Jillybean's Blog

{August 3, 2012}   The Wake…”Jill, You Can Be Wrong…”

Most people who know me, who REALLY KNOW me, know I’ve had an intense summer. I’ve said goodbye to one of the most important people in my life and I have explored the depths of my own psyche in ways some people live an entire lifetime in the comfort of not seeing…but it’s been a great journey. Looking back short-term on this trek, I’ve made two observations that currently stand out.
And they are…

#1…”Jill, you can be wrong.”
#2…I will do anything for the people I love, even when my own credibility is on the line.

Revelation #1 came to me in the shower one day in the middle of June…and #2, came at my Grandmother’s wake.

The first one came after a long day last month of watching TED talks on the Internet between trips to Ohio. It was a regular, lazy Saturday, enhanced by vodka and deep thoughts. It was time for a shower to, you know, keep myself from feeling like I only sat around and collected dust and B.O. all afternoon. As I stepped in the shower and turned the lever to the hottest level I could stand (especially uncomfortable given that it was an exceptionally humid June day in Downtown LA), a thought occurred to me that I hadn’t REALLY yet considered EVER before in my life. The concept hit me out of nowhere and blindsided me with all the grace of a Mack truck hitting a parked car…and in the silence of the bathroom unaffected by the dull sound of mist emanating from my shower head…a disturbing thought came to me. As quickly as I processed it, I repeated it aloud, unattached to its audible message. From nowhere came the self-given, uninvited advice…”Jill, you could be wrong.”
All my life, I’ve gone with my gut. There’s certainly something courageous in that. But sometimes, it’s not your gut talking…sometimes it’s your fear. In the face of giving a man a first chance, in pondering my next career move, in assuming my first impressions of people are correct…somewhere in there, it occurred to me it’s not always my “gut” talking. My perception cleared in this moment and I realized that the carefully crafted defenses I’ve been perfecting since childhood COULD be clouding my vision. Sometimes, your fear, and fear alone, makes snap decisions of which you are unaware, prompting you to avoid beneficial experiences in living your life when your less-overprotective faith knows better.
The idea that I COULD BE WRONG, that I could be too quick to jump to conclusions, to labeling people, to “calling a spade a spade,” has made me miss out on something very important. Sometimes, “a spade is just a spade,” but sometimes…it’s not.
For most people, this is a very scary thing to admit: WE CAN BE WRONG.


So what if we don’t know?
So what if we are led to a lesson that hurts, but does not harm us?
So what if what we learn and in the process we are led to higher ground?
SO what if I live and don’t really understand where the events will lead? Can’t being wrong about situations and people be FUN sometimes?
Sometimes I judge people, and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Sometimes I miss out because I was too guarded. Sometimes I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, even though I cleverly articulate my life plans to people with a confidence that is summoned by a force I don’t quite understand. But does it really matter, ultimately, when we are all together in figuring this out?
WE CAN BE WRONG. We think we have ourselves figured out. We think we have our family and friends figured out. But what if we’re wrong? If we’re wrong, we may discover that life is too complex to understand and intimately know…and in those small surprises, and the things we learn along the way, we find out what life is really all about.

The second revelation came to me at my Grandmother’s wake, on a particularly humid June day in Ohio.
It was so sticky outside that my hair was glued to the back of my neck by a layer of sweat I didn’t have to move an inch to earn.
I was fanning myself in the funeral home, hoping to pull myself together (both physically and emotionally) before people started to arrive. I had 15 minutes.
“Get it together, Jill,” I told my reflection as I paced in front of the mirror by the door. Loud sigh…”Get it together.”
After wiping away a few persistent tears from my eyes, I noticed my Grandfather in the corner opposite the room, by the water cooler.
God, this just HAD to be so difficult for him.
He was seeing his wife for the first time…lifeless since leaving the house. My heart leapt immediately out of my dress with such urgency that I had to check the top buttons to see that they were still fastened.
I lifted my chin, shook away the tears and raised my head high while walking over to check on my Grampa. I placed a dubiously shaking hand over his shoulder.
He quickly turned around. “Hi, Jilly,” he said. “You ok?”
He wanted to be sure I’d had enough water to fight the soaring humidity. He held his cup and pointed in my direction.
I blew past his question, gingerly putting my arm around him. I asked how he was holding up.
“I’m fine,” he said. “You want some?”
I eyed his full styrofoam cup of water and said, “Nah, I got a bottle in the car.”
Looking ahead, I had stopped at CVS on my way to the funeral home. I stocked up on bottles of water, just in case I felt myself give way to fainting from dehydration in the receiving line.
“OK,” he said. He turned around and slowly walked away.
I watched him walk toward Gramma again, and again, my heart ached.
I plopped down in the seat next to my sister, waiting for calling hours to begin.
I turned to Jenni and said, “My heart…my heart is with Grampa right now.”
She grabbed my hand and said, “He’ll be ok.”
About three minutes later, Grampa walked over to me.
“Jilly, let’s go for a walk.”
I was floored. Grampa was going to lean on ME. He chose me to help release his emotions. I was thrilled. “Coming,” I said through an enormous smile.
As I followed him, I realized we were headed directly to my car.
“You got the bottle?” he asked.
Since we’d only talked about my water bottles I said, “yes,” and reached in the back seat.
I proudly pulled one out, happy to provide Grampa with his first happy moment since arriving to the funeral home.
He eyed the bottled water and looked at me with disappointment. “What’s this?”
“Grampa, it’s the water bottle you wanted.”
“No, I thought you had a bottle of something else in the car.”
I wasn’t sure how to feel about this one. Grampa had figured his eldest Granddaughter had stashed BOOZE in her car at her Grandmother’s WAKE.
I stood there, speechless. I was upset I had let him down…on top of his assumption that I’d brought an open container to my Grandmother’s wake.
And then I thought, “Seriously, WHY HADN’T I THOUGHT OF THAT?”
“I’m sorry, I…”
“No Jilly, it’s ok,” he said, He was still choking back tears. And in this moment, I realized this wake was gonna be the most difficult thing he has ever done in his life.
As he walked back to the funeral home with his head down, my eyes brimmed with fresh tears. I couldn’t ease his pain with bottles of water. Duh.
I shook away the tears and looked at my watch. I still had seven minutes until calling hours began.
With that, I stopped thinking. I had a job to do.
I fumbled around my purse looking for my keys. Grampa was hurting and I was gonna save him just in time.
My mindset shifted from “crossing over” in “Ghost Whisperer” to saving the City in “24.” Melinda Gordon to Jack Bauer. There was now a new job to be done.
As I sped off in my car and headed for my Grandparents’ house a few blocks away (and about three minutes by car), I thought, “OK, I have empty bottles of water in this car. I can easily transport some whiskey for Grampa.” His kids (and yes, my Mom) will be pissed if I get him shots, BUT, I KNOW it will help. It just HAS to take away his pain. It just HAS to.” My hand trembled on the gear shift as I negotiated every turn in the road, speeding, without flying. I was gonna save my Grampa. I was gonna bring him comfort. But NO ONE could know.
I ran into the house, filled an empty water bottle with what looked like two shots of Crown Royal, and almost sped back out of the driveway with the driver’s side door still open.
I looked at the clock.
TWO MORE minutes.
I wasn’t gonna make it.
I tucked the illicit bottle under my blazer as I left the car and strolled comfortably back into the funeral home. It had already started. Go figure. My Grandmother was so loved people had been showing up early…they’d already been showing up since I left some minutes ago.
How was I gonna provide Grampa his comfort?
I walked right by the priest with this dirty little secret tucked under my arm. “Hello, Father,” I said…and I scrambled past him with all of the guilt of Mary Magdalene.
I approached the room and saw Grampa already in the receiving line with my mother and her brothers. How the heck was I gonna manage the handoff?
I shamefully walked over to Jenni and her husband, Dave. “I failed,” I said.
“Failed at what?” Dave asked.
“I brought Grampa a much needed drink from home and I can’t even get it to him without anyone knowing. I was just trying to be a good Granddaughter. What do I do now?” I said.
“Do they serve coffee?” Dave asked.
My eyes perked up. “Brilliant!” I said. “The Air Force taught you right!”
I rushed toward the front office.
“Hey, can I ask a favor?” I asked the funeral director. “Can you guys make my Grampa a cup of decaf? He’s having a rough one…”
“Absolutely, honey,” he said, with a sympathetic expression. “He can have whatever he wants. Give me a minute.”
With the bottle precariously tucked under my arm, I waited impatiently in the lobby, pacing, waiting for the single cup of coffee.
The funeral director returned with a cup of coffee so full I knew I’d need a minute. But taking it into the bathroom with me would look weird. Now what was I gonna I do?
“I’m gonna put my (non-existant purse, it was still in the car) in the office,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
I just realized I didn’t have my purse…good thing I walked fast.
I hid behind the office door and retrieved the bottle.
“Shit, it’s too full,” I said, pouring coffee into a trash can that miraculously appeared before me as I crouched under the desk.
I unscrewed the cap and dumped whiskey into the cup until the mixture lined the cup’s surface. But there was still a lot of whiskey remaining.
“Damn,” I actually said aloud. “Why am I always so heavy on the pour??”
As I watched the funeral director approach the office, I panicked and downed the rest of the whiskey. I guess Grampa and I both would have questionable breath in the receiving line.
I shook my head and accepted the fact that I had a buzz very soon coming my way. I had to get rid of it. I couldn’t very well leave a clear bottle of whiskey in the office.
I inhaled, stood up and straightened my dress. And now I was bearing gifts.
I took the cup to Grampa when I saw a break in the line.
“Drink it,” I said. “Now.”
I took my place in line and hiccuped through several introductions.
For a moment I felt guilty. But for only a moment.
Yes, my Grampa’s kids would be angry I brought a grieving man alcohol to his wife’s wake, but somewhere, Gramma was smiling down on us, knowing that I cared for my Grampa so much.
Just as a little time passed and I felt proud for how much effort I was willing to expend for Grampa’s comfort, I heard him yell across the room at me, “Jilly, you didn’t make it strong enough!”
With that, all eyes of the receiving line were on me. My Mom’s look suggested, “What did you do, Jill Anne?”
In a flash, I said, “I thought you liked decaf, GRAMPA.”
At that moment, a mutual understanding overcame us both. He smiled at me. He gave me a tender look. And I smiled.

Then I gave him a look that said, “Don’t you dare.”

Later that night, my Mom asked me as we all sat together in the breezeway, “Jill, what did you DO at the funeral home tonight?”
I said, “Mom, I did nothing.”
But here’s what I meant by nothing.
I didn’t do anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done in my position.
My Grampa was hurting, and I did whatever I could to help him. Even if it made me look like a bad influence. Even if it made me look like a person without scruples. Even if I lied (sorta) to a priest. Even if my comfort measures were unconventional. I realized, I will absolutely rise to the occasion when someone I love needs me, or needs anything really.
And that feeling, that feeling of assisting, whether the world approves or not, makes me feel like I’ve really contributed something special, something meaningful.

And these are the moments I will always, always remember.


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