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How the apples fall - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

*** This was written the week of June 18-25th, whilst I was on holiday, thus it is datelined so.

LAS VEGAS, NV As previously writ in this space, we're in Las Vegas this week for the wedding of my cousin Philip. And so with this dispatch written here, indulge me as I touch on some personal issues and trot out some emotional luggage; the requisite family laundry airing, I guess. It has been an incredible past two months. I believe it to be nothing less than remarkable the roller coaster of emotions had by members of my family, and myself. Family, as we have all re-learned these past number of weeks is not limited to those that share your surname. It never is, and never should be.

Phil's wedding to his bride, Anabel Ho, was at the Paris Hotel here in Las Vegas on the 22nd of June 2003. Our grandmother died on the 22nd of April. Only after Phil's wedding, sitting here in the hotel room, overlooking the Strip's twinkling lights, did the timing of it all hit me. For all of us this journey through human emotion, camaraderie and family relations has been unbecoming, at times frightening, as families all of them, in whatever shape and size they come in are dysfunctional in some small measure, or even larger.

At the wedding lunch, people made speeches and the line I remember most, because it was so prescient and so true, was the line that one of the sisters of the bride gave. She said, speaking of her own family, that families don't say the things they should, they assume far too much, and that dysfunction is certainly the norm. Over the last couple of months, since my Grandmother's death, our family, as distant as everyone seems from one another, I think can ultimately surmise that we do deserve eternal credit for making the effort. The stun of shock and the brunt of emotion had brought us together, uniting us in our grief. Soon enough, things come up. Perhaps that which arises doesn't necessarily change anything greatly, however the unit does not escape unmoved, or unaffected.

You pick your friends, they say, but not your relatives. That is so true, and I think that lack of choice and that inability to direct the course of one's life breeds that disenchanted, often simmering hostility and or discomfort that one feels towards people so close. For me, I harbour no ill will to anyone, family or not. I think emotionally, I've been able to overcome pettiness and actually grin and bear things with contentment, if not with some enjoyment. But for some, as in any family, there are those uneasy patches of tenderness, where expression of apathy runs rampant, whilst real emotion is bottled up ever so bulkily. It's unbecoming frankly, but we soldier on because not all of us are as in tuned as a shrink. This unwieldy preface all means that though my family, immediate and otherwise, isn't that bright, shining unit of bliss, it is getting there. And just as long and arduous as it was to achieve such progress, I know it can conversely go the other way, set us back, or even get worse. That's the fate we pay.

The wedding here in Vegas, for me at least, was both attending the ceremonies celebrating the union of a relative of mine to the love of his life, as well as another point of demarcation in that arduous emotional roller coaster.

The death of our Grandmother forced all of us to clean up, to sum up, and to deal with emotions seemingly foreign. I know, even now, some two months after the fact, we are all in some way, some farther than others, trying to come to terms, trying to get over, and trying to deal with our varied emotional skeletons. That is normal. The cleaning up is both literal as well as figurative. One amasses a lot of stuff in the course of one's life: paper, love, trinkets, emotion. Dealing with that is hard. Admittedly, I still find myself, like in that old Stephen Sondheim song, standing in the middle of the floor, not going left, not going right.

The summing up part was done on the turn of a dime and done with some urgency. Not long after her passing, the grandchildren were told that each of us seven would speak at the prayer service the evening before the funeral. The night she died, unable to sleep, I sat in front of my computer at home and began typing. The bulk of what I had then typed, became the basis of the notes I used when speaking at that service. In a way it was my eulogy for the mother of my father, my grandmother, someone whom I have known my entire life, as the other members of my family. The "speech", which others have called it as, and which I distinctly refuse to call it as, has been at the heart of many a conversation over the last number of weeks. It boggles my mind still. One day I'll post it here, but really it isn't a great text to read. Were I to do it again, I probably would write something different, frankly. However for the time, so soon after our grandmother's death it was appropriate, ample and apt nothing more, nothing less. The reason why people around me talk about it, up to a couple of weeks ago, I have learned is that it was to some impressive, if not provided many in the room with an impression of myself heretofore unknown and perhaps even foreign. The process of writing a eulogy under the compulsion of painful emotion, delivering it under the duress of a dry throat and trying to keep one's emotions in check, and then deducing and understanding the meaning of it all from then until now, has been a catharsis.

And then the night before Phil's wedding, like the night before my cousin Peter's confirmation, I felt compelled to put pen to paper and write. For Peter, who is my father's godson at baptism, I felt it somewhat necessary to write him a note because I wanted him to know that the link from his baptism so long ago was still around to this, his latest rite of passage. For Phil and Anabel, sitting in the hotel room, I began thinking about that often effusive journey, how I got here, the reason I was there and how it began. Invariably and without pause it came to our grandmother, and that's where I began my note. I guess, though she's dead, I wanted her to be here for this auspicious occasion in her grandson's life. Not physically of course, but spiritually. Had she been so living, perhaps she wouldn't have made it here to Nevada, but she would have marked the occasion somehow. I also wanted to impart, because I think no one in my family had done so heretofore, how much our grandmother adored both Phil and Anabel. Amongst the cleaning up we had to do of my grandmother's personal effects, I was tasked with gathering photo albums. Leafing through them I noticed some newspaper clippings regarding Anabel that had been duly clipped and inserted by my Grandmother. No doubt she was proud of the both of them, and certainly she was not without love.

In dealing with grief and the loss of someone who plays a part in one's life whether large or small one cannot grieve and think about the what-ifs or what one could have done or should have done. The operative shan't be in the past, but rather the present and future tense. Dealing with what can be done and what will be done is necessary. Wrapping oneself in a guilt trip of wishing they could have done something whilst she was still living is not encouraged, nor prudent. And the best way to do that is remembering the person at every opportunity one gets. It would have made them proud, certainly, but also it serves their memory in good stead. Some will say it's not getting over the loss, but tell me, how the hell can one get over a person they love? You don't, because that'd mean you never loved them.

Sitting here now, overlooking those same lights that prodded me on to write that note to my cousin on the eve of his wedding, I think of how far I've come as a person in the emotional sense. Sure, I've shed more tears than normal, but that's normal in itself. One takes the rough, as well as the smooth, and have it no other way. From the death of a person, to the beginning of a life between two other persons, and bearing witness with others to both milestones, it's been most informative, if not taxing on one's emotional register. Then again, one would not have it any other way. Onwards? Absolutely. But before venturing any further, some necessary pause to soak it all in and try, desperately and awkwardy, to understand it all. I guess that could be an answer for Kurt Vonnegut, who wondered so long ago: What are people for?


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