Friday, January 23, 2009


When faced with our own mortality, we all choose to cope differently. My mom quilts any piece of fabric that is not nailed down. My father polishes the earth and everything in it to a spic-and-span, Clorox bleach scented state of cleanliness. I grocery shop and cook. Chopping vegetables is what coaxes me off of the mental ledge. Maybe because there's a goal. Maybe because you can see progress being made. Or maybe because once in a while Bryant grins over the dinner table and says, "Mommy, you're the best cooker EVER!" Never mind that Brendan is right beside him dissecting dinner within an inch of its life, as if I secretly placed treasure or a turd in his pot roast or something.

We learned about death early in our family. My grandfather died of pancreatic cancer when I was nine. I remember seeing him shrivel up and turn a bilious shade of green while connected to all manner of tubing. He would say things to me like, "Kid, nobody should have to watch an old man die like this." This was the guy who watched The Three Stooges every morning and took the first kid up to Dunkin' Donuts with him. This was the guy who supervised the renovation of the Texas State Capitol Building. This was the guy who raised my mom. From my childish mind it seems that his presence was large, his illness was short, but his absence is monumental.

My grandmother, having lived through the Great Depression, held on to all things that might have a future use. She was green before it was the cause du jour. She kept TV dinner trays and coffee cans. Once she retired coupon clipping and bargain hunting were her full time job. She was not one to be sentimental about things and DID NOT want anybody fighting over her stuff when she died. So, even before she got sick she was in the habit of passing out strips of masking tape and telling us to put our names on things we wanted when she was gone. She too was diagnosed with cancer and fought bravely for a long time. She spent her final days at home with us. In fact, she died in our home and if I close my eyes I can see her taking her final breath. My masking taped inheritance included a black wool coat, a pink bathrobe, and a 1915 dresser. When she died my mother found her stash of toilet paper that lasted our family of six for over two years.

My family, while normal on the surface, has a veritable bucketload of idiosyncrasies, quirks and downright oddities, but one thing you can say about the McHenry clan is that we're good in a crisis. So, once again, we face cancer with Neal's wife, Leah. Not grandparents who have worked, raised, families, retired and then fallen ill, but a 30-year old mom of four. I do not doubt that God can miraculously save her, but I struggle with the knowledge that he doesn't always choose to. And none of the crap about everything happening for a reason is going to make any of this sit any better or keep Susan from quilting, Jay from cleaning, Neal from crying, or Leah from dying and leaving those four precious babies and my brother behind.

I have begun lately to think about when it's my time to go. I've chosen pictures for the funeral. I've recently started looking for a collection of little boxes. You see, I want to be cremated and my ashes spread all over the globe - Egypt, Israel, Brazil, Austria - all the places I've been to and loved or someday hope to see. And being transported all over the globe in a snack-size baggie is just not going to work for me. I've also been scrapbooking like a mad woman to leave a legacy for my kids. The boys have strict instructions that these albums are never to be thrown away and any wife who even thinks about it will be haunted by me for all eternity. Morbid thinking? Maybe, but we all cope with mortality in our own ways.


Tiffany said...

Great post, Melanie! I'm praying for your family.

Kara Gordon said...

You are an amazing writer. Anthony and I are praying for you guys.

Andrew said...

I promise to deliver your pretty boxes to their intended home if you promise to donate my organs and then donate me to science.

I remember when Papu died. I was convinced until I was a junior in high school that I was the one who killed him because I jumped in his lap to hard. He died the next day.
I remember when Meme died she was so peaceful and she "ran" right up to heaven.

We will make it through this matter what happens.