Monday, December 15, 2008

Taking Steps

So, I called the church where my grandparents were members, and where the memorials were held. They're looking up the records, and hopefully will have the burial locations, though not all churches keep or have that information. To answer Alan's question, the church bulletins did not contain the name of the funeral home in either. Nor did my grandfather's obituary, and the only obit I could find online for Grandma was listed down in Port Charlotte FL, where they lived at the time. No funeral home noted there either, and my suspicion is that they would have purchased plots in or around south Minneapolis since that's where they lived for many years.

We'll see what Trinity Lutheran Riverside has to offer. And if they know, what then? Not sure who I would ask to go with me when I visit for the first time. I don't want to be alone; but it's kind of a test to put to someone. Will they be there for me the way I might want them to be? Will I feel unselfconscious enough to have an uncensored reaction to the experience when I get there? And how will I feel?

Will it even be a place I can go? What if they weren't buried at all? What if they were cremated, and the ashes are packed in a box someplace now? Then what?

It's an odd feeling, awkward, calling strangers to ask for this information. Certainly not a first in a world chock full of family estrangement, but it's easy to imagine the unasked questions on the other end of the phone line. Once, when I was visiting Luther Seminary, I decided on the spur of the moment to ask their records department if they had any files on my father. Peter attended seminary for a short time, though it would have been called Northwestern back then I think. In trying to describe the information I was looking for (Peter was already deceased), I wound up having to explain the sordid family history to a skeptical records employee. Privacy, I suppose. She wanted to understand why I hadn't just asked my father about his seminary attendance. How could I explain that we rarely talked in a personal way; that he rarely told me his stories? Whenever I learned something personal about him, by inference, or from my mother, I would squirrel that information away in my mental museum. I never asked him to elaborate.

It's difficult to explain why I'm so willing to maintain a largely imaginary relationship, like the one I had with my father. I think about it, because it's something I do with other people as well, from time to time -- willingly carry on as though a relationship is "normal" even though the standard reinforcements are merely sporadic, even absent. Lunch, phone calls, casual conversation, tenderness. I've always been willing to let my imagination do a lot of the work in my relationships. And when I'm unhappy with a relationship, I tend to just imagine doing something about it. I suppose a person would just assume I wasn't interested. But the truth is, I don't know how to ask. I can make it happen face to face, I can draw a person out most of the time just by listening and focusing on them. But confronted with someone who waits to be asked (like me) I'm somehow at a loss.

Of course, when I do open my mouth I often say the wrong thing -- I can be rude, I don't control my tone very well, and I've often already imagined what I'd like to say which means I come off very sharp-tongued -- it's the worst phrasing that's already planted in my conscious mind, rehearsed and invested with a lot of emotion. I should try to plan out a more tactful approach, but instead I let things bottle up, and when I finally verbalize it's overkill.

Something to work on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It took courage to ask the church about your grandparent's obituaries. If you really do think the plot is in Minneapolis, you can look up the cemetery online and do a plot search on the name to see where they are located.

Imagining the relationship with your father, as you have described is a healthy thing. It's a normal thing that happens, too, when there is a lack of relationship - either a physical or emotional abandonment.

The grieving process for this kind of relationship has no clean edges to it, because a huge part of it is the loss of the relationship, more so than the loss of the person.

So the imagining part helps to give you something to hold onto to fill in some gaps not having that relationship has created.

If you had someone to go to the cemetery with you, what kind of support would you want that person to be? It's ok to state that up front to whoever you would ask to go with you.