Monday, November 26, 2007


In case any of you are wondering what I do in my free time or, better yet, how good the camera on the iPhone is, I present to you my hot-off-the-press, just updated Flickr site.

Check it out. I had a few minutes to kill, so I uploaded about 20 random shots taken from my iPhone over the past couple months.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday Lovin'....

The holidays are upon us. I think they snuck up while we sleeping off the diabetic coma of Halloween or something. But they're here! The Christmas music arrived for our work sound system (not that I'll be playing it. Ever.) and Turkey Day has come and gone.

Prepare to overeat. Prepare to overspend. Prepare to overindulge. Holiday Season '07 only comes once every 100 years! No, really, it does... I did the math and everything.

This is a special year for me, personally. Since I was the number-one, card-carrying, woman-denying, hyphen-over-using commitment-phobe on the planet before being snatched up by a lovely (and forgiving) young lady, I have never celebrated a holiday with anyone else.

My relationship history prior to meeting Sonja went sort of like this:
Boy meets girl.
Boy kisses girl.
Boy keeps on kissing girl until she decides to have "the talk."
Boy freaks.
Boy meets another girl.
And so on...

There was never any reason to spend the holidays with someone else because there really hasn't been a "someone else" for years. And there's the fact that my family are isolationists of a Pat Buchanan-level (political joke there... primaries are in two months... I'll stop now).

Basically, spending the Thanksgiving meal at Sonja's house with 20 of her relatives was a big deal for me. I never really get nervous about anything, with the possible exception of my sort-of-annual physical, but it was kind of nerve-wracking.

I was a definite outsider. Everyone else there had either sprung from the loins of her dad (good mental picture there), married into the family or was pretty much in a common-law marriage type relationship. So, I stuck out there. All the guys (she has five brothers and one dad) are much bigger than I am, which always makes me feel a little uncomfortable. You'd think I'd be used to this, since I haven't grown since 8th grade, but I havne't yet. This is one reason, I think, that the few guys I consider to be good friends can be described as "bookish." The menfolk are also all hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types who ride Harleys and know stuff about machinery. I drive a Camry and the most manly thing I've done in the last week is get the lid off a jar of spaghetti sauce for my sister. Needless to say, I wound up spending more time in the kitchen slicing veggies and learning how cheesecloth can be used to marinate a turkey (fascinating stuff).

You know what, though? Our differences didn't matter. Once everyone sat down at the table, appetite, dinnertime conversation and a general spirit of thankfulness took over. We took turns complementing the half-dozen chefs that contributed, we talked about the different places we live, I even tried out a couple Grizzly Adams jokes on Sonja's brother Greg, who sports mane of hair and 4-inch goatee. He laughed and didn't give me a noogie, so that worked out all around.

The holidays are about family coming together. And now that I have "someone else" in my life, my definition of family is expanding. I wound up having a great first Thanksgiving at her house with her wonderful relatives. They made me feel welcome, accepted and overstuffed. And for that I am thankful.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Will work for money...

Some of you out there in internet-land know that I'm about to quit my job. Well, I'm "taking a leave of absence," which means I don't have the balls to all-out quit and really would like to keep the door open to fall back on instead of winding up homeless, addicted to crack and singing for change outside of CVS.

The reality of it is two-fold.

One, I just really need a break. Since I got out of college (2004 - almost four freakin' years ago, incredibly enough), I've either worked a 70+-hours per week job or been employed while going to grad school full-time. It's more than a little taxing and I think it's sort of caught up with me.

Secondly, and probably most important, I have a thesis to write. It's the culmination of three years of grad school, $60,000 dollars of loans and, to be honest, a mostly useless MFA piece of paper to hang on my wall. While it may not be the smartest thing to leave my only source of income right before I have to start repaying loans, I really want to make sure I focus on the thesis project and get the most out of my experience and the crapload of money I'm spending.

As of January 3rd, 2008, Mike Nagel will no longer be gainfully employed. After almost seven years of higher education and four of working (including management experience!), I will be jobless. I wonder if I can get on welfare?

I do have some savings and I'm expecting a rather large tax return, since I can claim a student credit (if anyone else is in grad school and you haven't done this, DO IT - you basically get all your taxes back). I'll be living off that for a while.

But I'm also going to try to supplement that by working, when I can. The plan is to become a "freelance writer," which is really just a fancy way of saying, "I have no money and no job, but my spelling is swell!" I actually do have some opportunities on the horizon, but I won't discuss them here because I don't want to jinx anything.

However, that income while great, needed and a nice morale/ego booster, won't go too far towards paying for the lifestyle I've become accustomed to. Yes, that lifestyle consists of stealing WiFi, washing my underwear in the bathtub using dish detergent, preferring to wear three sweatshirts instead of turning the heat on in my apartment and testing the limits of Trader Joe's free-sample policy. But, dang it, it's still a lifestyle!

I have been preliminarily researching some job opportunities, though, and I thought I'd share a couple of the more interesting ones I've found.

1) Ordained minister

You'd think that becoming a man of the cloth would take deep religious devotion, years of prayer and research in a seminary and an attuned sense of the spiritual, right? Actually, no. All it takes is five minutes and internet access, thanks to the Universal Life Church and the Spiritual Humanists.

I stumbled across their sites while flipping through a copy of The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Weddings (not for me, I mailed a copy to my friend, Jenny, who just set August 3rd as her wedding day. Congrats!). Apparently, if the minister shows up, you can ordain a friend to perform the ceremony for you.

I thought that I could take the ordination test/form thing and then offer my services for a small fee. I don' t know what real ministers cost, but I bet I could charge half that and still make a killing. Of course, that would probably come at the expense of my eternal soul twice over, but, hey, a dude's gotta eat...

2) Drug dealer

I have no background in this field, except that I'm good at sales. And, actually, I really enjoy selling.

The problem is, I've never done drugs. The only injections I've ever had were for my allergies (way cool, Mike, way cool) and the hardest thing I've ever smoked were cloves. I still get a high off cigarettes for goodness sake. So, I don't think I could be convincing as a dealer, seeing as I don't even know how a bong works, much less how much a gram costs.

Then, there's also the possibility that I could be gunned down one day while walking to the T because I crossed paths with the wrong person. That would suck. I bet it would pretty much spoil my week.

But, I guess if I didn't die from the shooting, Medicade or Medicare (I don't know the difference) would probably pay out my medical bills and I could live on disability for the rest of my life. I mean, look at 50 Cent, he got shot a bunch of times and it totally made his career.

3) Prostitution

I thought about this for about three seconds, but I know even less about sex than I do drugs. And it's already way too cold to be standing out on the street at night in fishnets. So, moving right along...

4) I've got nothing

That's it for ideas. If I think of something else, maybe I can fall back on that... Otherwise, I may become the next over-educated, underpaid barista at a Starbucks near you.

I sure hope the food kitchen doesn't shut down because of e-coli or something.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Party jeans...

So, I was out shopping the other day - just kind of looking around (for a hat, incidentally). I always like to check out the clearance racks, since I'm a poor, starving-artist type, so I was poking around in the backs of all the stores.

It's always hit-or-miss on those racks. Sometimes, my size works in my favor. I'm not a big guy (no comments, ok?), so I can sometimes luck out on shirts. Smalls will work, as long as I'm not having a fat day or something. Mediums are better, but they're harder to find since they're one of the more popular sizes.

Pants, though, are tougher. Yes, it's hard enough to find a decent pair of jeans, as it is. But finding one on clearance? It's easier to find a Yankee fan with a 5th grade education. (Sox 2007 World Champs, baby!)

So, when I spotted a pair in American Eagle in my size (32/30) and in the low-rise cut I like, since it means the legs are shorter and I won't be stepping on myself constantly, I had to try them on. Didn't matter that I can't close my jean drawer, even though I just donated four pairs to The Salvation Army. You just don't pass up a good pair of jeans, right?

They fit. My butt looked great. I'd post a picture for you, but let's not get all conceited, right?

AND they were $20. Un-be-lievable. Of course I had to buy them.

The thing is, I had a sneaking suspicion that there was something oddly familiar about these jeans. They fit too well, almost. The casually destroyed portions sort of aligned to a pair I bought back in August. The coloring looked a little different, but...

"Ah, whatever," I thought, "I'm buying."

I did. And then I took them home, laid them on my bed and pulled out the pair I thought they resembled. They were exactly the same.

I had just bought the same pair of jeans. Same size, same cut, same frayed pockets, same everything.

For a moment, I thought about taking them back to the store. You wouldn't buy two of the same shirt, right? Why would you buy two pairs of the same jeans, then? But, since they cost just $20, I couldn't bring myself to return them. I cut off the tags, folded them up and put them in my drawer.

It got me thinking, though... a good pair of jeans is so hard to find. You try on a dozen pairs and find one you want to buy, if you're lucky. And, if you're even luckier, they don't cost an entire week's salary. Why don't we, when we find a pair we like, buy two? Or three?

Think about it... pretty much every pair out there has been "casually destroyed," giving it different markings and coloration than other pairs - even ones from the same batch. Jeans all wear differently, too. Colors fade with washing, holes appear in different places. The more you wear them, the more different they'll appear.

I don't know if I'll start buying multiple pairs of jeans. Actually, I almost definitely won't. But it's an idea...

I'll let you know later on if it's turned out to be a good one.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Screw NBC...


NBC is driving me nuts right now.

I had planned to spend a quiet night in tonight.

Hey! Don't roll your eyes! Yes, it's a Saturday night and, yes, I could be doing something much less loser-ish. But I'm getting old - I have a trick knee and everything. I'm tired. I work 40 hours a week and I go to school full-time. And I blog; I'm obviously just not that cool anyway.

Anyhoo... back to my quiet night in sweats at casa de Nagel... I missed this week's "Office," which isn't a big surprise. I still have yet to see a new episode when it originally airs. So, I was planning to come home, log-on to NBC's site and watch streaming video of the episode. I'd be done in 25 minutes and ready to go on to something else (another beer? an on-demand movie? a pint of Ben & Jerry's? I'm a wild man - who knows what'll happen?).

Of course it couldn't have been that easy.

The streaming video wouldn't stream. I can handle that mostly, but this was choppier than sharing a water-bed with a pre-diet Subway Jared. To make matters worse, every time the episode cut to the little commercials NBC inserts, the show would start again from the beginning. And then, the option to skip a segment didn't work, either. Meaning that I was forced to watched the first segment half a dozen times.

In frustration, I tried to download the episode (NBC will give them to you free for 48 hours before erasing your viewing privileges). But you first have to have NBC's specially designed viewer. That doesn't work on Macs. Now, granted, Apple only owns an 8% market share... but, think about it, who are the ones watching shows online? Yup, that's right, the younger, hipper, smarter, better-looking, Mac-owning crowd.

Then, I tried downloading the player on my sister's PC. That took about 20 minutes, because Microsoft makes everything as complicated and as user-unfriendly as possible. And (of course!), I had to get the newest version of the crappy Windows Media Player in order to get the NBC Viewer thing to run. Ten more minutes of downloads there...

After all of that hullabaloo... did I get to watch The Office?


Instead, I received a nice, fat error message.

F. U.
N. B. C.
F. U.

(A little background here... NBC has chosen to not make its shows available for download through iTunes. So, instead of being able to drop two bucks for an episode that I can watch in less than 10 minutes with a single click, I had to pull out handfuls of the little hair I have left - most of which is in my nose. And that smarts.

For the love of all that is good and holy, please put The Office back on iTunes!)

Friday, November 9, 2007

What is Mike up to these days?

As you can tell, I am one classy dude. I don't know what gives it away more: the plastic cup of booze, the stolen scarf that doesn't match the jacket or the plastic beads that I had to drop trou for...

But, from time to time, I plan to let you guys know what I'm in to lately, what life choices I have ahead of me. This way, you will be able to correspondingly rearrange your cultural, fashion and social lives to better mirror the example I have set.

Or, more than likely, you'll just ignore me and my ranting. Which is perfectly acceptable and probably better for your overall health and state of mind.

---What Mike is Listening to---
My boy, Maynard James Keenan (the voice of both Tool and A Perfect Circle) has yet another musical project of mayhem that he's unleashed on the world. Puscifer is a step in a completely new direction for Maynard. While APC can sometimes be called - I mean this with no disrespect - Tool-lite, Puscifer is an entirely different type of project all together.

The musical inspiration draws heavily from Western African drum beats and, oddly enough, Moby's softer side. But only if Moby decided to start worshiping Satan, dropping acid and manipulating his mixer with his tongue. Gone are the bellowing, in-your-face vocals with detailed, cryptic interpretation. Instead, they're replaced with layered, spoken-word tracks that talk about sex, booties, genitalia, drugs, sexual slang and ol' fashioned gettin' it on. It's a weird mix, but then, MJK never was the kind of guy you'd want to bring home to your mom. Assuming you wanted to bring a 5-1/2 foot bald guy home for the the holidays.

Even weirder? It works... while Tool fans won't have to spend hours on message boards deciphering song meanings (hint: Maynard likes sex. With women. A LOT.), there are some pretty catchy hooks going on. I'm not expecting a tour or huge album sales - frankly, I could do without either - but this is a cool, niche record to own.

---What Mike is Thinking---
MySpace vs. Facebook - the final showdown.

Okay, so there won't be any showdown. But for those of y'all on MySpace, you'll have noticed that I don't visit the site any more and haven't updated my profile in months. Part of that has to do with the fact that my employer has chosen to block MySpace, so I can't log-on when I'm at work and I have very little desire to do so when I'm not working. Incidentally, porn sites are not blocked...

I probably should just delete my MySpace profile, now that I've become a more regular Facebook user (the latter is not blocked at work, easier to use and about 200x's more spam-free). But I haven't been able to bring myself to do so. In my head, I equate this to killing a friend. Or a mild acquaintance. Or someone I made out with once and then forgot their name.

There was a time, when I was new to web 2.0 in a band, and the social networking world was my oyster to shuck. And I shucked it good... I got lots and lots of friends, many of whom were also in self-recorded bands or sold jeans and penile enhancers; reconnected with peoples whose names and faces I barely recognized; solidified my emotional well-being by being in many, many top-8 when top-8's meant something; I commented; I learned html; I rocked MySpace's world.

But now, MySpace has lost my interest. It was a fad. I've moved on to this blog here and Facebook. They fulfill my social needs (Yes, editing my "status" via my iPhone and writing a public diary fulfill all the cultural interaction desires that 40,000 years of civilization built up). MySpace is excess. It's fat and it needs trimming.

I just haven't gotten around to it. Yet...

The guillotine has been raised. We're all just waiting for the blade to drop.

---What Mike is Wearing---

Well, I'm not wearing one yet. But I am debating about buying a hat. I have a mostly-shaved head right now. And it's starting to get cold here in Boston.

I've realized that having 1/8 of an inch of hair is much different than having 1-1/2 inches. In that, it's really freakin' colder on the old pate these days. A hat would be nice to keep my noggin warm.

But I haven't decided yet if they're too nerdy. I don't mind nerdy, but I do mind too-nerdy when it comes to fashion. Nerdy can be chic, too-nerdy means you're a loser. Mike is a winner. Or he thinks he is. So, if you have any hat suggestions, please let him know.

---What Mike's Plans Are---
Correspondingly, I'm thinking about a new coif to go with the (soon to come) new year. Sonja, my wonderful girlfriend, really likes my hair now. I believe the words she's used to describe it are: "sexy," "handsome" and "rowr."

Whereas, for a previous, more emo haircut with bangs and spikes, the description went something like this: "You're going to cut that, right?"

Anyways, I want to try something new, but because I start to look like a giant puffball when I grow out my hair, I want to wait to have a purpose before I do so.

Hence, I'm taking suggestions - should I go with a professional-looking, business man cut with a part? Should I spike it, as I have in the past? Should I keep it the same? Should I do the Slater gerrie-curl perm? I'm open to suggestions...

Monday, November 5, 2007

1. The Wake

Disclaimer: This post is quite long, so I’ve divided it into four separate ones, corresponding to breaks in the narrative. Just keep scrolling down to read the other installments (all numbered). Also, it’s still rough and I may come back and flesh it out later.

Thanks for your time… I’ve heard from more of you than have commented here that you’re reading and you’re interested. I really appreciate your time and your patience.

Orchard Park, NY – “NAGEL-Florence T. (nee Gowgiel) Of Orchard Park, NY, October 21, 2007, beloved wife of Richard Nagel, M.D.; loving mother of Nancy (Wayne) Nichols, RN, Richard (Gloria) Nagel, MBA, CPA, David (Mary) Nagel, M.D., Gregory and the late Kenneth Nagel; sister of Edward Gowgiel and the late Helen (Raymond) Mack; sister-in-law of Robert Nagel and the late Christine Nagel; also survived by nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Florence was a beautiful, warm and friendly lady with a sweet and gentle spirit who always had a smile on her face. She always placed her family and friends ahead of herself. In a small way, this was shown by her talent for remembering the names of anyone she came across. Besides her love for her family she enjoyed cooking, reading, and movies especially Westerns and Mysteries. Florence was an honor graduate of Hutchinson Central School, Buffalo, NY where she served as vice President of her graduating class. She served as a den mother in the Cub Scout Organization and helped her four sons attain the rank of Eagle in the Boy Scouts. The family will receive friends…”

(Published in The Buffalo News from 10/25/07-10/26/07)

This is my first wake, my first funeral. Prior to this, I’ve been lucky – no close relatives or friends have passed away.

Passed away, that’s what we say. We don’t say died, that would be too harsh. We use the more gentle phrasings of passed or gone on, as if the loved one has just fallen asleep for a long time or left somewhere on vacation. But the fact is that death isn’t gentle, and most of our words reflect that. It’s a tearing away from “this mortal coil.” It’s a finite, measurable end. But we cannot seem to bring ourselves to admit that’s what has happened, so we’re tender with each other, cautious of what we say in whispered voices, no matter how much the warning sirens are screaming in our heads that somewhere, something has been torn.

She lies in the oak coffin. She wears a green suit and its color is bold and more vibrant than anything I’ve seen her wear in the last ten years. Mostly, she wore thin, open-backed hospital gowns because they were easy to put on (or have put on her). The prints, if they had any, were faded from too many washings, and the colors always seemed to blend into a uniform grey-green in my memory – a sort of colorless color, devoid of cheer.

I say she, because that only seems polite. Because she is not here, she is not that collection of carbon-based cells in the shiny, oaken box. That, there, is just a shell and it is hollow and empty. While her soul was still within, her body betrayed her. It started breaking down when she was just a girl, arthritis racking her body until she could not take it anymore and she left, leaving it behind. She is gone. We have only it to remember her by.

The jacket collar is buttoned up high and the frilly, turtleneck blouse frames her face, which the undertaker has caked with makeup in an attempt to make her appear as only sleeping, and not departed. But he couldn’t have known that she never wore makeup and that the only indulgence she allowed herself was a monthly hair color and permanent. Instead of making her look more life-like, the undertaker has created a macabre mask. The eyelids, underneath glasses, are too blue, the skin is too pink, the blush too much the color blood. Her lips, painted red and outlined with a cosmetic pencil appear too large and drawn out for her small form. They look like the lips of a fish, spread out and turned down at the corners.

She lies with her hands crossed on her lap. In her right, she holds a single, white rose. A ribbon, tied just below the blossom, declares this to be a gift from her first great-grandchild – a one-year old girl, blonde-haired and blue eyed, full of newly sprung life.

I have an urge to touch her skin, partially from tenderness and also from what I’ll call journalistic curiosity, having never touched a dead body before. Morbid, to be sure, but I cannot help feeling that I am not looking at her. I am looking at an it, an artifact of what once was. She has become a preserved, museum piece. All around her are photographs of her life, the historic record on display for the viewing public.

The exposed skin of her hand is like that of her face, plastered and painted. Foundation has been liberally applied to her fingers, but it has cracked, writing a tiny, criss-crossing map on the backs of her hands, like the floor of a dried-up lakebed. Her hands appear abnormally normal as they lay gently positioned, clasping the flower and a rosary. Before death, her right arm swelled up from infection and reactions to pain medication, rendering it useless and bloated. It would lay on the armrest of her chair, exposed and helpless, as if it were a fish beached on some deserted shoreline. Now, it has been drained and the fingernails have been painted (she never painted her nails). She holds her hands together like she is praying. Or saying that, “Look, come see… the pain is gone.”

2. The Next Morning

My phone vibrates on the end table next to the couch where I’m sleeping. As one of the unmarried grandchildren, I don’t pull enough rank for my own bedroom, or even a bed, so I’ve taken over the living room. I reach over and shut off the alarm and lay back against the cushions.

In the semi-darkness of the fall morning, I would be able to see the rest of the living room with the pictures of children and grandchildren scattered about, if I had my eyes open. But I shut them, preferring to stay bundled and warm underneath the old, woven cotton blankets as my body slowly comes out of its cover of sleep.

The kitchen floor creaks and I can hear muffled shuffling through the wall next to me. I was planning to get up before breakfast to run, so the only other person who could possible be awake this early in the morning is my grandfather. He is moving across the tile of the kitchen, sliding his slippered feet across the floor in the same lazy gait that I’ve inherited. Glasses and plates clink against each other as he empties the dishwasher, putting each into its place in the cupboard and unconsciously turning them so that the patterns all face the same direction.

As the sleep slips from me, unclouding my thoughts, I wonder if he slept well or fitfully or at all. I know that the previous night he had not been able to sleep and lay on his bed, probably staring at the ceiling and waiting for a call from the room next door, signaling him it was time to help his wife to the bathroom. They haven’t slept in the same room in years, not since the doctors took her leg to stop the spread of infection from a previous surgery. She slept in a specially designed bed that helped to lift her out and into her wheelchair. Either he never considered buying a full-size bed to accommodate both of them or she would not allow him to. Nagels do not abide change.

The lonely chatter of cereal poured into a single bowl rouses me from the couch. He’s at the kitchen table, no doubt seated in his usual place, facing the front window, where he can look out at the manicured lawn and watch the day begin. Normally, Grandma would sit to his left, her place always the same. They would eat together and he would clean up, while she gazed out of the window, an illustrated bird watcher’s book at her place. For days, and then years, they repeated this routine, drawing comfort from the schedule, always knowing what was to come and never being surprised.

The kitchen table is unchanging. Solid and heavy, it’s never moved to make room. There’s a crack down the middle, where leaves can be inserted to create space. But it’s stretched to the maximum, with one end in a corner and the other nearly abutting a row of cabinets. The Formica top has a dull shine and is always oddly cool to the touch. Countless hands have glided across its smooth surface, moving in unaware habits during conversation.

It’s not hunger that makes me decide to start my day, but rather a desire to see Grandpa. In a home full of relatives, we never get much time together. Those moments, I’ve realized, are precious and I don’t want to miss my chance.

“Good morning, Grandpa.”

Briefly, he looks for a moment surprised, stilted out of his routine with an unexpected voice. But then he remembers that, despite the quiet that envelops the house, he is not alone.

“Good morning.”

He is wearing matching pajamas – cotton bottoms with a button-down front. He looks more than a little like a movie character from the 1950s; I don’t know anyone else that wears actual pajamas nowadays.

“How’d you sleep? Were you able to?”

“Yes,” he says, “Thanks for asking. I actually fell asleep early last night. I think I was worrying about your grandma and all the arrangements the night before.”

The first two wakes had been held the day before. I am glad he’s talking about it. I had been afraid that he would retreat within himself, stay shut in his bedroom in the back of the house, closing down into a protective shell in order to cope – another trait that he’s passed on.

We begin talking, though neither of us is particularly good at leading the conversation for any sustained period of time. Both of us feel uncomfortable making small talk, especially in light of the bigger things that are going on. But I feel it’s my obligation, especially as a grandchild, to make sure he’s up-to-date on my life. I tell him about work and grad school, he talks about his weekly breakfast routine – a different type of cereal Monday to Thursday, poached eggs (Grandma’s favorite) on Fridays, pancakes on Saturdays and eggs again on Sunday.

We arrive at a break in the conversation, so I tell him about my girlfriend. She’s a special one, I say, not like anyone I’ve met before. I tell him I’m excited for them to meet, but I felt that it wasn’t the right time yet. When it was, I’d bring her out for his approval.

“If she’s anything like your Grandmother…”

At this, his voice falters. He tries to recover, but it’s too late. He breaks. Tears spill spill out as his face melts and I catch a glimpse of the man beneath the soldier’s mask he’s donned. The lines that crease his forehead deepen, his firm mouth quivers and shakes as if the foundation of his chin is being rocked by some internalized earthquake.

His hands are on the table. The skin on the back is smooth, the fingers are long and willowy – doctor’s hands. I have never noticed them before. If I had been asked to describe them, I would have said they were calloused and hard and heavy. They would have appeared strong and unshaken with thick wrists. He worked every day of his life since the sixth grade, first to pay for his education and then to pay for his family. His hands, I thought, should have been those of laborer – it would have been fitting.

Instead, they appear vulnerable as he places them on the table, then half-raises them to wipe his eyes, then pauses and sets them back again. They tremble along with the rest of him, his fingers appearing like cattails swaying and battered in the wind. Finally, he does raise one hand to his cheek, but as soon as skin touches tear, he buries his face into his hand.

I sit there, next to him, and watch. I’m unsure whether or not I should touch him – if I should take one of his hands in mine, or perhaps touch his arm. I don’t know if that would offer reassurance or shame. At the same time, I feel both guilty for not acting and know that my presence offers some consolation.

“Grandma, she…” I begin, but falter, not really knowing what I am going to say, “She’s at peace now, she’s happy and at peace. I know it.”

My words don’t help on their own; they are small and inadequate to capture what I really mean. But he knows what is behind them and that seems to offer comfort.

“You know, your grandma was ready. She told me about a week before she went into the hospital that last time that she’d had enough.”

I had heard that from my father, but I still didn’t know what to say, so I stayed silent. My lips opened to speak, but no words came out.

“I think,” he paused. “I think she knew.”

His face reset itself. He stopped crying, he stopped shaking. He put his hands palm down on the table, looked at me and smiled resolutely.

“She knew it was her time.”

3. The Funeral

The funeral procession starts from the home, drives around the block, turns onto Main Street and ends at Nativity of Our Lord, where my grandparents have been members for the better part of four decades. The drive, even at funeral procession pace, takes less than five minutes and I am impressed by just how physically small a life she lived. Born not more than 20 miles from here, she never moved away – not to go to college, not to work. She raised her family in the same ranch house, for nearly fifty years. Her life consisted of that house, the church, friends from the congregation and the miscellaneous errands she ran around town. As disease ate away at her body, her world collapsed inward even more… first restricting her to mass on Sundays and the occasional special event, but then confining her to a solitary wheelchair, positioned in the large, bay kitchen window, looking out on the world moving around her.

This morning, I’m a pallbearer. All of the five male grandchildren are, along with my father and two uncles. I carry the front part of the casket, next to my father. There are tears in his eyes, as we walk into the church, towards the altar, followed by the eighty or so mourners.

As for me, there is only uncertainty. I don’t know what to feel – I am saddened by the surroundings, but also confident in knowing she is at peace. I am nervous that I will trip, or stumble, so I focus on walking straight ahead, head held up and gazed fixed on the crucifix in front of me.

My right hand grips the brass handle of the coffin. It is heavy, much more solid than I had imagined it would feel. I have to hold onto her with my arm at an angle, because my cousins have passed me in height years ago. I have to lift higher to keep her level. My muscles tighten, but still I hold on with only one hand. My feet click – left-right-left – like a soldier’s would.

We place the coffin onto a wheeled cart and begin to slowly roll it down the aisle, between the wooden pews and underneath the arched ceiling. I straighten my shoulders, my hand still gripping, the bones outlined underneath the skin, until we get to the front of the church.
There, we stop in front of the altar.

The priest, a friend of the family, lifts his hand out from his white robes trimmed with gold and makes the sign of the cross over my grandmother.

4. The Drive Home

I’m in the backseat of my brother’s car and we’ve just left Grandma’s coffin at the family plot. Two men, in dirty boots and jeans are working the machinery to lower her under the ground. They’ll place the pile of dirt, concealed during the final prayers behind the tent covering the site, over her. Then, they will smooth over the top and lay the cut up sod over the grave, fixing it so it will look as if nothing had been disturbed.

Ashleigh Rose, my niece, is strapped into the car seat next to me. She’s a happy baby – plenty of giggles and singing and noises. Ashleigh doesn’t talk yet, but she’s beginning to learn the basics of conversation. One person makes noise for a time, then pauses and the other starts to make noises. They go back and forth like that.

Ashleigh looks over at me, peeking around the blue plaid padding of the safety seat, her eyes shining and sings out a string of meaningless syllables. I reply, remarking about the weather or how pretty her dress is, and we go back and forth like that for a while.

When I say something she thinks is funny, she smiles and laughs, her whole mouth opens exposing five baby teeth and a pink, little tongue. The rest of her face scrunches up, she squints her eyes and flails out her hands. Wanting to keep hearing the musical laughter of a child who doesn’t yet know about worries or sickness or loss, only love, I reach out to tickle her tummy and on her ribs, the way she likes it.

She laughs even harder, her whole body shaking as she tries to push away my fingers, loving the attention. I play-fight with her for a little while, but let her win. She holds two of my fingers, one in each of her soft hands and chortles softly.

We ride like that, my hand in hers’, until we reach our destination.