I woke up early without meaning to. I had wanted to sleep in. I tried to fight it, rustled around in bed, snuggled in. I was restless. It was 8:30am. I’d been rustling around for the past hour. I got up. I had a long day ahead of me.
The funeral was at noon. I didn’t realize I’d encounter so much traffic getting into Alameda. Zooming down city streets, taking all the shortcuts I could remember, I arrived at the church I grew up in (St. Joseph’s Basilica) one minute before noon.
Terri Heath was my classmate since the 4th grade. We’d gone to St. Joseph Elementary and St. Joseph Notre Dame High School together. We were friends in grammar school, but ran with different circles once we got to high school. It was her mother’s funeral. 20 month struggle with cancer. Her mother had been our elementary school computer teacher. Active in church, too. She was one of those rare souls with a heart of gold. It’s sad enough that her mother recently passed away. Her father (our assistant coach for the elementary girls basketball team) had passed away a year ago. When traumatic experiences like this happen, I don’t doubt my faith or God, but I think of Job from the Bible who suffered painfully, finally finding happiness in the end. Simplistic, yes. We all have our moments of suffering, but I believe suffering is short-lived.
I parked and rushed into the church, stopping to greet the only Heath family member who was standing outside. I was glad Terri’s brother looked almost as I had remembered him—except a little older. I shook his hand. “Hi Scott, I’m Cathy Gacad.” Then I gave him a hug. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” He thanked me. When I pulled away, I surprised myself; I was shaking.
As I settled into a pew, someone called out my name. I looked over and saw my old classmates. They motioned for me to come over. Hugs all the way around. One of them whispered, “Hey Cathy, remember you were the fastest person in our typing class?” I smiled.
Mike Werner, Chris Branson, DJ Oster, and me. I couldn’t stop thinking that I had known these guys since first grade. Another classmate, Amber Biles, came in a few minutes late and sat in front of us with her toddler.
We had spent all of our youth together, started drinking together, played spin the bottle. This was our parents’ church, our church where we learned to pray together, did our First Holy Communion together. We had gone our separate ways and here we were back again. It made me nostalgic and sentimental, knowing that we would come together to comfort one of our own. There were others, too, who I recognized since Terri’s two older brothers had also gone to school with us. Even my parents were there.
The church was full. As the family processed down the aisle with the coffin, my heart went out to Terri (the youngest of her siblings) as she caressed the coffin and wept. It was a beautiful funeral, or celebration of life as the pastor liked to say. There were four eulogies and many heartfelt songs. I couldn’t locate Terri afterwards, but my mom pointed out that she was inside the church. I gave her a hug and she started to cry. I told her what a wonderful, wonderful woman her mother was and that I was thinking of her and praying for her. She gave me a kiss on the hand—a kind gesture for someone wrought with grief. I was glad I had gone.
I couldn’t shake Terri’s grief out of my head as I left Alameda. I kept thinking how terrible it must be for her to have lost her warm, kind-hearted mother. I tried to think of something else. I needed to switch gears as I headed to a Cal vs. UCLA pre-party BBQ at my friend’s home.
I went from elementary / high school to college nostalgia in less than an hour. I parked in the Berkeley hills close to where I used to live. I thought of my best friend Daniel who lived one block from where I parked and how he used to make me dinner at his place. I was shocked at the closure of several fraternity buildings. When I made it up to my friend’s place, I yelled, “OmiGod, I had no idea all of these fraternities shut down!” They agreed. Some kind of wrongdoing on their part. Greek row had transformed.
With the exception of a friend doing her residency in NYC, these were my closest college friends. Friends I had lived with, partied with, thrown up with.
When I got back into the city, I went to the opening reception of an artist named Maria Forde. Her exhibit was titled ‘A Strange 31 Years.’ The similarities between us struck me. The artist has my name (Maria). She’s 31. Because she has a writing degree, she uses text in her work. And on the way to the gallery, I passed a little known street, Fair Oaks, where the first guy I dated in San Francisco (an English teacher of all professions) had lived. I hadn’t come across that street since 1997. Oddly enough, a friend had grown up on the Fair Oaks Street in Alameda. I had spent a lot of time in that house hanging out as a kid. That friend was Amber who I had seen at the funeral that day.
You can’t count on love or relationships. All you can do is try and do the best that you can. One day at a time. Until the day there is a breakup or divorce or death. It’s scary and depressing. But that’s when you lean on family and friends. People you had forgotten about, or even strangers, will come around to be there for you. That I’m certain of.
The inspiration for the art exhibit was borne from overwhelming pain: the death of her father and the end of an eight year relationship. I started blogging because I thought I had great stories to tell, but it’s transformed into an outlet for me to express myself just like painters with their paintbrushes. This has been my coping mechanism for feeling alone, hating myself, being happy, then being sad again. Because I know others can relate. I wouldn’t have readers if that weren’t the case.