we burn our dead

According to the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia in 1222 the Estonians even disinterred the enemy’s dead and burned them. It is thought that cremation was believed to speed up the dead person’s journey to the afterlife and by cremation the dead would not become earthbound spirits which were thought to be dangerous to the living. [Cite.]

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t had my medication adjusted back in September. I’d been a shambling zombie of depression, and while I can’t say that it won’t come back, because that monster always does, I’ve got a bit of distance from it now.  Most of the time. Not always. But I’m doing better.

One thing the medication hasn’t fixed is that I feel like a blatant fraud whenever I go Do The Things, and most of the time I am desperately hoping a Designated Responsible Adult will show up. That’s anxiety, more than depression, but they feed off each other. Round and round they go. You’re not fooling anybody, it says, trying to be responsible when we both know half an hour ago you were outside catching lizards.

Which is why yesterday — or today; it’s the dark hours of the night — was so interesting.

My family kept trying to talk me out of showing up to my uncle’s memorial. You don’t have to go, they said; your mom’s doing her physical rehab and might need you around; you just lost a friend this week already. But I thought about Thich and the things I learned from him, and decided that if they wanted me to be there, I’d be there. Like nursing Riley through her final illness, or being there during Miss Clavel’s surgery, it wasn’t about me, it was about what I could give.

I spoke with the younger of my two cousins about it. I told her, “It’s up to you, if you guys want me there, I’ll be there.” She thought about this a bit and said, “Okay. I’m going to be selfish, I want to see you.” So it was decided.

Then there was a mad rush to get appropriately funereal clothes because, although we are a clan of lulzy derps, we stick to the Old World Traditions in the weirdest ways. You always turn out properly for big life events like weddings and funerals, and we’re fussy about cutlery too. And superstitions, but I’ve already written about those.

Amber gave me a nice spaghetti-strap dress, and at the thrift I found a cardigan to put over it (my aunt thought they were a set, they went so well) and clompy platform sandals that delighted my inner grunge teenager.

I was all on track, everything ready, when Josie threw a wrench into my plans by developing spontaneous and slightly horrific GI difficulties. She had a bad case of splatterbutt, is what I’m getting at, and she had it in the house. A few times. All night.

It seems that every time I wind up at a familial gathering I do so on very little sleep and too much coffee.  I really wish I knew why this happens. I probably don’t eat enough herring.

I promise, it starts getting funny now.

I woke up in a rush after snoozing my phone alarm for a solid hour, and panicked my way through coffee, checking on Josie, taking Josie out, taking a shower, taking Josie out, more coffee, an unexpected rambling call from Miss Clavel where she asked for my opinion but really wanted me to validate hers and argued when I didn’t agree, and then more coffee. Amber, who along with her boyfriend has been staying with me the past week and will for a bit longer, was helpful by occasionally yelling YOU’RE STILL UP, RIGHT? She knows me so well.

Note that at no point was food involved, though I did manage to remember my meds.

I called the vet to double-check which bland food is best for dogs with splatterbutt, and after I told them what was up (Josie, problem, funeral soon, ARGH ARGH ARGH HELP) the guy on the phone said the best thing anyone could say at that point.

“Says here you have the wellness plan, so if you want, you can drop her off here and we’ll take a look at her while you’re busy.”


Thus it was that when I dashed out the door in my psedo-WASP funeral garb, but with my pink running shoes on because I wasn’t wearing the others until I had to, toting my purse, my backpack with civvies inside, and my water bottle, I also had not-so-little-anymore Josie tagging along, farting pungently as she went.


This is not from that morning, but it adequately shows her WHO ME? face. I love that stinkin dog.

When we got to the vetshop I went tearing through to the back, where I tried to compose myself, and what came out was more or less this: “Hi I do not want to be that jerk but I am running so late to a funeral it’s like a hundred damn miles and I talked to people on the phone earlier about my dog having gut issues and someone said they’d keep her here and look at her while I’m at the funeral and. God. Sorry.” Then I breathed back in.

In a Nice Dress and battered pink and grey running shoes. As one does.

After filling out some forms (Please give us a description of fecal consistency: Evil pudding) and handing my pup over, I was back on my way. I got on the highway, made sure Josie hadn’t eaten the directions I’d copied the night before, cranked the radio up, and put the pedal down.

Some thirty minutes later, I got off on the right exit, but then everything else went wrong.

I have a problem with Lakeland/Winter Haven, or maybe more accurately it has a problem with me. It doesn’t want me there. I’m like a homing pigeon with a magnet strapped to its head. It does not help that none of the roads are straight, each of them has three names, and they seem to alternate which name is advertised on the street signs at random. There is nothing resembling any kind of highway or other Road Upon Which One Quickly Covers Ground once you get off the interstate. You have to drive slowly, not only because the signs say so, but also because the retirees boxing you in with Lincoln Towncars give you no choice in the matter.

Were they drunk when they laid all the roads out?

Were they drunk when they laid all the roads out?

I did not ask my aunt for directions because, bless her, I can never understand the way she gives them. I think like a GPS: I need street signs, lefts and rights. She counts stop lights and names landmarks. So instead of, say, scooting along until I hit Old Dixie Highway (this is a real road out there) and going right, she would have me in a permanent panic wondering if this Burger King is the one that has the IHOP at the intersection where I need to turn left and keep going until there’s a Walgreens at which point I turn right and wait for the enormous row of factories and there’s a kinda-left there.

(If/when you read this, you know I love you, right?)

My directions worked, and I got where I needed to go. The funeral home had its name prominently blazoned on a big sign, and it was next to a cemetery, and it had two cars parked out front. I wondered if I’d missed the ceremony. I contorted myself in the car, taking off my sneakers and putting on The Clompy Tall Shoes, put my sweater on demurely over my fuchsia bra straps, grabbed my bag, and went inside. I asked a nice old man at the front desk if I’d missed the service for my uncle.

It turned out that while it is a local business, they have expanded operations and have two facilities in Winter Haven. The memorial was at the other one.


“Okay,” I said to the nice old man, and I wish I could have seen my face because a mix of Trying To Be Polite and Trying Not To Panic probably makes me look like a murderous axe-wielding maniac, “how do I get there?”

He started to talk about lefts and rights and a 7-11 and an apartment building. I held up a hand and said, “I’d better write this down.” He ambled off to look for paper, and I fished for a pen in my purse. I came up with the sonic screwdriver that lights up and makes noises, right as he came back.

Correction: I must have looked like a maniac about ready to kill someone with some kinda whiz-bang plastic toy.

The nice old man, who I am sure deals with weirder things than me in his line of work every day, proceeded to start saying exactly what he was saying before, except this time he drew me a map on an enormous sheet of paper as he talked.



I thanked him, confused, then went back to the car, where I turned it on and stared at the map. I was already forgetting things. The big round part was a lake, obviously, and the long hatched line was a railroad track, and the other lines were intersections, but not all of them and… huh?

Then I noticed the address in the corner (Josie nommed it a bit on our way home later) and, deciding that technology was the better part of valor, I plugged it into the Google Maps thing on my phone.

A button popped up: Get Directions.

I pushed it.

A canned tinny voice said, “Turn left. Turn left.”


I found my way to the other funeral home without incident, but very slowly, and as I pulled up I was over an hour late. I noticed that I did indeed pass a 7-11 and some railroad tracks and a “thing like a hill with apartments on it but you don’t turn up there.”

This other funeral home had a parking lot jam-packed and two people standing outside. I pulled into what should have been a parking spot and rolled my window down. They walked to me.

“Is this the memorial for [uncle]?” Yes, it was, and the reception was underway. “Great. Where can I park?” They said it wasn’t marked as a parking spot, but it certainly looked like one. “Hey, as long as I don’t get towed, I’m happy.” They doubted I would be. “I’m sorry. I’m from Tampa.” They said that was okay.

I think I said that last bit about ten times, in different places.

Inside I found a very somber-looking man in a suit who led me to the reception area when I asked where it was. As soon as I was in the room my aunt spotted me. She is very small and moves very quickly. What she said next came out as one big word as she latched on and squeezed me.

“OHHJULIEHIIISOGOODTOSEEEYOUUUUU.” Breath. “The service was hysterical! I’m sorry you missed it! He kept cracking jokes, one after another, it was so funny.”

… my family, ladies and gentlemen. You see where I get it.

I apologized for being late, and was told it was wonderful I was there at all, and then I got led around to find people I knew. There weren’t many; the local Estonian Contingent has gotten pretty small since the immigrant generation died, and some of the others didn’t show up. But I got to see my cousins, both daughters of the deceased and another somewhat more distantly related, and we all caught up. Especially the latter; he and I had run around at my uncle Hans’ place on Anna Maria (my grand-uncle, his grandfather) when we were kids, and I hadn’t seen him in forever, so I got thoroughly interrogated.

He and I talked about the cremation thing, which was funny. “We go the Viking way,” he said. I told him what I’d learned from Wikipedia, about ghosts.

Everyone wanted to hear about the Buddhist funeral. Everybody. My aunt clearly had played Telephone with that piece of news, telling everyone that I’d been to a Buddhist funeral. So first I had to explain that it wasn’t properly a funeral, and things got more confusing from there.

During all of that I was reminded, repeatedly, that there was food, and asked if I’d grabbed anything to eat, and there are drinks over there, and have you seen the food? Our family motto, if we had one: “There’s food!” I located the coffee, because at that point I was starting to fade, and Army Cousin and I spent a while happily eating the little brownies and boston-cream puffs and did you TRY this thing with strawberry and chocolate?

There’s food! It’s right here! GO EAT.

There was even funereal water. Who makes that, I wonder?

There was even funereal water. Who makes that, I wonder?

I got hugged repeatedly by everyone I knew, and was told that they loved me and were so happy to see me. That felt really good, and was also unexpected, because being the Mentally Ill Black Sheep means I didn’t get out to the non-death-related shindigs and didn’t hear much from anybody, and was not sure whether I particularly mattered. I’ve wondered for years whether that lack of communication is because people tend to shy away from The Crazy, or whether it was the general inability to do anything that made people stop reaching out. I’m still not sure. I didn’t ask; it didn’t seem the right time for it.

After more hugs and jokes and pictures and swapping email addresses and phone numbers and DID YOU EAT, people started to disperse. (Funny sidenote: I was right about the clothes. It was warm in there, so I shed my sweater and apologized for the fuchsia bra straps. My aunt said, “Do whatever makes you comfortable,” but then said she’d have to photograph me from the neck up, so I put it back on. Meanwhile someone else, I’ve no idea who, had a zebra-striped miniskirt.)

My aunt and my cousins asked me to stick around, so I did, and we chatted some more while everything was cleared away. I talked to the younger of the two about dogs; she’s got a lovely fawn and white Pit, and we went on a great tear about how it is so wrong the way those dogs are viewed, etc. I showed her a picture of Josie and she could not get over that ear.

The food was a problem; namely, that while the gathering was about as expected, none of them ate. Or, more accurately, none of them ate enough. PEOPLE, YOU WERE TOLD THERE WAS FOOD. I said I’d be happy to take some home, and before I knew it I had a buffet tray the size of a manhole cover filled with croissant sandwiches.

Go to a funeral, get sent home with leftovers. Hey, grab a bottle of soda too.

I dug my backpack out of my car and happily changed back into my regular clothes. We loaded everything into the cars, took more pictures, and then they left. I waited a bit longer, calling the vet back (they were on their lunch break) and getting the WHOA I HAVE A GPS NAVIGATOR set up so that I’d make my way back to I4 and not wind up in Lake Okeechobee.

Then I drove. A lot. The drive back was probably shorter than the drive to, but it didn’t feel like it. I had, at that point, only had two cups of coffee and a couple of brownies and chocolatey things. I was operating on four hours of sleep. I was going to crash hard at some point and I knew it.

I met someone interesting at the gas station.

I met someone interesting at the gas station.

Let me tell you: Polk discombobulates me so thoroughly that when I was finally on the ramp to I4 and the GPS was saying “Go left. Go left.” I still wound up heading east on the damn highway for a mile until the next exit before I could get turned around properly.

Driving back was better: I trusted the GPS to an extent, I was in no big hurry, and I was wearing jeans and sneakers again. But I knew the inevitable caffeine-chocolate-sugar-exhaustion collapse was coming. And I still had to get my dog.

I could feel myself relax once I was back in places where I knew what the highway exits were. No big surprise, after so much being lost, but it was still a mistake. Relaxing invites the tiredness.

It's good to come home after a busy day. Yes, I was driving; no, I was not distracted. I just fired the camera button a few times. This one worked. Shoot from the hip, or as it was, the dashboard.

It’s good to come home after a busy day. Yes, I was driving; no, I was not distracted. I just fired the camera button a few times. This one worked. Shoot from the hip, or as it was, the dashboard.

The highway led right to the road which led right to the vetshop, so I got there, texted Amber something about bless the mother of God and all her wacky nephews for I am home again, got out of the car, and headed for the bathroom just as quickly as I’d headed for the vet desk that morning.

“We’re really busy,” the guy manning the desk told me. “Might be a while.”

“Long as I’m not in the car I’m happy. I had to go to Winter Haven.”

“Is that near Ocala?”

“Felt like it.”

Once I finally got to talk to the vet, I was feeling the beginning of The Crash. The tests ruled out giardia, and the vet said likely it was Stupid Puppy Ate Thing She Shouldn’t Have, or perhaps an intolerance to new kibble, and would probably resolve itself in a day or two. But they had dewormers and antibiotics ready. We talked about the bland food — finally I had my answer, and I had been right all along, boiled chicken and white rice.

I said I’d like to see if it resolved on its own, with bland food and more of the old kibble, which they had little bags of. Then, if it didn’t, I’d come back and get medicine. He said that sounded great.

I am so used to vets who all but shove medicine at you and adopt the nuke-it-from-orbit medication strategy while assuming the pet owner knows jackshit. It was really nice to be taken seriously. Since my previous vet was leaving, I asked if this one could be my new usual vet. He seemed happy about that.

I finally collected Josie, who peed all over the floor in her excitement to see me again, and we headed home.

Later, while I was outside with my dog, I caught a lizard, because guess what, anxiety? I totally can handle shit like an adult at the vet, and go to a funeral in nice clothes, and drive around and get lost and get home okay, and anxiety, you can suck it.

Responsible Adult Catches Lizard: news at eleven.

Responsible Adult Catches Lizard: news at eleven.