On Tuesday morning I flew to Spokane to attend my Aunt Ruth Ann's memorial.
Family had come from several directions when we got the news, last week, that Ruth Ann had passed away. Family members flew from Portland; Reno, Nevada; Virginia; even Guam. I got there; I got picked up by my brother T.J. and my Mom; and I got driven to the church that had been Ruth Ann's church in life and would be the site of her memorial. The church; the hotel; Ruth Ann's apartment; a cafe; one friend's home; my latest experience with Spokane was a -- circumscribed one. Certain things had to get done and I had a hand in doing them.
I sorted books and paperwork in her apartment. Her building was in a southwest Spokane neighborhood with boxy complexes and beautiful, ornate and expensive houses side-by-side. Her place was at one end of her complex, on the second floor where it would've been unlikely for anyone to be able to see in to it. She was found there last week.
I only accidentally found out exactly where she'd been found.
If you don't know where a body was found, especially the body of a loved one, maybe you should ask first. This question may be difficult. The whole situation definitely was. We dealt with it by being there for eah other. We also dealt with it by being funny to each other, or at least as funny as we could be. (From that day, out of context, by me: "Gee, if I'd watched CSI regularly, I'd have known this.") Soon before we left for the hotel and for a needed lunch, I saw large branches that had fallen in an intersection her building overlooked. I waited for a lull in traffic -- I wanted not to get hit and, well, add to my family's difficulties, shall we say -- and pulled the branches out of the road. I felt the need to stay useful. Something to focus on, probably.
Throughout all this, I was tired. I couldn't, and can't, imagine how more tired Ruth Ann's sisters were; how tired her daughters were. Good thing that hugs transfer energy. Apparently. There were lots of hugs this trip.
A cafe around the block from the hotel. Back to the hotel. A pause in the day; time enough to stretch out on a bed briefly, read some, rest some, and be ready for the memorial. Another ride. More time in Ruth Ann's church, with boards set up covered with photos of Ruth and her family.
Somewhere above 60 people came to the church to remember her. We needed more chairs. T.J. helped to find and install them.
Ruth Ann was like many in my family, funny and deadpan, but even more so, even more concentrated than a lot of us. One attendee told of a time when another church member had brought a friend of hers to a group that Ruth was also attending. This friend got increasingly agitated about the group in particular and the church in general; he then used the word "cult." The awkward silence that followed broke when Ruth said, "It's okay, you can still have a cookie." Ruth Ann had one hell of an ability to very quietly make people laugh. She tended not to raise her voice. She usually didn't need to.
There were more stories like that. There was music on a boombox, and poems read, and letters shared, and stories told. There was punch, coffee, and cookies (of course) at the reception next. More reminiscing. More laughter. More sitting down because a lot of us were increasingly tired. Death is exhausting.
The final social time we had Tuesday night came at the home of friends of Ruth Ann's, further southwest in a more rural area. We visited family and friends, including my Uncle Chuck, Ruth Ann's former husband and Steph and Allison's father; he brought Steph's daughter Eloisa, who he had been babysitting during the memorial. (This was only the second time I can remember meeting Uncle Chuck. This was the other time, four years ago at Lake Tahoe.) We visited and ate while dodging around a high-energy two-year-old boy and the somewhat less rambunctious 3-year-old Eloisa. I wonder how much of the situation they understood -- what would you say to a kid? Your grandma Ruth won't be around or able to visit any more, but you can think about her and that's still good. The kids stayed like kids, having their dramas and their fun, while we handled the situation in our own ways.
Then it was back to the hotel. Rest happened. A night of sleep and a morning of in-and-out-of-sleep; I woke up early, wondering about the rest of the week and about what I'd already experienced over the past several days. Got thinking in a way that kept me too awake for sleep, let alone dreams, where I could have thought about things in a different way. But I woke up with enough energy to be reasonably sort of kind of almost functional Wednesday morning. Only needed enough energy, of course, to shower, get dressed, get into T.J.'s rental car, and ride with family back to the airport, well in advance of our one-hour flight back to Portland. After airport security was breakfast (a yogurt parfait for me), giving us a little more energy; after that was waiting for the flight; after that was the flight; after that was getting picked up by my Dad at the airport, after which he dropped me off at work for a partial day. I was back at work at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. I'd left Spokane that morning at 7:30. Looking back, I'm surprised at the quickness. A lot has happened this past week. A lot. It was only a week ago yesterday that I learned about her death. The possibility of me being in Spokane for the events I just told you about didn't even become a possibility until Sunday. And I made it there, and I was useful to an extent while there, and I made it back, and I made it here. After a night last night to myself.
This weekend, after all this: it's a weekend to be there for family, to feel restorative energy, to rest. To recover. To figure out what happens next. And to have more energy for it.
That was only some of my time in Spokane for Ruth Ann Nelson's memorial. There's plenty I didn't tell you. This covers the broad bases.
My Aunt Ruth Ann deserves more words than this. I've thought of plenty, plenty of which I won't share here, as they're too private. But this...this will have to do.
Again -- still -- and no surprise -- I love you, Aunt Ruth Ann, and I miss you.