was the only defense i had for them.

we pedaled swiftly, that’s for sure. once the adrenaline flushed, and we felt safer, we pulled over and got off our bikes. we held hands and stood around a tree stump overlooking the creek. we took 19 deep breaths. we asked and answered questions. we held each other tight. we got back on our bikes and rode toward home. DW met up with us shortly after. he pulled the Subaru over and the homies shared their adventure. he rode off to meet the three of us home. as he pulled away, i realized he was the only vehicle we had seen since we saw the bear. if things had gone any differently, he would have been the first to arrive on the scene. the thought made me dry heave. it was father’s day adam after all (the day before father’s day eve).

that lady in Alaska. her daughter. her husband.

it could have been me, i thought again for the second time that day.

and my brain had a crystal clear answer my earlier wonderings. yes, i had become too complacent.

it is wild here. wild.