At some point in the next 24 hrs we will pile into the Avalanche and make our third pilgrimage up north to Grande Prairie in less than five months. Three funerals in five months. In many ways this is beginning to remind me of my childhood back in Dubuque. Around the time my Uncle Jimmy died back in 1972, there was a rash of deaths on my dad’s side of the family that had us attending wakes and funerals almost constantly, or so it seemed to me at the time. For a while, between my dad’s relatives dropping like flies and my mother’s nieces and nephews weddings, the only time I saw my extended family was in church or in a church basement after for dinner. Chicken, ham, and turkey and dressing sandwiches. Artery clogging side dishes. Homemade desserts brought in by the ladies of the various rosary societies. Food and death. Food and marriage. Linked eternally in my nine year old mind.
The only other spate of death I can remember in my life came the summer between my junior and senior year in college. All in July. My ten year old cousin died in a farm accident on the 4th. My great-uncle, Father John, one of the nastiest men I have ever know died in Texas mid-month. And Kyle died. I am fairly certain it was around the same time, but it’s been over twenty years now, so I am not totally sure. Kyle was my friend Sarah’s boyfriend’s roommate and friend at the Lambda Chi house. He was funny and very cute and a tad bit on the wild side. We ran into each other here and there over the course of my junior year. In bars or at parties. We flirted. We eyed each other and on occasion, we made out a bit. He was not interested in a girlfriend and I was not auditioning for the part – mostly because I might have gotten the job and I really didn’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend at that point in my life. Despite my laments to the contrary, I did my best to keep relationships at bay. For a lot of reasons.
The last time I saw Kyle was one of the last nights of finals week. It was warm. People were running around from bar to this party and that. I kept my eye out for Kyle and eventually ran across him. It was awkward. The last time I’d seen him, I’d sorta blown him off to go running about with my friend, Leslie. Guys don’t like that when they are trying to put moves on you. Anyway, we left it as “see ya in August and we’ll see”.
I was twenty-one. You don’t think at that age that you won’t see someone again. That anything bad could happen. But, Kyle drowned that summer and there was no “see ya”. I remember that I cried when I found out. I was at home in Dubuque for my uncle’s funeral, and I was owly the whole rest of my stay. My mother especially found my behavior irksome. She had never understood my aversion to the social aspects of death – the visiting and the eating. I could have explained, I suppose, but I really didn’t share much of my life with her. I still don’t really.
I went back to school. I didn’t discuss it. I am sure no one knew about how I felt about Kyle or that we had tentatively reached out to each other a bit. It was just a school girl thing and I still think of that way.
I only thought about this because Rob had mentioned that this will be the fourth funeral up there for him, starting with Shelley’s back in August of 2006. It will Jordan’s fifth funeral overall as she lost a friend to suicide around the time her grandmother died in December. It seems unfair when these cycles catch us up, but it’s life, right? Just as there are cycles of happiness and joy, there are darker periods of sadness and grief.
So, we are off to Grande Prairie.