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An Oldie But Goodie: Lutherans, Death and Exaggerating Aunts

| 0 Comments | 1623 Views | Back to top | Posted on 11/04/2011 at 03:15 AM

This Sunday I was home for Easter with my family.

I have always loved Easter. Lutherans go absolutely apeshit for it. The resurrection of the body of their Lord, Jesus Christ has them positively mad with happiness. The hymns at Easter have more horns than a Mighty Mighty Bosstones tourbus and have the congregation literally crying out “Prince of Peace! Lord of Lords!” As I child, I remember each Easter in Sunday school making some sort of artistic rendering in honor of that fantastic Sunday morning when they rolled away the stone. A removable cut-out of the stone that you could place back on the tomb, a Mary Magdalene finger puppet, a bath towel brought from home and fashioned into headgear for an in-class play. Frankly, I was never on board with the whole “he’s gone up to heaven” theory. It went against everything I had gathered in my ten years on the planet. If something is missing, it’s because somebody took it or a tornado came and whirled it away. Just like when Chastity Gunther had her hearing aid disappear. It wasn’t because it ascended into heaven. It was because Mark Cody took it. I was no fool. I wasn’t buying any of this “he disappeared and went to this magical place in the sky” bullcrap. And to predicate a whole way of life upon it? Flimsy at best. I started refusing to go to church. None of this made any sense. Of course, what Ellie Buller could have done was sat me down and told me that as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, we weren’t biblical literalists and were going to church more for the built-in friendships, folk songs and annual recipe book. That I would buy. But my mother resisted my resistance and we’ve been locking horns ever since.

Still, I go to church. For her.

After church, in the parking lot, waiting for my mom to hug hello to every solo senior lady in the church, my brother asked me what I do during the service. “Oh, I try to really be present for it. You know, really listen. Try to sort out the bullshit from the stuff that actually makes sense.” I went on. “I think it’s interesting that every religion tries to circumnavigate death. Like we just can’t accept that we might die and that’s it. We’re either reincarnated or go to heaven. We just can’t accept that this might be it.”

Mom and Dad eventually came and we drove home. I didn’t mention that I noticed Steve Templeton’s mom had purchased a commemorative Easter lily in his honor for the alter— even though her son is the one who back in summer of ‘94 told everyone, post-make out with me, that he “wouldn’t touch Kara Buller with a ten foot dick,” causing me to take to my bed for the whole summer. I’m pretty sure we did make out so I’m pretty sure it was okay for me to tell everyone. Sure, I have no clear memory of making out with him now, but if I back then said I did I must have… at any rate it was clearly wrong for Steve to say that thing about a ten foot dick.

Back at the house, I went back to working on my blown out egg project with Cassandra and steering a child towards crippling perfectionism. “Hold it very carefully Cassandra. Don’t—better let me do it.”

“Oh shit!” I heard my brother yell from the living room. Then my dad started yelling. “Now look at what you did!” My brother had knocked the fake window panes off the window while he was looking out the window. “Maybe we shouldn’t be tacky and have fake window panes!” I thought in my head.

“Is Buddy out!?!?!!” my mother yelled from the kitchen. “I’ll get the leash!”

“The dog is out again!?!” my sister yelled.

Our beagle runs away at least once a day and sends the whole family skittering all over the neighborhood in a shameful panic. There’s the Bullers, out of control again with their out of control dog.

My brother ran outside of the house then came back in.

“Mom! Mom! Come! You need to do CPR!”

“The dog isn’t out?!??”

“NO! Just come!”

As my mom and dad grabbed their jackets, I went out to the front yard with my brother to see what was going on. Across the street, under a clear blue sky and amid trees just starting to bud, a car was parked up on a lawn, next to a bent utility pole and on the green grass a man in a peach shirt was lying motionless. I could hear a girl screaming “MY DAD MY DAD SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING!!!!”

Her wails were desperate, pained, and apparently, futile. Neighbors came out of their houses and a crowd started to gather around the body. Nobody attempted CPR or took his pulse. Eventually someone brought out a blanket and placed it over the body. I guess early on it had been determined a lost cause.

The wailing continued and was intolerable, too much for me to take. Too heartbreaking. That one moment you are driving down the road on a beautiful Easter Sunday with your annoying, joking father and the next he is lying dead on the ground. I went back inside.

“What’s going on?!?!” my niece asked.

“Let’s just wait inside. Let’s just wait inside.” If I was disturbed by this scene, I couldn’t imagine what it would do to a ten year old.

“What’s happening?”

I held my niece close and rubbed her back. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay. Even when things aren’t okay. They really are okay. Even when people die it is okay.” I realized I was comforting myself more than I was her—and saying really inappropriate things—a horrifying preview of how I would parent.

“But what’s going on??”

“I think someone’s losing her daddy right now.”

When I was eleven, Palm Sunday took my mother’s mother, then one week later Easter took my father’s father. I didn’t know these people. They were ancient people from another world—and literally another century. Proper, simple people. Rickety and serious with 1950s glasses and worn bibles. Still, it was jarring to me. The buds on the trees, the light breezes and the soft pastels my mother made me wear. All these things were signifying life, comfort and family, and in the midst of it was irreversible, inarguable death. I remember standing next to my mother in the pews of a small Lutheran church in Wisconsin as we sang “Amazing Grace” at her mother’s funeral. I couldn’t do it. Tears streamed down my face and I hiccupped as I tried to breath. My aunt rubbed my back. “Oh Kara. It’s okay. It’s okay. We know you miss her.” I wasn’t crying for my grandmother, though, who I hardly knew. I was crying for my mother and for me and all that I was learning.

I wanted to protect my niece from this sort of “death amid the willows” imagery, but I supposed there was no use fighting it.

Eventually, the Crystal Lake Fire & Rescue showed up with two trucks and my parents and my siblings walked back to the house.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Oh some woman was freaking out. I guess she just had shock. Her tire blew out.”

“Well, what about the man?”

“What man?”

“The man who was lying on the ground motionless, who had the blanket pulled over him.”

“That was a woman.”

“But there was a woman screaming about her dad and the dad way lying on the ground!!”

“No. The woman had shock and was yelling like crazy for her dad. She was driving when her tire blew out. Must not have been going more than like 35.”

“So nobody died Aunt Kara?”

“I guess not.”

A tow truck drove by towing the woman’s car. Later, a utility team showed up to try to fix the pole.

Cassandra’s dad showed up out of nowhere. “So somebody died?!”

“No. Aunt Kara just thought somebody did.”

“There was a man lying on the ground and someone was screaming her head off! Yes I thought somebody died!”

We went back to our blown eggs.

“You told Cassandra somebody died?” My brother asked.

“Well. Why was that woman looking so much like a man!?" I really thought that lady was a dead man.


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