"Grab me some water, would ya? How are you doing?"
Michael and I had arrived at the graveyard and were moments from exiting his van to visit his chosen burial site.
"How do you think I'm doing?" I asked, holding the water bottle to his lips. I find keeping my hands busy and his mouth occupied with food and drink is an excellent way for me to ease myself into challenging conversations. You have to learn things like this when simple questions like, "Can I ask you a question?" are met with a sincere "Can you handle the answer?" My lame attempts at avoidance don't fool Michael for a second, but the gestures give me comfort and he indulges my little game.
Helping me out, he took an extra long drink, never taking his eyes from me.
"I don't know. Tell me."
"Well, I don't know either."
He accepted that answer because it was true.
"First I want you to listen to this." He indicated that I should play the tape he had cued up on a talk by Wayne Dyer. What he played deserves its own blog post, but for now I can say it set the tone for what was to follow.
Michael led me to his gravesite, which lay at the foot of his mother's. At his request I placed a wreathe for her and then I offered to clean away the evidence of the Canada Goose migration soiling the stone.
(Despite my wiping the marker clean I found when I returned home later that I couldn't, for the life of me, recall seeing any last name on the gravestone. I could remember the years of birth and death. I could recall her first name, her middle initial. Even "Wife, Mom, Grandma" and the engraved image of the cross with two angels kneeling in prayer beside it. My mind, that day, simply would not register "Schwass" carved in granite.)
I sat on the ground he'd reserved for himself the day after 9-11 and then laid back to reflect on the oak branches arching over the site.
"I'll give you some time here." Michael began to make his way to the large statue of Mary, whose outstretched arms embrace this section of the cemetery.