It is said that during the process of death a person puts one foot in the beyond leaving one foot, momentarily, in the living world. Witnessing my father in-laws month long decline this week reminds me of this statement. The slow but steady change to his memory and physical stature all seem to support the idea that we dissociate from life as if we are preparing to leave.
My father in-law had four brothers and three sisters. One brother was the Bishop of Columbus and the other was a priest who was famous for being a champion of the poor and homeless. His sister Mary Lou was a free spirit and loved a good party. It’s rumored that she died with a cocktail in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Her post funeral gathering was the only true high spirited parties I’ve ever experienced. It was a mix of outrageous Opera folks, family and wild friends. It was a party that represented Mary Lou to the T. We were all there together as a family celebrating with her.
There are parallels to my mother in-law’s stories of living in Linworth in the 60’s to living on Hunter Avenue with Eddie in the early ’90’s. Ed & Dee were a young couple starting a family back then. She spoke of the nights they’d party around the pick-nick table drinking beer with the neighbors talking into the late hours of the night. Waking up early to pick up the beer cans and clean out the ashtrays before the kids woke. Then there were our days in the crazy house on Hunter. It was a house divided into four shotgun style apartments. Over the course of 13 years we lived there so many of our friends became neighbors at various points that it’s hard to keep track of looking back. One thing was constant though, food, drink, art and laughter. From the moment I heard the Linworth story I had always wondered if it was some part of Eddie that he got from his parents. Living together with neighbors as friends. Good times.
Other events we shared together at Hunter Ave include the whole family coming over for the Dooh Dah Parade/Eddie’s birthday. We lived on the route it took then up Second Ave.. Eddie’s nieces and nephews would throw water balloons at the parade. Running around our bohemian apartment having wild fun together. These soiree’s later morphed into larger scale outdoor dinner cookouts with cross neighbor participation. Mary Lou and her husband would attend some of these along with cousins and so many friends. It’s that kind of group. Not tight, but always orbital.
We moved on to Clintonville from Hunter Ave shortly after 9/11. We wanted more space so we got a house and proceeded to unfold into it. We continued the family party track there by hosting Thanksgivings in our big dining room along with Ed’s, epic, 70th birthday party just after his sister Julie died. All these events are vibrant still because we were all together to share those moments. Much like spending Christmas at Eddie’s sister Lorrie’s various homes. Those cozy days full of food, cocktails, kids and cold weather.
For those who think of Catholics as stodgy I have to say, you don’t know the Fulcher’s. They are humble to a fault and quick to lend a hand while sharing an infectious smile that usually morphs into a little laughter. It was with no surprise then that Eddie and I would often times end up going out on the town with Ed & Dee. We’d visit old favorite Italian restaurants of an earlier generation, pop into new hot spots in the Short North, or drop by a dive bar together and drink our fill as the evening turned purple then black. One night in particular we ended up at this place called Windward Passage. Famous for being a pick up spot for the senior crowd. It was a silver fox kind of place. Eddie called me at work while I was a sales rep for a wine company to meet he and his parents there one afternoon. When I was able to get there after my day I found all three of them lit up like lanterns but having the time of their lives. I caught up with them and had one of the best nights out in all my memory.
Of course looking back further into the days when Eddie and I had just met. Maybe a couple years into our relationship as he was graduating from OSU with an undergrad in Fine Arts. It was his thesis show called Suburb which dealt with, you guessed it, growing up gay in the suburbs, where I have my first memories of Ed & Dee (and Mary Lou). It was the early 90’s and we were all so young. But love and chance brought us all together.
Some of what I remember through Eddie are things like Ed used to make the family breakfast on Sunday mornings when they were growing up. They’d listen to music by Johnny Mathis. Whose album covers gave Eddie some of his first love for modern furniture with Johnny sitting all hip and smooth as glass in a butterfly chair. That he faced a bankruptcy from a failed business and bounced back from it carrying his family with a strength that would not stop by working two jobs. And never tired, was there for his kids after his shifts for what they needed. Stories that he and his sisters still giggled about where one year, for whatever reason, Ed took the kids out for back to school clothes instead of Dee. They all came back looking Brady Bunch groovy and ready to rock the 1970’s school halls that year. The story of Dee saving the first receipt from when she served this young soldier in the restaurant she worked in as a waitress in Houghton Michigan. She still has that receipt… and the soldier today.
We met Lorrie and our niece Lex at a Hospital on the West Side this past weekend to pick up Ed & Dee as they had decided to stop dialysis and proceed to hospice for the rest of his care. And while frail, suffering from what the nurses were calling “pleasant dementia,” and ready to bust out of there like it was a prison he showed his wife such tremendous tenderness that it brought tears to my eyes. After all that he’d been through, with his renal failure diminishing him, he still waited to help Dee to her chair. Making sure she walked first. Kissing her on the forehead as he helped her into her seat.
Love that even while you can’t remember your house, or wake up with some cloudy memory of a job interview you never had in your 20’s that you were somehow due for now in your 80’s and had to get dressed for, or when you start talking with long deceased loved ones as if they were there… you still feel that love for your wife at your base.
Then there’s that idea of having one foot in the living world and one in the beyond as we prepare to die. This collection of time encapsulated in scattered moments stored in the memories of three generations of family multiplied by all our corresponding friends, colleagues and neighbors are like lanterns lighting the way through the night in a persons absence. I wonder if we can somehow sense his foot lifting from the ground to join his other just beyond the light. With no small measure of dread for the loss of the man who gave us so much. But also with infinite gratitude for having been so fortunate ourselves to live with such a beautiful man to call father in-law, husband, grandfather, brother, neighbor, co worker and friend. The work Ed did in his life lives in all of us. It still does as I witnessed on Sunday when he was so tender with Dee. While he may have one foot in the beyond, he’s still very much here with us today even as he prepares for another place. If life is an illusion then let there be great lights, like Ed, along our path to mark the way.
Like so many parties he’s loved over his many years, we are all here to carry our various lanterns together in order to honor him and each other with laughter, music, good food, strong cocktails, keen style, devotion to those we love and simple fun. I think he would like that best.