Since my father passed March third, I’ve been making a weekly trip to Raleigh to help Mom with everything from estate finances to dragging her trash and recycle bins to the curb. Before my father’s death, I’d always made an effort to go see the both of them, just not every week. Usually it was about once a month, sometimes twice. depending on how I felt the writing was coming along.
Now, no matter what, I go. (Remember the self imposed writing challenge? It’s actually helped me stay on track.)
Mom will be seventy nine in August and she’s never been on her own. This “new normal” for her (and me) is going to be an adjustment. In truth, that’s an understatement. It’s going to be a reckoning, a realization, because there are some things about Mom I never knew. Of course I do know she married Dad within five weeks of meeting him. Right from her parent’s house to his, she never experienced any sort of independence except what came from her being a controlling sort while Dad was laid back enough to let her feel she was calling all the shots.
The thing is, I think all along my dad must have been something of a buffer. I think he caught the things she did (and does) and held onto them quietly. Like her need to do what I call her daily brain dump. Like how she’ll call me and will explain everything she’s done from the moment she wakes up to the very minute of our phone conversation. She’ll then move on to what she’s going to do next, how she’s going to do it, and what she’ll do when she’s finished.
She dumps. I listen, like Dad.
This past Monday when I was there, we went back to the funeral home to pick up an item. We didn’t know what it was, and when we arrived, we went into the office area where we were handed a memory book. It’s very nice, with the pictures of dad, and the online memorials given by some folks, and pages to write down his hobbies, interests and all that.
Mom looked at the on site pastor and the office manager who’d passed it along to her, and said, “Oh, I just can’t read it. If I do I’ll cry.”
They said, “Well that’s fine, you don’t need to read it now, just read it later.”
I said, “Yeah Mom, best not read it now.”
Well, of course she opened it, began to read and of course she cried. They handed her Kleenexes, and pats on the back and murmured words of condolence, and I think she needed it.
Soon after, with Mom feeling a little better, we left. I’d already purchased a bouquet of flowers beforehand and I said, “Do you still want to go put these flowers on Dad’s grave? Are you okay?”
“Oh, yes, I’m fine.”
Off we go. When we get there, it’s hard to believe it’s been only six weeks because the process of grieving is a relentless, and all consuming past time. We can barely manage the fragile steps we must make towards trying to heal and as I watch my mother totter along the uneven ground towards her husband, tapping the ground delicately with her cane, I worry. Our frayed and ragged emotions which have only begun to feel less sharp are suddenly razor edged – again. We don’t dare speak as we ease our way across the pollen covered grass to where Dad lies. We circle and walk and stare at the granite and bronze plaques looking for DAVIS.
Thirty minutes goes by. No DAVIS. I broaden my search. Mom’s face has gone red, and she’s hobbling about, back and forth, minute by minute becoming more anxious, more distraught. Neither one of us wants to admit defeat.
Finally, I say, “We ought to call them. Maybe the plaque hasn’t been put down yet.”
She hands me her cell phone silently and begins to walk again, refusing to stop.
She tells me with a shaky voice, “I’ll find him, by God!”
She’d always known where Dad was, each and every second of their lives together. This is unfathomable for her and I see this, and I quickly make the call. Sure enough, the plaque is due this Friday, and they will call when it’s in place. We’ve brought flowers and probably walked right over him who knows how many times. Why do I picture him laughing at this? At us?
I can sort of see the humor, and I go and tell Mom, expecting her to laugh with me. Instead she starts fuming.
She says “Oh this is absolutely ridiculous! It’s been six weeks!”
I said, “Mom, there’s no reason to be mad. It’s just not here yet, these things take time to get right. I think it’s kind of funny.”
“Well, I don’t. Not after what I paid! It ought to be here!”
I said not a word. Like Dad.