“Excuse me,” I say to my husband’s seven billionth perfumed auntie, one more in a teeming mass of tiny old women with perfectly coiffed gray hair, in outfits from this year’s collection at Chico’s (we will not address how I know that), accessorized with a mix of paste baubles and antique pearls. “The restroom is available. I’ll be back.”
I weave through the crowd of extended family, narrowly avoiding a collision with a six- foot-tall woman in an impossibly small wheelchair.
The bathroom at this funeral parlor is a single stall. Good. It has one of the newer kind of air dryers – the kind that blow hot air with so much force that it pushes around the skin on the back your hands. Even better.
I use the toilet. Do my ‘paperwork,’ – my mother’s term, which I’ve adopted – wash my hands.
I activate the dryer once to dry my hands.
For the second go-round, I turn the nozzle face up, and scream into the roaring, rushing air. I let out my frustration with my husband’s conservative mid-western family, and my grief at the loss of his mother, a woman who went out of her way to learn my tastes and styles, to include me.
I scream for my stoic husband who CANNOT scream because that’s just not how he’s made, and I scream for our grand-nieces and -nephews who will never get to go fishing with Grandma V.
I activate the dryer a third time. And a fourth.
Finally, I turn the nozzle back the other way. I wet some tissue to clean up smeared mascara. I take a deep breath and finger-comb my hair back into some semblance of order.
I leave the sanctuary of the bathroom.
Almost immediately, I encounter my husband’s youngest uncle. The one who did the eulogy. The one with the stupid sense of humor and the contagious zest for life.
Specifically, he plants himself in front of me. “Well, now, I’m a hugger.” It’s the North Dakota version of a drawl.
He’s a wiry man. Compact, like my husband. His arms are surprisingly strong for someone two years past a stroke that left half his body paralyzed – he barely limps now.
His aftershave reminds me of my grandfather, who died when I was twenty-one.
“Dear girl,” he echoes the phrase my father- in-law used hours earlier. “She was so happy when you married her son. We all were.”
I’m teary again – we both are.
My husband’s uncles are from the era when men still carried pocket handkerchiefs. It’s sweet. Endearing. He tugs his from his pocket, and offers it to me, but he needs it more and I have a packet of tissue in my purse.
“Thank you,” I say. Not just for the offered hankie, but for the hug, and the words.
I forgot, you see.
I forgot that I’m not just here to console my husband and his family.
I forgot that I’m allowed to be visibly grieving, too.