The Fraught Straining To Be Good

The Fraught Straining To Be Good

The morning of the memorial I didn’t want to get out of bed. People flew in from around the country to remember my husband and support me, but I didn’t want to face it.

I had previously picked out a funeral home based off of online reviews and the kind face of a white haired man who had been in the business for 60 something years. He was gentle, and he didn’t try to upsell me anything. I knew he would take care of Tim’s body, but I also knew the minute that I saw the “chapel” that I couldn’t bring people there to celebrate my husband. The building was right by a busy highway, the carpet was old and torn and the entire place smelled like chemicals to me. Their chapel a decent sized room filled with pews, but with no religious icons anywhere. Above an empty space that wouldn’t be filled with a casket, extremely artificial lighting peered down on the off-gray floor. The funeral director told me had one colored bulb “designed to make the body look better” and another “to show off the flowers.”

Tim would have hated that place so much that his ghost would have risen just to say, “Fuck this shit.”

So I had a little breakdown until I realized I could have the nice man care for my husband’s body and plan the memorial elsewhere.

I quickly decided on Austin’s largest park, which Tim had spent a lot of time in. When we first moved to the city, him and I would take Eliot and BT swimming and adventuring by the creek. Later it became a 10k training track for Tim and his co-workers, with Eliot in tow. We have taken guests for walks around the river with our dogs, bickered over who’s not doing a good job steering the canoe and attempted to swim in the pool until I squealed about the plants underwater slimy against my legs. There are bad memories in my house, but there are not really any bad memories in the park.

My dad and I picked a spot on Sunday afternoon, a picnic area beneath a shady grove of trees. We weren’t really sure if the area was available to rent or not, and even now after the memorial… I’m still not sure. What I am sure of though, is that I had one friend call the Austin Parks & Rec department far more times than I would have the patience to do so in the pursuit of this picnic area. When we couldn’t get the official word on reserving, I had two other friends set up base camp early in the afternoon as they warded off family picnics with hand-written “Reserved 6/25” signs that were held down with shaving cream cans from their carry on luggage.

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I have the best people getting me through this.

Having his memorial at the park meant that I had to actually plan things. I knew it would be causal and I knew there would be no service, but that’s about all that I knew. Memorial ideas came to me in cognitive waves. Our last weekend together in hill country, while we drove along the countryside Tim randomly said “I like sunflowers.” I remembered that, and asked yet another dear friend to bring sunflowers for him. Then I thought of one of my favorite poem’s of all time, and decided to look up an appropriate excerpt from Neil Gaimon’s The Sandman chronicles. When I asked my mom what I should do with these “readings” she suggested a pamphlet people could take, so I designed and printed pamphlets.

“All around me darkness gathers,
Fading is the sun that shone,
We must speak of other matters,
You can be me when I’m gone

Flowers gathered in the morning,
Afternoon they blossom on,
Still are withered in the evening,
You can be me when I’m gone.”
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

Running errands for my husband’s funeral the day before was like swallowing lead a little bit at a time. With each stop, we marked something off the list and the gathering began to take shape. As it did, things became more real. I felt heavier and heavier and heavier. Eventually I had to go “nap” and hide in my room while I selected 155 photos from the past 9 years and just cried and cried.

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Then the day came. I didn’t want to get out of bed, but what choice is there? You don’t leave your brother and lifelong friend waiting at the airport. You don’t neglect to write his favorite joke down just because it’s hard. Everything is hard now. You just do it.

So I did it, and it was pretty lovely. I think he was pleased.

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After the sun set and we took everything down, I managed to laugh with my friends. They’re funny people, and I was so exhausted and numb from all the decisions and consolations and greetings up to that point that my brain tried to save itself by switching off for a bit. Even though I managed to keep from sobbing the rest of that night, I was sitting there with all of these great people who I had watched struggle through their own relationships for years. They have all recently found the happiness and stability that I shared with Tim for so long, and leaned on their spouse for support during the difficult time of losing their first close friend.

I want happiness for all of them. These are extraordinary people, but as I sat there and watched them… I felt heavy again. With aching eyes, I went home. I was so tired, but could not sleep.

A Postmortem Guide For my eulogist, in advance

Do not praise me for my exceptional serenity.
Can’t you see I’ve turned away
from the large excitements,
and have accepted all the troubles?

Go down to the old cemetery; you’ll see
there’s nothing definitive to be said.
The dead once were all kinds—
boundary breakers and scalawags,
martyrs of the flesh, and so many
dumb bunnies of duty, unbearably nice.

I’ve been a little of each.

And, please, resist the temptation
of speaking about virtue.
The seldom-tempted are too fond
of that word, the small-
spirited, the unburdened.
Know that I’ve admired in others
only the fraught straining
to be good.

Adam’s my man and Eve’s not to blame.
He bit in; it made no sense to stop.

Still, for accuracy’s sake you might say
I oftened stopped,
that I rarely went as far as I dreamed.

And since you know my hardships,
understand that they’re mere bump and setback
against history’s horror.
Remind those seated, perhaps weeping,
how obscene it is
for some of us to complain.

Tell them I had second chances.
I knew joy.
I was burned by books early
and kept sidling up to the flame.

Tell them that at the end I had no need
for God, who’d become just a story
I once loved, one of many
with concealments and late-night rescues,
high sentence and pomp. The truth is
I learned to live without hope
as well as I could, almost happily,
in the despoiled and radiant now.

You who are one of them, say that I loved
my companions most of all.
In all sincerity, say that they provided
a better way to be alone.

From Different Hours by Stephen Dunn published by W. W. Norton & Company 2000

43 thoughts on “The Fraught Straining To Be Good

  1. I am in awe of your strength Lauren. It is amazing and I am sure that Tim is thankful for all of the wonderful things you have done.

    The pictures hanging on the strings… amazing, I love it!

  2. Wow. That was beautifully put together.

    Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It will get better but remember, it’s okay to cry.

  3. That park, the sunset, the photographs in the trees, the poems & Doctor Who quote…so much love.
    Keep on keeping on hun, please never hesitate to reach out whenever you want for whatever reason *hugs*

  4. Wow.. Lauren, that memorial was beautiful… so personable and beautiful. Something, so much more than odd lighting and old carpet could have created. I am sure he was looking down, and smiling.

    Again… one day at a time.. keep writing if that’s what you need to do. Stop writing if that is what you need to do. One step in front of the other. Thinking of you.

  5. I stumbled across your blog in the world of internet so you don’t actually know me, but I wanted to tell you that I admire your ability to find beauty in the face of this difficult time. Sorry for your loss and I hope comfort and peace may find you.

  6. That looks like the perfect way to remember someone. Well done for doing it your (Tim’s) way and not falling into the easy way of convention.

  7. Oh, what a beautiful way to remember someone. That Doctor Who quote…I lost it when I saw that. Just perfect.

    You are so strong, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I am in awe.

  8. I have complete respect for you thinking outside the box for a memorial. Countless times walking through services in those weird small rooms with the bad lighting, carpeting, and smell. I would say over and over, “Never…” I’ll say it again, you’re amazing and Tim probably smiled through the whole thing saying, “Thank you.” And that he loves you.

  9. Zilker Park is the ideal place – way better than a weird-feeling room at a funeral home. We had my dad’s at our house …and I couldn’t get out of bed that day. I just couldn’t face it. Not the fact itself, but all these people emoting all over me. Eventually I had to, of course, like you …I am so glad and so sorry that you had to, all at once.

  10. I can’t imagine a better expression of your love for each other than the planning, anguish, sweetness, thought, and reflection you’ve put in over the last bit of time. You’re really amazing.

  11. Your strength and grace through this is incredible, Lauren. I’m opening sobbing at the Doctor Who quote, which I’ve always loved. Keep trudging forward, friend. Lots of love.

  12. How beautifully written. Good for you for making the decision to do what he would have wanted even if it’s breaking tradition. That decision is as much of a memorial to him as anything. He was lucky to have you on his side.

  13. What a beautiful and wonderfully thought out memorial! So personal and says so much about your relationship. You’re amazing.

  14. Beautiful — and what a wonderful choice of Zilker Park. Many good memories for many good people there & I’m so glad for your wonderful support community. <3

  15. Love how you did the pictures! I’m in awe of your strength. What a beautifully written post and what sounds like a wonderful celebration of Tim ❤️

  16. You’re a beautiful writer and I think you honor him greatly with the way you have gone about all of this. You all definitely had something very special that many of us never get to have. It’s kind of like the fault in our stars, “I’m grateful for our own little infiniy.”

  17. What a beautiful way to let you and all Tim’s family and friends remember him and say goodbye, It shows such love and thoughtfulness. {{hugs}}

  18. Your memorial of him shows just how much you cared and knew him. The hanging photos from the trees would have sent me bawling, you are a strong person, so very strong. Glad you have such a strong support network, I hope you know just how many of us internet friends truly care.

  19. Love. The memorial was perfect for Tim, for you, and for us. Love is all I got, and it buoys the sadness as best it can.

  20. My thoughts continue to turn to you and your family. Sounds like a lovely memorial, beautiful photos and truly excellent and moving poems.

  21. The memorial looks like a beautiful way to honor and remember him – and the readings are so powerful. You write so beautifully, too. Hugs to you and I agree wholeheartedly with so many other commenters – the strength and brutal honesty that comes through in these posts is awe-inspiring.

  22. Absolutely beautiful memorial! I’m just going to repeat what everyone else has said, I am in awe of your strength. I don’t know you, but I can tell you are an amazing person. You have been in my thoughts.

  23. What an absolutely beautiful tribute for your husband. Your writing about it brought more tears to my eyes. Continuing to think of you with love and prayers.

  24. I’m a day late and dollar short. I started reading this a few days ago, but couldn’t finish. I’m still not sure what to say, except that when duty calls, I hope I’m half as strong as you are. What a beautiful celebration you put together ❤️

  25. WOW Lauren, I’m so sad we couldn’t be there. The photos embracing you all and the Tim sun shining at you through the trees… It looks like it was beautiful and peaceful. He was lucky to have you!!

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