The death of my mother has created a convection, a vortex of distracted activity. A flurry of events that need attending.
‘The death of my mother.’ This is a phrase I don’t think anyone is ever truly prepared to deal with saying, thinking, or typing. It’s like the phrase, “my husband” or “my wife” when first married; or “my child” when newly parented. Maybe in time I will be accustomed to saying such a phrase. My loved ones and casual acquaintances (and that lovely woman on the plane yesterday who clearly didn’t know what was coming when she asked me, “What brings you to Buffalo?”) assure me however, that it is a situation, a fact of life that never truly settles. The irony being of course, is that the matter is quite settled. Any mortal discrepancy boils down to ego: acceptance and management.
Being almost 400 miles from my own tribe has put a lot on my heart; being separated from them on the heels of losing Mom has doubled it. Yesterday, I helped write and finesse her death notice. Today, I select her gravesite and secure the location of my father’s and their wee son, my brother John.
Nothing is ever perfect. The obituary cited her birthday incorrectly, but that’s my dad’s fault. It’s been fixed, so it’s ok online now. I felt the use of the term “evangelist” was loaded, especially these days, but I understand it’s not how it was intended. My mother was complicated, but most geniuses are. I am grateful I posses average intelligence to assure I will not ever be so depicted.
Being in Buffalo, at 45 yet feeling keenly like 16, has created a swath of ownership for her; this is her turf. Being with my cousins keeps me at 16. As I posted most recently, my fight in her life for her relevance and health amidst my yearning for normalcy, predictability was arduous, chronic. It was, and often it went unanswered. But when it was answered, when Mom was in her element and her health, she was ON.
Like a halogen light bulb. Showing you yourself, the truth in art, the grace in literature and music. She would be in her Zone and if the timing was right, I was lucky to join her.
Being here, attending to her corporeal dignity, addressing her final — truly final — needs has been liberating. I have become at times, a microMimi — I have lost it, emotionally within a single breath. I have mused about things on the fly, I have composed myself only later to be discovered in a corner perpetrating ugly crying. That is grief. That is mourning. I have no regrets for this behavior. My mother lived on her hinge that way a lot. She has shown me that it’s life — no one can predict anything, really. It’s just a compilation of lucky guesses.
Her favorite phrase of admonishment of my insistent regularity and rushing (and it really wasn’t rushing, it was just trying to be on time) from Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” was, “Cool it, Mimsy!” (The joke being on me, for she knew more about Neil Simon than perhaps Neil Simon, that Mimsy is being chided by her bridegroom about her bemoaning fears of turning into her parents.)
The weather here in Buffalo is chilly today. The sun is cresting the rooftop beside my cousin’s home. The sky is clear. My eyes are tired, but I will rally today.
This is where I spent a great deal of time yesterday afternoon:
The irony in the name of this place is not lost on me, nor on anyone for that matter. I remember joking with Mom about it years ago. In deference to her and her love of the arts and theater, I have begun pronouncing it “Am-ih-gon-e” like the play in which she starred, “Antigone.” She would like that.
Yesterday, between phone calls to my brother who had no business being at work, and after finalizing her death notice and as her niece and I were selecting things like Mass cards and floral arrangements, and asking the funeral director to please print one more picture for her casket and we added a clean but crumpled kleenex to her suit pocket and a tube of lipstick, “pink shimmer,” and to remember her rosary, and when I went looking for a pony tail holder for her hair (which she always had around her wrist, but it was usually a rubber band, so I wanted something softer for her), I was tasked with selecting a poem to print on the reverse of the card.
This section of the death packages binder was full of Irish poems, Christian poems. Schmaltzy drippy poems. I knew Mom would groan and openly “tiff!” or say “piffle!” at some of them. She had brilliant taste in literature. I didn’t like any of them. None of them were worthy. None of them. Not one single offered collection of verbs and nouns and modifiers would suit her. She was above all of it.
“Is this all you have?” I asked, wincing.
“Can we do our own?” My cousin asked.
I looked at her, in the way I do when I’ve eaten a canary. She knows this look quite well.
“Shakespeare. Do you have any Shakespeare?” I asked.
“No. I don’t,” said the man from behind his desk, the man whose daughter is in college. The man with questionably perfect hair. Hair that was later asserted by the funeral home owner, a friend of my father’s (as fate would have it they share the same birthday) to be real because the boys downstairs have tugged at it, they know… (Eww.)
“But you may select your own,” he added.
Then a bolt of
My father shared with me two nights prior that my mother requested of him on I believe the night before she died that he read to her just one part of “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.” Just one. I told my cousin which one, and she knew, instinctively the one. She used to read with my mother. I would not ever read with my mother if I didn’t have to as a child or in high school or in college or as a mother. It was uncool. I am too self-conscious. It sucks.
My cousin and I scrambled on our smartphones and I found it. Mom played this brilliantly. I was tired when Dad came over that night, I wanted rest, but he told me that story. Somehow I banked it. Then my cousin. The one who read with Mom, she knew the poem when I mentioned it immediately. We just had to find it.
It is Puck’s final monologue and it is perfect:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
I cry when I read it. She’s talking to me, to us. To her huge family. All she wanted was to have a “normal” relationship with me. Go to the mall, go to movies, shit like that. That’s not us though. I hate the mall and we talk during movies. We aren’t and would never would be people like that. I think we would both feel its disingenuousness. But this… this is good. This is right. This is family.
In sharing it with both of you, I feel like I’m stealing the show. Like I’m releasing embargoed copy, but I’m not. But what I’m doing, for me, is steeling my show. The experiences I have endured the last few days and what lies before me in a couple hours and then tomorrow are inSANEly challenging, so if you disagree with my decision to share what I just did, I permit you to be woefully ignorant. In the meantime, please pray for my strength. I will take it from all faiths.
My mother was brilliant, layered, deep, flawed, conflicted, talented, shrewd, tender, loud, quiet, soft, harsh, wise, goofy. She wanted things that made no sense much of the time. But when it came to art, literature… Shakespeare… I shut my mouth and defer. Mom was never, ever wrong when it came to Shakespeare. She knows this is about healing.
Robin is restoring amends.