Mom passed away on February 7th. Everyone has been listing her time of death as 4:08pm but it was actually closer to 4:12 pm. I don’t know why I need to clarify that, but those last four minutes mattered. We were there. I was holding her hand. I still remember the wet faces of my sister and uncle as we said our final goodbyes. So, yeah. 4:12 pm. Her service were held on Wednesday the 15th. Lindsay, Audrie, and I finished cleaning out her house the next day.
Now it’s the 19th. It’s late Sunday evening and I am somehow supposed to return to work tomorrow.
I remember going out to retrieve something from my car on the morning of mom’s funeral and seeing kids being dropped off at the junior high school across the street from my dad’s house. I popped open my trunk and mentally noted how weird it seemed that school would still be in session on the day my mother’s body was being lowered into the earth. I hated all of the 12 and 13 year olds for a moment. Their parents. The teachers. The administrators. How dare they continue on with life like it was a normal Wednesday. How dare banks open their doors and postal workers deliver mail. How dare the world not stop in its orbit.
The services went fairly well. I spent most of the day mildly annoyed at various things and so I only cried once (when I saw two of my college friends show up at the cemetery). Someday I’ll write a book or a play about this period of my life and I’ll go into further detail about every single thing and person that managed to get on my nerves the last few weeks, but for now I will just say two things. One, if a woman donates $400 a month to a church and the lead pastor of that church can’t be bothered to give the sermon at her funeral because he’s “getting ready for an upcoming missionary trip” that, according to his Facebook page, he still hasn’t left to go on over a week later, that church is not one I would ever be interested in attending. Two, it doesn’t matter how close you are to someone. You do not have the right to make plans for their funeral services without running it by their family first. Unless they have no family, in which case, good on you.
My sister and I went back and forth about what we should say, if anything, at the services. We ultimately agreed to keep things short and sweet, limited to a few Thank-You’s at the reception. I didn’t need to say anything to anyone there, but this is what I would want to say to mom if I had the chance.
I thought I was prepared. I thought I knew what it would feel like. I thought, even among the sadness, I would feel some instant relief for both of us when you passed.
I was so wrong.
We’ve always had a very complicated, very intense relationship. I always thought it was because we had so little in common. I see now it also has to do with how much we were alike. I know you’d roll over in your grave if I were to say that you provided Lindsay and I with a strong feminist example, so instead I’ll say I am proud to have come from such a brave, ambitious, smart, principled, self-made woman. The older I get, the more your influence on both of us is evident. I never gave you enough credit while you were here for all the good qualities I inherited. I never gave you enough credit for all the qualities I wanted to inherit, but didn’t. You were so fearless. Seriously, I never saw you flinch in the face of anything. That’s how I knew how bad things were when I saw you shaking in that elevator at the doctor’s office. I think it was the first time I ever saw I fear in your eyes. I know we have differing ideologies on how god and science and the universe all come into play in this life, but I want you to know I believe you did things on your terms all the way up until the end. I heard you, those moments I was helping to change your clothes and take you the bathroom, say under your breath that I was too young to go through what you did with grandma. I know you wanted to protect me from that same fate as much as you didn’t want to live a life in fear. And I don’t know how you did it, but I think you somehow consciously chose to call it quits. I think you did it for me as much as much as you did it for you. If there is ever a way to thank you for that kind of sacrifice, I will spend my life trying to find it.
You would have been so proud of Lindsay this past week. She’s never reminded me of you more. So organized and professional and on top of things. Sometimes I feel like she’s the older sister and I’m the baby. I know you hadn’t come to terms with her marriage to Audrie yet, but mom, she is so well loved. Lindsay and I talked to your nurse Faviola a bit while you were still alive- I wonder if you heard any of the conversation- she told us how she had talked to you about her gay son and how she reconciles it with her own faith. I choose to believe that with more time, we might have all ironed out some of those wrinkles. Especially if you had got to know Audrie. Especially if those two gave you a grandkid to play with and dote on. Yes, I think a grandchild might have been the key to unlocking everything.
We bought you a pink casket from Costco. You’d be pleased to know we saved some money going that route, but also it was really pretty. You got so many flowers. So many. Even though we told people to donate in lieu of sending anything. That’s how many people loved you. We divided them up among your friends and family after the reception. The ones we purchased for you were shades of pink and purple and we added tulips in, too. We dressed you in comfy black palazzo pants with a pink blouse and matching cardigan, so you’d be comfortable but would still look fancy. We figured that was the right balance for eternity, though I bet you would have been cute in a pair of your matching pajamas instead. We made sure you were wearing a cross necklace and some of your ‘loop’ earrings. Lindsay and I both cried in the store while picking out your outfit. We bought you a pair of pink panties with little hearts on them, and then bought ourselves a couple of matching pairs to wear the day of your service. I guess most people would probably think that’s weird, but I know you’d be tickled by it. Our little secret. We told them to wrap you in your green prayer blanket and place the picture you used to carry in your wallet close by your side. I didn’t get to see you once all was said in done, but I can imagine it in my head. Maybe it’s better that way. You will always look beautiful and comfortable in my mind’s eye.
I wore a pair of your pants and one of your black cardigans to the service. The cardigan still had a small deodorant stain on it from the last time you wore it. I paired it with a pink shirt and some ‘loops’ of my own. I wore my Adele bun in your honor, and Lindsay and I both talked about how we knew you would have called us both ‘gorgeous’ and ‘striking’ a million times if you had seen us that day. Kelly, Casey, and Marley sang Angel Band at the graveside and Frank and Teresa sang I’ll Fly Away. We played all your favorite music at the reception and decided to use your coffee cups as the centerpieces. There was more food on the dessert table than the lunch itself. You would have been pleased.
We cleaned out your house. Bob didn’t want to see it sit empty, and we understand that. Even seeing everything taken out of your beloved backyard was hard enough to stomach. Our cousins and aunts took lots of your tchotchkes and jewelry and stuff. Wendi is even going to make a “generations” themed room in her house. Many of your other household things we donated to an organization that helps victims of human trafficking. I think you’d love to know that your belongings were going to live on helping people. Seems appropriate.
Lindsay and I don’t know if we can afford to keep the beach house for very long, but we’re going to try to as long as possible. We want to have a place we can go where we can feel your presence, though truthfully I have felt you with me this entire time. I always assumed there would be a moment where everything would suddenly and drastically change. How silly of me to think that a relationship as complex and intricate as ours could be severed by something as simple as death. I now realize your hold on me will remain always, for you are as much a part of me as my own heart or lungs. I miss you, though. So intensely that it almost feels fraudulent. I wear your pink robe around my apartment just to smell you on it. I make sure to have on a piece of your jewelry at all times. I smile in the mirror at the big cheeks on the woman looking back at me. Do you know tulips are in season right now? I’ve been seeing them everywhere.
I wish so badly we had not stopped trying to find new ways to reach each other. I wish I would have held your hand more often before that last week of your life, when you weren’t conscious enough to know that I did it for hours and hours at a time. I wish I had taken the time to put up your Christmas decorations this last year when you were too tired to do it. I wish we would have watched the stars out in your hot tub on a few more nights. I wish I had been more patient with you when the illness started to take over and make you forgetful. I wish I had acknowledged what a devastating blow it was for you to lose your driver’s license. I wish had taken things less personally. I wish I wasn’t always looking for a fight. I wish we could have had lively debates about politics and religion without both feeling as if the other one was attacking our very existence. I wish I would have taken you to get every sausage biscuit and omelette and hamburger you ever asked for at any time of day or night. I wish we would have seen every episode of Golden Girls in consecutive order so I could have said that was something we accomplished together. I wish we would have talked about your death more often and more openly and that we would have both let ourselves cry about it, together. I wish we had more time. I wish we had more time. I wish we had more time.