TEMPORARILY DISCONNECTED

You haven’t spoken to your best friend in a month. You pick up your phone and tap out her number…digits you’ve known for what seems like forever. After three rings you hear a robot’s voice say, “This number is temporarily disconnected. There is no further information about this number.”

You comprehend the words you’ve just heard, but you don’t believe they can be true. You must have touched a wrong key. You dial once more and again you here the temporarily disconnected message. Now, you’re puzzled. Did your best friend forget to tell you she was going on a long trip? Could she be in some sort of trouble? Is she dodging a creditor, a stalker, or the law?

You’re left with a feeling of doom, surprise, and worry when you realize you are temporarily disconnected from your friend. Questions and ominous answers zoom through your mind. For moments at a time you feel severed from her as well as from all the events, trivial or newsworthy, that swirl around you.

This sense of unsettled distraction describes how I feel right now. My mother has died. I’m here, but I’m not here. I’m filling out countless forms and writing acknowledgement notes to our friends and hers. Disjointed memories flash through my brain as quickly as the thumbed pages of an early Walt Disney Studios animator’s book of drawings morph into a cartoon full of movement and color.

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know I favor writing about a central theme. Many times the theme is related to writing. Other times it isn’t. I’m having difficulty finding a central theme for this month’s blog. My mind is a deck of cards that’s been shuffled, cut, and dealt to a crowd of players. So, instead of pretending I have organized  sequential thoughts, I’m going to list a few bits and pieces of ephemera that have crossed my mind in recent days.

Meeting with a funeral director to arrange my mother’s funeral disconnected me from the real world. Fragments of news about the weather, cabinet nominee’s hearings, and Twitter volleys zip past my ears but fail to make any meaningful contact with my brain.

When the undertaker leads my sister and me down a long set of narrow twisting stairs to view the casket showroom that’s in the building’s basement, I feel a twinge of guilt about the irreverent thoughts crossing my mind. Once we’ve navigated the dangerous steps, my sister mouths, “They’re the stairs of death.” I nod in agreement and begin to be aware of the fleet of coffins on display. There’s a 100% bronze beauty the undertaker labels “the Michael Jackson model.” I don’t want to know why. There are several “ladies” models, so named because the tufted satin linings are embroidered with flowers. I know a few guys who wouldn’t turn these down. The sales demonstration continues. At any second I expect the funeral director to ask, “What can I do to get you into one of these caskets today?” I recall the journey down the perilous stairs and I’m pretty sure he’d know the answer to his question.

My mother was always adamant about not having a viewing. She used to say viewings were a barbaric custom. She made it clear she wanted to have a closed casket Mass of Christian Burial. You can imagine our distress when the funeral director seemed to forget this detail…several times.

F.D.: “I prefer not to use the bright dress you’ve selected for your mother. Everyone will                 focus on the bright colors and not on her face.”

My sister: “The casket will be closed. No one will see her face or her dress.”

F.D.: “Oh, that’s right. And please be sure all of her underwear is white.”

Me: “Even if we were planning a viewing, who in God’s name would pull up her dress  and             check out her underwear?”

Returning to the Gothic structure that is St. Luke’s, the church of my childhood and adolescence, and seeing people I’ve known since I was very young but haven’t seen for decades forges a connection to my past.

I feel grateful my Mom will not have to witness the blitzkrieg of stupid errors and hear the hate-filled double-speak emanating from the Oval Office.

I feel grateful my Mom was able to vote twice for Barack Obama.

I continue to worry about her because my “worry gear” is stuck on “automatic.” Is she in pain? Is she warm enough? Can she swallow all of her meds? Will she remember I’m going to visit her tomorrow?

But I’m not going to visit her tomorrow, am I?

Before she returns home, my sister goes with me to begin the Probate process. While we’re in the Register of Wills’s office, I ask a clerk if I can meet the gentleman who holds that title. I want to shake the hand of D. Bruce Haines, Esq. and thank him for risking a jail sentence in 2012 when he began issuing marriage licenses to same gender couples. He pumps my hand and tells me I’d given him a wonderful way to start his workday. I tell him how much my spouse and I appreciate his courage. He smiles at my sister and me. “I believe he thinks the two of us are married,” I say to her. My sister responds, “Yup,” and shakes her head.

Writing has saved my spirit several times in the past. It continues to bolster me now. Several times since my mother’s death I’ve looked up to the night sky and whispered, “Thanks for surrounding us with books, Mom. Thanks for introducing us to the magic of reading. Thanks for encouraging the development of my “way with words.”

There is no doubt that my sister and I could be the women we are today if we’d not experienced all that our mother was.

P.S. Sorry for two photos when one would have been sufficient. My tech skills are temporarily diconnected.

Renee Bess is the author of five novels, all published by Regal Crest Books. Her latest adventure in literature involves co-curating an anthology with Lee Lynch. She and Lee expect “Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars” will be published sometime in 2017. Please visit Renee’s website: http://www.reneebess.com 

 

 

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28 thoughts on “TEMPORARILY DISCONNECTED

  1. My condolences on your loss Renee. My mum died two months ago and I’m still trying to get used to a world that doesn’t include her. Politics are an integral part of our lives aren’t they? When my Mum was being tested for dementia in 2008 and they were doing the memory test, she didn’t know who the Prime Minister was (she lived in the UK) but when asked about the US President she said, “well, I don’t know his name, but I know he’s a Black man and that’s a jolly good thing.” I’m so glad your Mom and all the other moms got to vote for Obama. The shuffled cards analogy speaks to me — I never seem to know which card is going to come to the top of the deck. One thing I’ve noticed is that now that we don’t have to deal with all the present issues, it’s so much easier to remember all the good things from the past. I wish you strength for the hard times and pleasure from the good memories.

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    1. It is I who thank you for your comments, Allison. I’m sorry your mum passed away two months ago. I wish I’d met her because it sounds like she was “a jolly good person.” The memories, some from long, long ago, continue to cascade through my mind. I wish for you that which you have wished for me. Take good care.

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  2. This is a great essay, and a really accurate portrayal of my experience as well.
    My mother passed unexpectedly in 2005 four months after my dad died, and “disconnected” is the word I also used for how I felt. I had never existed, in any form, without my mother. There was no longer any sort of anchor between me and the earth. I felt set adrift. My mom had only been 60, so I was too young to have ever contemplated my mother dying yet.
    I hated the experience at the funeral home, especially so soon after visiting it with my mom for my dad’s death. Different people, same words. The surreal realization that this was a business and they were trying to sell me things.

    I’m glad it’s something we only have to go through once, and I’m glad that my mother never had to go through it herself (her mom died a couple years later at age 92). I send all my love to you, and I’m so glad you have people around you to help.

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  3. Cynthia, I’m so glad you found commonalities in our experiences. As expressive as the English language is, sometimes it’s difficult to find the right word/s to describe one’s reaction to a life-changing event. “Disconnected” seemed appropriate. Losing an aged parent who hasn’t been in good health creates a certain kind of emotional reaction. Losing a parent suddenly, without warning, calls up a different set of emotions. I’ve experienced both, as have you. Neither is pleasant, but both offer us an opportunity to think deeply about our lives, about life itself. Thanks for reaching out to me. I’m sending my best wishes to you as well. May you find the will to live your life joyously and to surround yourself with good , kind people.

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  4. I am so very sorry for your loss, Renee. My mother is currently in hospital, in and out of Intensive Care with cancer of the bowel. I am out of the country, getting the news about her second hand from family members through Facebook. I am trying to prepare – but there really is no way to prepare for a loss that big, is there? All my best wishes to you and your family, along with my deepest sympathy.

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  5. Hello, Genta. I’m sorry your mother is ill. Hopefully her medical team is managing her discomfort. Hopefully your family members are helping you cope. My sister lives in the U.K. She, like you, had to depend upon my emails and phone calls to find out how our Mom was doing. In some ways, that dependency was as wearing as the frequent visits I made to the nursing center to see our mother. And no, there is no way to prepare for such a loss. I send you and your family my best wishes as you travel through this experience.

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  6. Sounds like you navigated The stairway quite well.Everything has changed but will rearrange as it should be.Take time to be in the moment to listen to your heart and you will be connected again to the words you seek and they will lead you to where you need to be.Thoughts of peace and comfort are being sent your way.

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    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts and advice, kmccowan57. I have a feeling I’ll return to your post to reread it quite a few times.

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    1. Lee, the greatest asset of of being a woman of a certain age is wisdom, or at least an appreciation of wisdom and all who possess it. I have to tell you that I’m learning so much from you as we continue to work on our anthology. Thanks for the “cute kid” comment!

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  7. I’m so sorry for your loss, Renee. But it sounds like your mother was a great woman who set you and your sister on the right path to learning. And I agree with Lee Lynch: You were a very cute kid. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, R.G. My Mom did an excellent job of steering us to the right path to learn and to appreciate what an education could mean for us.

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  8. Even when we are prepared, we are never quite ready. In my case, even though it has been decades, sometimes it feels like yesterday.
    Each year beyond my 45th I realized how much life she lived in so little time, and still, how much living she missed.
    There is no other quite like a mother. I know you will always treasure her. ❤

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    1. You’re right about being prepared but not ready. Sometimes I find myself wishing I’d had one more week or one more day. Then I remember her quality of life that last week, that last day, and I know she’s in a better place now. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog, Mercedes.

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  9. It is so honest and true that you find subtle humor in all aspects of life, including death. When facing the loss of a loved one, it has been my experience that tears and laughter go hand in hand. When I was young, I thought the laughter was inappropriate when grieving. But as I’ve gotten old(er), I realize it’s an important part of our emotional healing process. Thank you for sharing your always insightful thoughts.
    I think of you often, and hope you’re doing well.

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    1. Thank you for reading the blog, Bobbi. And thanks for your comments regarding humor in the face of sadness and grief. Sometimes sadness engulfs a person and s/he doesn’t realize until later just how strange or humorous a situation was. In my case, I was aware (as was Stephanie) of the more humorous elements of our first meeting with the funeral director. In a way, I was grateful for the odd moments. They took me out of myself and momentarily away from the sadness of our reality. I am coping well. I have such a wonderful support system.

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  10. Sending love to you and your sister and all those who know and love her. It’s been almost ten years since my mom died, but I remember that time just after so well. It was so unreal, floating from one “have-to” to another in preparation and yes, the irreverence too. Sometimes it still hits me out of the blue, and I just cry at not having my biggest champion anymore, but most of the time I hold onto what she gave me and my brothers and still gently mock all the ways she was our goofy mom. I’m glad you shared a pieces of her with us because she sounds awesome, and even though she’s gone, I know the good she put in the world will be felt for years and year to come.

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    1. Thank you for your kind and sensitive words, Carolyn. I suspect there are as many people in the world who have vivid memories of losing their parent/s as there are stars in the sky. We are our parents’ legacies. Take care as you project “the good [your Mom] put in the world…”

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  11. Thanks for this open and touching piece, Renee. Your “way with words” is evident.
    In reading the comments it is clear that many have connected to your description of the unique experience of losing a mother. Thanks so much for your willingness to be so transparent.

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    1. Thank you for reading this piece, Helen. I’m glad my words made a meaningful connection with so many people.

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