My house is cleaner than usual. My kitchen cabinets are sorted. I cleaned the stove. The washing is done. I am organizing bookcases. My desk is cleaned off. Every day it doesn’t rain I plant a hanging basket or a pot and pull some weeds. I have planted peas, carrots, lettuce and shallots in the tubs along the fence and raked mowed grass for Jerry. When I’m not doing those things I check my email, wander around the house looking for something to adjust or clean or straighten. All this is totally out of character for me. Normally the way I function is to become absorbed in some ongoing project and oblivious of everything else. But I can’t concentrate on anything as we wait for death certificates for Bert.
As soon as the death certificates arrive — they are being expedited from the funeral home when they are available from the county — we have to make trips to Friday Harbor and then to eastern Washington to deal with estate matters. These things must be speedily done. There are bank accounts and deeds and titles to vehicles and airplanes and all sorts of complications with many of those. It will take months.
And I try not to picture in my head the moment he shot himself. I wasn’t helped with that effort by having Jerry tell me, after reading the sheriff’s report, that the gun that killed Bert was loaded with hollow point ammunition. What’s hollow point ammunition, I asked. Jerry said this kind of bullet expands on contact and causes maximum tissue damage and bleeding. Thus the mess in the truck where Bert shot himself. Jerry told me not to read the sheriff’s report; it would upset me. I said I had no intention of reading it, that I already knew far more than I wanted to.
Yesterday the post office called to say that there was a registered package from the funeral home in Arizona. Bert’s ashes. Jerry went to get it and came back with a small brown box which he put on a shelf in his closet. “There’s not much left of Bert.” he said softly.
I am thinking about my age and my new decade – the decade of my 80’s. I was active in my 70’s. I backpacked in New Zealand with my friend Penny and I had parties and cooked (I won a chili cook-off here on the island.) I showed paintings and took courses. I took care of my dying friend John and my dying mother. I built a patio and I mowed big lawns. I feel less capable of those things now, and I am often tired. In this trip to New Zealand Jerry and I climbed many hills — we actually looked for hills to climb. They are not hard to find in N.Z. Here’s the view from the top of a hill we climbed in Whangerei.
I wonder how much longer I will be able to climb steep hills. I wonder how much longer Jerry and I will be together. Which one of us will join Bert first? Where will our ashes (or our bodies) be finally placed. My friend Polly, who recently died, had negotiated a green burial section of the Lummi church cemetery. Will we all go there? These days I am tired, and I fight a feeling of flatness and boredom that I think is perhaps depression. Or is it just the waiting?
I am going to a painting workshop tomorrow. I have a 24 x 36 inch canvass which is larger than I use these days. In art school I painted big ones, some 4 x 6 feet. But it’s hard to find room for big pictures in my house, and my grandchildren don’t have that kind of space. My subject for tomorrow needs a big surface.
I took many photos of this crumbling wreck during the week Jerry and I spent in Motueka, New Zealand. That carcass of a boat spoke of the essence of death, of change, of decay, of transformation, and of new life. I thought about Ariel’s song in The Tempest:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Here’s the view I plan to paint.
I will put some seagulls on it from another view, and some sea birds in the foreground.
I may try to incorporate some of the mountain background. I’ll see how it looks. It shouldn’t get too complicated.
And I am thinking about Bert’s ashes. Jerry says Bert didn’t care about what was done with them. But his friend Paul does care; he feels everyone should have a place, and I agree. I will have my friend Basil, here on the island, make a small stone marker and we will put the ashes in a place we all agree on. I am thinking about an epitaph — short and not sentimental. It should say something pithy about Bert. He was quirky, stubborn, pig-headed, creative and solitary. He was a big man. He lived alone but had many friends, some true, some false. He didn’t think much about people and thus never distinguished
the true from the false.
So while we wait I’ll plant and tidy and wash and plan a painting and put this post on my blog.