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