Mother was dead. The thought was totally foreign to me. I had known for a long time she was living on borrowed time but I’d never sat down and really faced the fact that someday she would be gone. Oh, I knew the time would come but now that it had, I couldn’t believe it.
My sister and brother-in-law had arrived at the nursing home. The funeral home had been notified. When the soft-spoken men in their black suits arrived, we waited in the corridor while they placed my mother’s body on the gurney and covered it with a velvet throw.
After they had wheeled her out to the waiting hearse, we went back into the room to gather up her belongings. She’d been there for 12 days, all told, so she hadn’t had time to accumulate much. When I opened the drawer to the bedside table, there was a sandwich bag with her makeup in it. I don’t know when she’d last worn it but I laid claim to it. I didn’t plan to use it. It was kind of a monument to her memory.
That afternoon, the family members gathered at the funeral home. When my oldest sister’s husband had died, he was cremated. Mother had decided she wanted the same for herself. I thought it was very appropriate. There would be no viewing, no funeral, no remarks—“Doesn’t she look natural?” “She looks like she could open her eyes and talk to me.” “They do SUCH a good job here.” “Doesn’t she look pretty?”
The soft-spoken man came out to talk to us. Mother was in the next room. Those of us who wanted to see her one last time could come in. One or two elected not to. They wanted to remember her as she had been and not as she was. The rest of us filed by the gurney. I patted her face and kissed her on the forehead. She was cold. Cold and her skin felt like wax. Mother was gone.
Both of my North Carolina sisters and I went in to select an urn for her ashes. There were shelves and shelves of them. Some were large and showy. We agreed on a chest-type one in a subdued shade of maroon. Mother would have wanted something classy and it was classy.
I’d gotten in touch with my boss and let her know what had happened. She was very understanding. I could extend my vacation a few days.
The next day, I went to Mother’s house. It was strange to be there all alone. I’d collected some boxes and packed up the things she’d always told me I was to have. There were the antique dishes that had belonged to my father’s family. I went through some of the pictures and took the ones I’d given her. She’d specified that I was to have her music so it went into a box. There were a few things from the kitchen. My sister in the Great Northwest had given her some goblets. She didn’t want them back and said for me to take them, too.
Two days after Mother breathed her last, there was a beginning. DD and merm had been talking marriage and they finally took the plunge. They were married in a civil ceremony. The only other people there were merm’s parents. I was sworn to secrecy. I had no idea why they didn’t want people to know but I honored their wishes.
2004 was rapidly coming to a close. It was time for me to go home.
Back at work, life took on a semblance of normalcy. Daily, I had people come to me sympathizing. Over and over, I let them know I appreciated it. They meant well but I would have preferred being left alone. I was still somewhat numb and I needed time.
At home, the emails were flying back and forth between my sisters and me. The next order of business was to plan Mother’s memorial. I was determined she would have the sendoff she deserved.