Endings

Just about the time I landed in Holland yesterday, Axel and Tessa arrived for their sad mission in Cathedral City in the Californian desert. We are now 9 time zones apart and about 40 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature. At my latest check it was 99 degrees in Palm Springs and 59 in Amsterdam.

The man who was the center of my life during my formative adult years was buried yesterday amidst 100s of people. Those included two men who used to be my brothers in law. One had aged to look exactly like his father and the other now without his hippy beard. The niece and nephew I held on my lap as a young bride were now 39 and 41, having their own children, teenagers already.

I remember as a child how boring I found funerals. How could I understand all these grownups traipsing down memory lanes? There were many moments when my eyes met the eyes of others wondering about dates, places, names. Where do we know each other from? There were people who said they knew me because they had been at my wedding in 1975, and there were people who looked just like the men I had fallen in love with way back when (now more or less the age of their fathers).

There was a grieving family standing around the coffin when it was lowered into the family grave.  Three (young adult) children, one just looking the man who I fell for all these decades ago, held each other tight when their father found his final resting place, tears running down their stricken faces. It was too much for most everyone, witnessing this final step in the farewell ritual.

I gave my condolences to the children I never met before, though heard about, and the wife who I had met only once at another funeral 24 years ago when the person who was our best man was cremated. I have now met her twice, each time at a funeral. I think it will be the last time as there is no longer anything or anyone that connects us.

The service was beautiful and non-religious. Peter wasn’t a churchgoer although the chaplain from the hospital who led the service revealed that there had been many conversations, even occasional attendances at his Sunday services in the hospital at an earlier time when my ex-mother in law was dying.

After a crowded reception where I practically lost my voice, his old group of friends gathered at someone’s family summer house, much like the Big Chill, a movie Axel and I watched last weekend.

The house is in Noordwijk on the boulevard that parallels the long beach that runs along a large part of the west coast of Holland. We spent many days there in the early 70s, nights and weekends, laughing, crying, eating, drinking, especially the latter, and walking on the beach. People had brought pictures. There I was, 21 or 22, with long hair, in my hippy bright yellow Levis, a cloche hat and an Afghan lambskin turned coat. Memories came flooding in of those days when we were either over-serious or carefree and when we all paired off in couples; some of those still going strong today while other relationships fell apart before the decade was over, like mine. Peter and I were together for 6 years and married only 3.

I listened to the stories of the friends who accompanied Peter during his last difficult weeks; who saw him in denial and accepting, who talked with his doctors, who saw him lucid and in mortal pain; who held his hands and told him they loved him and then stepped aside for the last farewells with his family. I didn’t see him when he was sick. We exchanged a few emails which were lucid and familiar, his peculiar and cryptic way of writing, nearly shorthand, high context would the cross cultural experts say. But we had had little context in common those last decades and so I didn’t understand all as well as I would have liked it. Just days before his death he shared with me his pride of becoming honorary consult of the People’s Republic of Laos, and the sign next to his front door. Now none of this matters anymore.

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