You think you know what is right but you don’t. There’s no such thing.
There is only I am feeling my way around in the dark here and this feels like the table and this feels like the light switch but you never know until you know. Sometimes it’s when you flip the switch and the light actually comes on. Sometimes it’s not for years and sometimes you never know.
On Sunday my husband was about to get on a plane to go to a funeral in St Louis when his cousin called him from St. Louis and said that they were now going to have the funeral in L.A. and there was no point anymore for him to come. My husband’s cousin died 2 weeks ago when he’d had a heart attack and then crashed the tow truck he was driving. His wife had been in St. Louis at the time where they live. She flew out to L.A. immediately, and tried, in her blubbering hysterics, to decide if they should ship the body back to St. Louis or keep it in L.A.. My husband asked me what I thought.
I never go visit my father at his cemetery. He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Pennsauken, New Jersey and it makes me feel depressed and cold. His tombstone is near a family friend’s who died of ovarian cancer when I was 18 and also the four brothers I’d gone to elementary school with who died in a fire.
I used to have extreme guilt about not going until I got very clear that my father was absolutely not there under that headstone. My father and I chat a lot in our dead-father to alive-daughter way and lord knows I write about him enough. He’s right here. He definitely is not there.
He stopped being anywhere in this world when he died in 1983, in fact. I can’t say what’s beyond but I can tell you that his physical body stopped breathing and that he know longer existed as a walking talking Melvin David Pastiloff. I can tell you that 100% for certain.
When Robert asked me what I thought I told him that it was a very personal choice but that I didn’t see the point of shipping the body as it wasn’t him anymore. The body has nothing to do with him at this point. But who am I to say? He told me that the wife would want to visit him at the cemetery once a week. (Naturally I felt a little guilty when I heard that being that I haven’t visited my father’s grave in years.) Once a week? That’s a lot. Okay, maybe she should ship the body. I don’t know.
There is no right with this, I said. There is only keep moving. Keep breathing.
So he was about to get on the plane and they called and said Don’t come and I went back and picked him back where I’d dropped him 2 hours earlier at LAX. They are having the funeral here in L.A. now. So much back and forth. No one could decide as if they were waiting for someone to come up with the right answer.
There is no right answer.
My mother didn’t let my sister and I go to our father’s funeral. She has no idea now why she made that choice. Someone probably told her that it was the right thing to do or that we would have nightmares. I have spent my whole life wishing I had gone so I could have heard the people tell stories about him and cry over him and wish him back into the world. I wanted to be there for his honoring.
Was it the right thing to do? There is no right thing. There is what gets done. There is you have to keep breathing and you have to do whatever you have to do to keep breathing.
Tomorrow I fly to Santa Fe to go to Ronan’s memorial. (There is no right! There is no right I tell you!) I will miss the funeral of my husband’s cousin which will take place here in L.A. because I will be in Santa Fe at a baby’s memorial. There is nothing right about any of this.
I just keep moving around in the dark and hoping that sooner or later I find the switch for the light.
I imagine my father’s funeral as a dream-like painting and I am inside the painting.
It’s a colorful oil-based rendition of people in various stages of grief. My feet barely touch the floor in this painting. I am eight.
There are also people outside the painting, staring in. They mill about, champagne and cheese in hand, commenting on us there inside the surreal painting of my father’s funeral.
We are still, those of us inside the painting. As if we are waiting for something.
We are waiting for something.
Someone outside the painting takes a charcoal pencil and shades our voices a color the sound of sand. The color of mute. We go quiet.
In my next painting my father’s face will be drawn closer to mine and his arm will touch my arm. And in this one he won’t even have to die. We won’t be at a funeral anymore.
Time will be un-stuck. It will move as we move. It will flow off the canvas and into the room of voyeurs searching for something, anything to talk about.
I can do that, you know. I can make it a painting come to life like that. I can create it over and over with brushstrokes and anecdotes because I wasn’t there and I will never have been there and there is no one that can say That was the right thing to do or That was the wrong thing to do.
There is no such thing.
There is no right.
There is only go and breathe and love and get up in the morning and take the next breath and the next and when someone tries to tell you that this or that is the right thing just look at them and keep breathing. Keep going.