At the private burial, my sister and brother stand teary with their arms around each other’s backs as our mother’s coffin is lowered into her grave. Dry-eyed, I step up next to them to complete our sibling trio. Yet we are two plus one, a double and a single, a duet and a solo.
After standing there for several seconds, unconnected—not part of their grief, not feeling their pain—I step back to allow them their moment.
We all adored my mom and felt a closeness to her that any mother would envy.
So what’s with me and this blank reaction to her death?
Like my mom, I am not a crier, except when I got divorced and had to agree to live nine consecutive days a month without my kids. But that was years ago, and Mom was right when she told me I would come to make the most of those days on my own.
Although I can get weepy if I accidentally turn on the evening news, I strive to avoid sadness and pain. A mother’s death is one of the big boppers of loss and maybe I’ve put up a wall to block that. Or am I just citing a psycho-notion, a result of having spent too much time in shrinks’ offices?
On a similar note, maybe I am in the denial phase, though after my father died, I also wondered why I never crumbled with grief. Mom often said she wished she had been able to cry when Daddy died. Nonetheless, her heartache was palpable after sixty-six years of marriage, one in which each considered the other before themselves.
It feels counterintuitive to prance around with my life the same as I did when I had a mother, but the fact that she and I shared the dry-eyes trait pleases and reassures me. I celebrate that Mom lived ninety-two years with no misgivings, and despite my jolly demeanor, I am quite aware that her death leaves me with a permanent hollow space.
Mom was the only person in the world who thought I ought to be on Oprah (I’m not sure for what); Oprah, who—by ending her show—also left a void in my life. Mom timed her death nicely to coincide with the Oprah loss. Now, I won’t have to watch an Oprah program about, say, octogenarian sex, and then ache to phone and discuss it with Mom.
The truth is I lost my mom a few days after we moved her up north in a medical van to the long-term care facility (she hated the expression nursing home) near my brother’s family. During the trip, Mom was her fun-loving self. She said it felt surreal, as though she were traveling to heaven, even though she didn’t believe in heaven.
A few days after arriving at the nursing home, however, reality struck. Maybe her slide began on the first day when I went with her to play bingo. It was so clear how out of place she felt in a bingo game where each number had to be repeated three times. B10, pause, B10, pause, B10. No one in the room except for the woman calling the numbers looked anything like my mom, with alert eyes, upright head, and slightly rouged cheeks.
Mom’s new room—where we hung her favorite paintings and arranged her personal things, like the book of drawings and tales of her life I had made for her ninetieth birthday—embodied all the railroad clichés: the final stop, the terminus, the end of the line.
She no longer wanted to live and I was her cheerleader, chanting rah rah sis boom bah for her to die. She reminded me how I’d always said I would help her pull the plug. “Susan, you promised,” she told me. Of course when it came down to it, I could do no such thing without the approval of my siblings, the ones who know how to cry.
A few weeks after my mother became downhearted, the doctors increased her meds. Although she was still coherent, she had become non-reactive, the opposite of the mother I had always known, the mother who thrilled to everything.
Another upcoming loss is likely to be my Casey, given that he has already reached his life expectancy. Like Mom he has had a long run with few regrets, except he probably wishes I’d have taught him to fetch.
After all these years, my heart still goes pitty pat when I look at that boy. And even though he doesn’t have much to say about the economy, he is great company day and night. How will I feel if he dies and I can’t stop crying, considering I didn’t weep when Mom died?
I’m told people grieve in their own ways, so I’ll try to stop worrying that my heart isn’t swollen with grief right now, right after my precious mom died.
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