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Do You Remember Me? Part II

It was a thick summer day. The heat was oppressive and the sky was beautiful. My 17-year-old daughter agreed to join me on the 7-hour drive to South Dakota. I'm unsure if this was her being altruistic or that Minnesota and South Dakota had different laws about tattooing minors. It's likely, as with most things in life, it was both. I was still pleased not to drive alone, even if it meant stopping at a tattoo parlor on my way home. I feared the sadness would demand my attention if I was left alone. Grief does that to me.

We drove almost entirely in silence with Spotify playing, which I ignored. It was a peaceful, boring drive through the flat western side of Minnesota and the eastern side of South Dakota. The prettiest parts of both states are on their opposite sides. If I turned around and went east, I'd find the Minnesota river valley, Lake Pepin, and the bluffs. If I kept going west past the funeral, I'd hit the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. Still, the drive had its own charm with rolling prairies, farmlands, and overgrown trees. In the swell of summer, the green of the plant life and the blue of the sky almost hurt when you look at them.

I pulled into a dirt road that led to the local VFW and walked in. It seemed fitting that you grew up here. You had all the qualities of a kind small-town girl but with longer lashers and painted nails. This is to say it also made sense for you to move to the twin cities. You were the best of both worlds that shaped you.

You were almost ten years younger than me, yet I was going to your funeral. One day, we were laughing at work, and the next, I was packing up your desk for your mother. As your boss, I wasn't your closest friend or co-worker, yet your death left a wound. I felt I didn't have the right to claim your loss, so I kept my grief bandaged, only to expose it in the privacy of my home.

This made the funeral awkward as I sat with others, and they shared memories. I had my own that would highlight your humor and kindness, but instead, I shared an anecdote about how we argued over U2. I had insisted it was a good band, and you vehemently disagreed. "Well, I got the last word," I said with a chuckle in an attempt to bring a sense of lightness to the heaviness of your loss. After incredulous looks from all, I assured them it was a joke. "I would rather I didn't have the last word, obviously," I added. But it was not obvious. My sadness had not been exposed to the air, and they could not see it because I would not show it. I quietly departed with my daughter giving me comfort in her silence. I hope you forgive me.

In that quiet, I realize your death is wrapped up with the deaths of my father, mother-in-law, and father-in-law. All of you leaving right after the other. Stacked up haphazardly like a toddler building Legos until it collapses.

As we drove to the tattoo parlor, my daughter played a song. It started with violins that sounded like bird song. The cotton floated around us as the music grew, giving the world a delusory feel. A high falsetto tenor sang:

"Talk softly

Walk Slowly

Take nothing

I can't hear it

But I won't forget

The way she flies"

And I unwrapped my grief as gently as he sang. Crying, driving, and saying nothing.

My daughter got a tattoo with the date of Glennpa's death in Roman numerals and a small butterfly. Inspired by this particular homage to loss, I decided to get one of my own, with the outline of mountains and three birds flying above.

I now know there is no ownership in grief. So I play that song when knowing you are no longer in the world becomes too much to hold.


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