Read Old Man Scanlon

Post-mortem: Five Small Collations

25 August 2018

After lunch on Saturday Tracy calls, sobbing. I finally understand her. “Tell my mother Mike died.” I do. By the time Cheryl gets home from work at suppertime she and Tracy have talked at length. Small house salad with Buffalo chicken, small Greek salad.There’s a text from Jeff. “No more fighting his demons, he’s at peace.” We raise our glasses: to his successful passage.

He was a wreck—yet death is always a shock; nobody was surprised until he actually died. It takes hours and days for reality to coalesce. We’re in the limbo where death barely registers. We’re unable to grasp it, let alone accept it.

Sunday noon at the family restaurant, poached eggs Caprese, broccoli and cheese omelet. We’re at two tables, Mark is working behind the counter, Tracy’s in the kitchen. Maura says, “He chose this. He did.” A couple of hours’ respite, and then Cheryl, Cindy, and I take Marilyn to an early bird special to break the news. Calamari, raspberry salads, Caesar salad, hold the anchovies, chicken parmesan. Meal over, recapping the grim day, Marilyn reaches for an equivalent tragedy, begins to fumble, and settles for Cindy’s equine tenant moving out. On the way out we order seafood pasta with white clam sauce to go. Cheryl and I bring it to Jeff’s for our granddaughters’ supper, augmenting it with leftover salads and Irish soda bread. Jeff has been named executor and we speculate a little on how things will go. With helles lagers Jeff and I toast—again—a successful passage.

Later in the week, another gathering, and the funeral arrangements are close to being final. Salad, ziti with meatballs, ziti and chicken Alfredo, Coors Light. At long last, Mark asks, “What would he have wanted?”

Not much glory accrues to those who fight demons. Who can judge what is an acceptable level of pain to bear? As they say, no man is an island—in a demon-fight the carnage is not limited to the principals. Collateral damage is the order of the day; the shrapnel and brimstone don’t spare the bystanders. It has been instructive in the last few days to appreciate how his public and family lives diverged.

All the defensive black humor and honest harshness, so therapeutic to us over the last couple years, comes home to roost as guilt and regret, a little appalling in the moment. But they will regain their usefulness as time passes. There is no need to coin an insanely clever way of saying “He’s in a better place” or “He wanted it this way” or “He’s finally at peace.” All the time-honored platitudes surface, though the thing is, they are true and, better, they feel true. Their utter familiarity gives them heft and value.

With his unsparing critical wit Mike could deliver both cuts and blunt-force trauma. He was intimidating in silence as well as speech. As the years passed I learned for the most part to let the waves of intimidation roll over and around me. It helped, over the past couple of decades, to have our grandchildren in common. Our grandson thinks Mike would be amused that I’m writing about him, but I’m still waiting for a sign.