To My Mother, Who Gave Me a Sense of Humor.
...and a few weird nicknames.
I’ve started then deleted my opening sentence about seven times, and somewhere in my head I can hear your soft, sweet voice speaking to me from the beyond:
"Oh Jesus Christ, Stinkweed. Is this a dead mom story? That’s a little...ugh...pander-y, don’t you think? "
You’re probably right. In the 36 years I got to have with you, you were right about most everything. I’m glad I had the opportunity to tell you that in person...the exception, of course, being the years 1991-1997 when you were wrong about eeeeeeeverything and never understood me!, but Teen Me was admittedly over-dramatic and kind of a bitch, so that doesn’t count.
I have to start with a confession, though. The moment Dad told me you died, my first thought was Well, that’s inconvenient.
I mean, in my defense, it was.
I’d been trying to save all of my PTO for my impending maternity leave because we live in America, and America apparently has a thing against granting working mothers time to heal from passing a whole human out of their bodies, so I didn't have any time to spare. Plus, we were pretty strapped financially and not even remotely prepared to assist with funeral costs. And it was a Tuesday. A Tuesday, Mom. You’d fought that Evil Chronic Illness battle for years! You fought like hell, even when you didn’t want to. You couldn’t have waited until the weekend?
"Geeka, you were born two weeks late AND I was in labor with you for 48 hours AND I missed New Year’s Eve that year so don’t even talk to me about inconvenience."
Your death wasn’t an inconvenience. It was the goddamned end of the world, but it wasn’t an inconvenience. YOU weren’t an inconvenience. Not ever. Not even on your worst day.
I still don’t fully understand what happened. Someday I might dig deeper, but for now I prefer to be blissfully content with the thought that you left here because it was time; your battle was over, you laid down your weapons with grace and you walked out of this world without physical pain, right into the waiting arms of Nana and Pap and Bebe. For a long time I was mad at you for it. I needed you here. I needed you to talk me through the end of my weirdly complicated pregnancy. I needed you to teach me how to be a mother...not the existential how will I love my child stuff, but the actual, specific practical questions like: How do you get a baby’s onesie off of her when it’s covered with poop? and How do you keep up will all these dumb school fundraisers and not go into debt? and How do you hold it together when your kid says something wildly inappropriate but so, so funny?
I'd say that I forgive you for leaving me, but forgiveness implies that you had done something wrong. You didn't. I know that it wasn’t about me. I know that you knew I’d be smart enough to figure those things out without you.
Just like I know you saw that your memorial service was so packed that it was standing room only, and Will and I and our spouses had to eat outside on the church lawn because there were simply no more seats anywhere inside.
Just like I know that you saw the seemingly never-ending line of strangers hugging us and sharing deeply personal stories of how you touched their lives.
Just like I know that you saw how much of an impact you made on that community throughout your 40 years in social work and just how much the community loved and admired you for it.
Just like I know that you see how your first grandchild has inherited your sarcastic wit, your slightly off-key singing voice and your uncanny ability to see right through my bullshit.
Just like I know that you’ve forgiven me for saying that you were 62 in your obituary. I mean, I only aged you up by a year, so all in all, that’s not too terrible an error.
So since I have your attention, I do have several questions that I’d love some clarification on. Here they are in list form, because I know you like lists:
1. On the morning that you died (and before anyone knew you died), the lights flickered in my office. It was a brief little glitch that I didn’t think much of at the time, but was that you saying goodbye?
2. That night, after Will and I had arrived at your house to be with Dad and as we sat around the kitchen table being sad, the empty Coke can on the table flipped over on its own. Was that you, too?
3. Will and I wanted to use a specific picture of you for your memorial. You know the one; 24 year-old you in a nightgown and curlers, one hand holding a beer can and the other flipping the bird at the camera...but it mysteriously disappeared from our pile and seven years later it still hasn't turned up. Could I maybe have it back please?
4. What in God’s name did you need with 77 unopened packages of pantyhose from QVC? I mean, we were finding pantyhose packages stashed everywhere...for days...it was like you were stockpiling them in anticipation for a Great Pantyhose Recession. I mean, thank you for the lifetime supply of various styles of pantyhose I guess, but damn, Mom. You had a lot of pantyhose from QVC.
I miss you. I don’t ever ever stop missing you. I hope you’re out there somewhere, watching over us. But if you’re not, that’s okay, too. We’ll meet again someday. Until then I wear your ashes around my neck, and every time someone compliments me on such a pretty locket, I smile, think of you and say:
“Thanks. It’s my dead mom.”
Because I know you'd get a kick out of that.