My Handful of Dirt

Yesterday evening was the memorial service for Mr. Jeff at St. Casimir Roman Catholic Church in Woodbine, where he lived and died.

For days I began writing numerous times, both on paper and on the computer, what I would say, only to scrub each attempt, exasperated and stumped. Trying the usual tricks of staring at the ceiling, pacing, shopping, peeing, eating, singing to the radio loudly and horsing around with the dog reaped nothing.

“Please God, give me the words to convey Jeff’s life, spirit and personality.”

The phone wouldn’t stop ringing all day and still no writing came to me as the time grew near. Trying to find something appropriate to wear was a lesson in frustration. A majority of what I own is black–win-win, right?


I had been told to not wear black because this was a “celebration of life”. Finally choosing my red, grey, white and black dress, I simply clipped my hair up and wore no makeup. We had to pick up some of the receptions food so there was no time to worry, anyway.

The market’s deli had the lunch meat order completely wrong, and took over a half an hour to even begin cutting it. While I started to get panicky because time was running out, I had to stand in line a second time to speak with someone about it. My brother-in-law and nephew found us. Pretending to hold a normal conversation, I was obviously distracted. It never fails. The days I am all over the place emotionally-mentally or looking terrible, everyone and their cousin decide to shop where ever I am shopping.

After explaining in a voice teetering on low-grade hysteria, to the young man behind the deli counter, that when he asked me what I was waiting for earlier and I told him my order number, he could have had the courtesy to let me know THEN they had no turkey breast. Instead, he just left it out of the order with a small note in the bag. I had a memorial service I needed to be at in thirty-five minutes! My voice, though quiet, rose higher and higher in pitch with each word.

Pushing me quickly away from the counter and back to the cart, E. directed him what to place in the missing turkey’s stead and asked if he could please hurry. The poor guy looked like he had seen a ghost after my hypo-freak out but he managed to finish quickly. E. thanked him kindly and shoved me with the cart toward the checkout lines.

Walking out to the truck Jeff had given me just weeks before he died, his baby, E. spoke softly while rubbing my arm. I stopped in my tracks and just stared. There, on the back right panel of the truck Jeff had so lovingly coddled for so long, was a four-foot scratch and a shallow dent. A dent that wasn’t there in the perfect unmarred gift from the man I cared for and about while he died of a horrible diseaseI who’s funeral I was about to speak at, who had changed a part of me, that was his  gift to me. Right at that moment, good friends from high school, who I hadn’t physically seen in years, pulled up next to me smiling.

I don’t remember much of what I said, but there was a lot of “What the fuck!“s and “Oh my Gawd! My truck!“s getting tossed about in the air, interspersed with “Oh, so nice to see you.” and “Wow, Hi!” There are freeze frame shots in my memory of their stunned faces. My apologies came later via Facebook. They graciously accepted and said none was needed, the sweet, kind souls.

One miniature temper tantrum-nervous breakdown and short drive later, I was setting the table up with niece R. before bolting down the block to the church.

Walking into the sanctuary, I was greeted by the person who told me not to wear black and she looked wonderful in…you guessed it…a lovely, black dress.

Christal, you gotta’ let that shit go or it’s going to eat you up.

Yes, Jeff. I hear you.

Forcing myself to relax, I put it all aside…the unspoken, dark and hidden issues that had haunted me from the start, his subsequent death, the issues of the day and my worry over my speaking without having a plan.

While Father talked, the sense that he truly meant every word came gently across to each person and he conveyed a story to us.

A man lived his whole life on the isle of Crete and worked the land. He loved his farm and his island. The rich, black soil was his life’s blood, so much so that when he lay dying, he asked to be brought outdoors to be among the life of his land. Grasping the earth, he passed with it in his hand.

God met him at the gates of heaven and welcomed him with arms wide open. “Welcome home! We’ve been waiting for you!“ As the man started to enter, however, God said “Oh but you must let go of the soil, first, in order to enter.” Refusing, the Lord sadly left him by the gates .

Eons passed and God tried another approach to convince the man to drop the dirt. Sending out the farmers old friends who had passed before him, He hoped the man would see the glory that lay ahead of him and be able to release the earth and what was his previous life. Still refusing, the mans friends had to leave him outside the gates.

The mans granddaughter who had passed during this time, beseeched him to come be with her in the place God had prepared for him. As the man reached for her small hand, the soil slowly slid from between his calloused fingers. Walking through the gates with the child to God, his eyes grew wide. Before him lay his beloved island of Crete.

O.K. Gotcha’ God.

Letting go-

…of Jeff
…of my resentments
…of my sense of righteousness
…of my role as care-giver
…of my anger and frustration
…of the days events
…and all manner of things I have no control over anyway…

I began to speak.

When I heard myself retelling of the day he told me “Christal, you gotta’ let that shit go or its going to eat you up.” I was finally able to smile and the words just flowed from some place un-named

If I’m going to go four-paws-up, I wanna’ do it at home, you know? he had said to me in his dry, macabre humor. He wanted to be home with his plants and his things. We couldn’t give him much, ” I said, “but we gave him that, we were able to give him that one thing.

And in saying that, I dropped my handful of dirt.




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