It has been almost six years since my Mother departed this earth. All of us knew she was not going to live, yet her death was a complete surprise. So quick. So final. One morning I was leaving the house to walk around the block, and fifteen minutes later I was in my Mother’s kitchen with Martha the caregiver and my sister, gazing at my Mother, still in her pink satin pajamas, slumped sideways in her kitchen chair. She had entered a new space for all eternity, and so had I.
One part of my brain functioned as a fact keeper, recording the feel of the breeze on the front porch where I sat in a wrought iron chair to call my husband and say, “Please come.” I watched myself call the hospice, or the paramedics or whoever I called. Though every fact was catalogued so that I would never, never forget this surreal world, I have no idea which agencies I called that day. I think I may have tried to move some of her breakfast things out of the way in the kitchen, so we would not have to see them, so that our Mother would not be dead.
The fact keeper came with me a few days later when I volunteered to go alone to her house to clean out her closet. I don’t know what I was trying to prove, unless I thought that by facing this heartrending task I would be getting past some dreadful obstacle I would never have to face again. It was helpful in terms of being able to freely wail and sob as I yanked down her little sports shirts and robes, sniffed their heady cigarette/perfume aroma and crammed them into hefty bags. There was little in her closet, for in her last few weeks, after her Doctor told her over the phone that she only had weeks to live, she had culled her personal items to a minimum.
Her rust colored summer straw purse, though, I could not relinquish. After a lifetime of detesting her cigarette smell, I found myself wanting to keep her essence close to me for as long as possible. I sniffed her leather key ring, full of jangling keys she would never need again and actually deeply inhaled a partially full pack of Merits the purse still contained. I opened her brocade lipstick holder. I felt the handle and the nubbed straw exterior of the bag. I had my Mother’s purse, so she could not be dead.
I am sure my story is no different from anyone else’s. We expect to lose our parents, but we cannot believe we have lost our parents. We prepare to lose our parents, but find that the losing is an entire package of feelings and events for which we cannot prepare. We try to remember everything, because we know we are living in an altered reality where we do unthinkable things like go to the funeral home. Humans must be in a trance to perform the duties of death.
About two weeks ago my siblings and I received word that we were the beneficiaries of a burial policy we were unaware my Mother had had. Documents had to be gathered: death certificates, funeral home statements. As I rummaged through all her old papers I have still not been able to make myself organize, I willed the fact keeper to watch and remember while the trance part of me looked for the required information. Finally all the documentation was complete and duly submitted.
And guess what? I went through two weeks of reliving my Mother’s life and death only to find that my portion of the insurance policy comes to eighty two dollars and fifty cents. None of my siblings need money, nor did we have any grand expectations. But there was hysterical laughter among us at this outcome, followed, I am sure, by moments of private sadness.
But seriously? For eighty two dollars and fifty cents I had to see my Mother’s checkbook with all our names on it? Because she was blind and couldn’t write checks anymore? And remember in my gut the sight of her lonely red Keds beside the bed the morning she died? To have the fact keeper play back for me the scenes of my self wandering through the rooms of my Mother’s house, expecting to find her around the next corner?
But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that it turns out that after all these years my Mother is still dead After a comprehensive review of my Mother’s last months , from biopsy to diagnosis, from chemo to hospice, from her believing she was fighting her illness to her urging dishes and crystal on us every time we left her house, from the caregiver’s call to the funeral home, from the funeral to the dividing of her estate, the fact keeper concludes without a doubt that my Mother remains dead.
I found my Mother’s little straw purse today and went back through it. I think I can still detect some of her smell. There is only one broken cigarette inside , not a pack as I had recalled. Here are her wallet and her small black rosary beads. A handful of loose change covers the bottom of the bag. Somehow my Mother is still dead, and I am still surprised. I would have given a lot more than eighty two dollars and fifty cents not to find that out. Rest In Peace.
It is hard to like a post in which so much grief is expressed.
What I like is not that you feel the loss of your mother as fresh as if it just happens, but that you express your sentiments with details that come over in crystal clear pictures. How you add colour and scent, while you still try to distance yourself from your feelings and try to take on a more neutral perspective. How you even try to dissect your own feelings in a neutral tone. My mom is dead now for 32 years – and I still could not write about her personality without falling back in the wailing teenager- mode I lived back then. So I bow with admiration.
I agree Fran, it is not a “like” kind of a post. Maybe wordpress should add an “empathize” button. I am so sorry you had to lose your Mother at such a young age. I’ll be cracking my human brain against a brick wall to try to wrap my mind around losing mine until the end of time. It does not stop hurting. Thank you for your kind words.
I am so sorry. And sorry I was not there when all of this happened. If there’s any consolation to be found, it’s that this is is beautifully written, and grandmother would be so proud. She’d probably want to go shopping to celebrate, and we’d pick her up and find her wearing one of her cute sport shirts (pink striped) and carrying her purse. Love you!
There is not a day that goes by that I do not have some nostalgic thought of grandmother. She would surely have wanted to go to lunch, and would have dressed up snappily, right up to the end. Love you too.
I am in tears knowing you had to grieve through this again. I would have given a million and eighty-two dollars and fifty cents to have prevented this from hurting you.
Thank you, honey.
“We try to remember everything, because we know we are living in an altered reality where we do unthinkable things like go to the funeral home. Humans must be in a trance to perform the duties of death.”
I can identify so much with what you’ve said here. Death has this persistence that is just infuriating, especially when it turns up in an insurance policy or in some other long-forgotten paperwork. Occasionally my mom will still get mail (or worse, telephone solicitors) for my dad and she’ll have to dredge up painful memories. This week, she finally had the pond in her backyard filled in; it was always my dad’s pet project and she has never felt like the work that went into maintaining it was worth the enjoyment she could get out of it. So she filled it in. I’m proud of her that she did, and I’m proud of you that you cleaned out closets and filed papers and performed all those other duties of death. They are hard, trance or no.
I too am proud of your Mom for taking the step of filling in the pond. It meant a lot to your Dad, and must have been a daily reminder of him, yet I know your Mom couldn’t keep it up. Loss causes us to be seemingly forever embroiled in inane decisions. Would it be disloyal if I were to…? Should I change the ….? But I can’t keep living with the …? I know your dad would be proud of the grace, integrity and courage you, Trev and your Mom have shown since his death.
My daddy died and I did not shed a tear. My mama died and I cried a little during my nephew Elijah’s eulogy. I found out that I needed someone to drive me home after getting a shot in my hip and I fell apart when I told my friend and office manager Sue that I needed a ride. Go figure.
My mother never entered the age of social media. She could never master the art of manipulating a mouse. Nevertheless, she kept any of her eleven children who happened to call her apprised of any information that she had. By talking to her one knew who was sick, who was having marital or vocational issues, or who had had any sort of achievement. Now that she is gone all of that is gone.
So my family is largely unaware of my recent health issues. No one knew that I was dying. While I relish living alone and far away from my family in many ways, I found myself telling Sue that I had decided to move away from Memphis and back to my hometown so that when I needed a ride I could simply ask one of my siblings.
The next day I received the results of my recent physical. I am not dying afterall. Everything was within normal limits except my weight and my PSA. The moderate osteo arthrits in my hip has responded to medication. I am ridiculously healthy. And my mama is not here to spread the good news.
That is one of the many unforeseen aspects of loss. I’m glad you are not dying yet.I will spread the news.
So many ridiculous things in life can stir up strong emotions in us. But this post was anything but ridiculous…well, maybe ridiculously beautiful.
Sometimes all you can do is laugh! Thanks for your kind words.
I agree. Laughing always seems to help.
It’s a good default setting.
Lovely post, I relate, having lost my mom to cancer 20 yrs ago today, in fact – and I still don’t always believe it either. A while after she’d died, I found her leather purse and before I knew what I was doing, had stuffed my head inside, inhaling her white shoulders perfume and cigarettes as if she were still here. [just like you… 🙂 ] It was a wonderful, terrible moment. Thanks for this post.
Thank you, Lori. My mother wore White Shoulders for many years, but in the month before she dies she switched to”Beautiful”. I think we just have to embrace the wonderful, terrible moments.
I knat a shawl for Mother about a year or so before she died. I never knew if she wore it, though. I reclaimed it after she died, and it was nice to hear you say, Mary Beth that she had worn it just that week. I thought I might have a meltdown then and there. I have the shawl in a bag in my closet. Every now and then i take it out and smell her unique scent.
As I recall Mother wore that shawl every Sunday to Mass after Daddy dies. I took her to St. Francis; she would never go back to St. Louis after Daddy dies. May her unique scent live on in that shawl!
I relate to so much of what you and the other commenters have written; sadly my father’s belongings lost their smell of him quite quickly but my mother’s everyday handbag still smells of her scent even though she died in 2001. She had dementia and lived in her own world by the end; it was as if she had died twice.
No matter how long they’ve been gone we still yearn for just a little sound, sight, or smell of them. And caring for one’s parents when they are so clearly not there any longer is a true labor of love. Thanks for sharing.
$88.87 is the amount of the check I received. Mother used to keep important documents in the kitchen-either in the little cabinet over the stove or in the side cabinet above the dishwasher. I keep my important documents (some of them) on the mantelpiece. I guess that’s a leftover from when children were too short to scavenge up there. Anyway, I have been wondering what to do with this financial windfall. Mother would not want me to spend it on gas, milk, or underpants. That much I know! She might like me to take the fam out to dinner. She ( and others who will remain nameless) might like me to buy an outfit for myself, especially if I could get shoes to match. She might like me to use it for a quick trip out of town. Whatever I decide to do with this money, I will do it with love and remembrance of Mother and a good time!
Yes, the amount was larger bc they gave us some kind of interest. I too have not decided what to do with the windfall. But if you bought beautiful underpants with yours, along with a satiny nightgown and MATCHING SLIPPERS she would certainly approve!