Monday, June 11, 2012
Turning the Page
Nothing in life prepares you to deliver an eulogy for your mother.
She passed away 12 days after Dad, with her "girls" around her. A kind, efficient hospice nurse on her first solo assignment stood by. Mom went, as she always had, in her own sweet time.
She clearly had some things to work out before she left us. We could tell by the mumblings and gesturing she did so fervently those few days. We saw her sewing something (even knotting the thread!), folding laundry and feeding a baby. All those tasks that consumed her life for so many years. The hospice social worker suggested that we place her purse next to her and let her know it was there and that it was all ready to go. It felt strange, but we did it anyway.
I had never before held someone's hand as they let go of life on earth. It felt to me like such an honor, to be there to comfort her, to let her know that she was not alone. It was as she would have wanted it, with her daughters nearby. I felt so close to my sisters at that moment and yet a part of something eternal, larger than all of us. I felt a connection with all those women through time who have sat by the side of ones they loved, giving comfort and sending them off into eternity. It was a sacred event. I felt blessed.
There was grim humor in that night, as well, as we called the funeral home,
"Wait a minute, your name is familiar; didn't we just do a funeral for you last week?"
And as the undertaker arrived for the body and the nurse asked for his identification,
"It's okay, Tina, we recognize him. He came to get Dad, too."
"I thought this place seemed familiar," he said. "I'm sorry for your loss."
And then the quiet as the oxygen concentrator was turned off for the last time.
This time we knew what to do, who to call, what arrangements had to be made. We still had our lists. One thing was different this time. At Dad's funeral, by pure coincidence, all the readings and the eulogy had been done by the men in the family: sons and sons-in-law and grandsons. Without discussion, we knew that it was right that this time it should be Mom's girls. Our brothers were in agreement.
We selected different readings than we had for Dad. Readings that spoke to her love of gardening, her sense of fairness. My sister Ann, far more familiar with the Bible than the rest of us, texted us cites to chapters and verses for consideration. We chose a couple of the same hymns, but also some new ones. "In the Garden" had been sung at her mother's funeral, I remembered. We all agreed it was a good choice. My sister's partner, a beautiful, trained singer, agreed to sing it for Mom. It was settled: Ann would do the Old Testament reading, Jenny the New Testament, Christine the Prayers of the Faithful. The grand-daughters brought up the gifts. I would do the eulogy.
How do you eulogize your mother? Relationships between mothers and daughters are complicated. Mom and I butted heads, early and often. Mom was not a saccharine, warm-n-fuzzy personality, and yet there was so much to her: her dry wit, her braininess, her creativity, her practicality; her beauty. I struggled with writing it.I tried to capture her essence and to describe memories that were shared among us. The words did not come as easily to me as they usually do.
The day of the funeral was sunny and bright. I had been hit with a respiratory bug that had me coughing and snorting and reduced my voice to a sexy rasp. I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to deliver. I'm not really much of a crier, but when the music started, my eyes welled. My daughters watched me as I dabbed at my eyes. They squeezed my hands. My sisters rose and did their parts, without hesitation or error. I knew then that I could do mine.
I stood at the lectern in my serious lawyer suit and prepared to speak. I looked out at my Hombre, my girls; an aunt; many cousins, friends and family who had gathered and I felt an overwhelming wave of pure love and support. Then I started to talk. I know I didn't follow exactly what I had written; I never do. I can't recall exactly what I said. What I do recall is that at points there was laughter, at others nodding and smiling. When I finished and returned to my seat, I began to cry.
I wasn't crying for my Mom; she was where she was meant to be. It was her time. I wasn't crying for myself; I knew this time would come, when Mom and Dad would be gone, and I didn't balk away from it. I wasn't worried about their souls; I don't believe in heaven or hell. I think it was simply relief. All of the stored emotion from the intense few weeks we had just had and from the weeks and months of care taking just flowed out of me.
I felt like you feel after you have driven through a blinding rainstorm, when you are so focused on keeping the car on the road and trying to see ahead, when you are gripping the steering wheel so hard your knuckles are white and then suddenly it stops and the sun comes out and you release your grip and start to shake. You hadn't even realized how hard you were gripping that wheel or that you hadn't even blinked for hours.
That's how I felt. That's why I cried. It was all over and I could let go.