I thought that my mind was made up about manuscripting for the funeral, but everything I’ve written has sounded like it’s something I’ve written… intensely cerebral, too many words… perfect for the page but not when you’re in front of a congregation, because it’s amazing how you think you’ve got maybe two minutes of material because there’s only half a page of single-spaced text and then you say it out loud and there’s more like eight…. Because how do you sum up your mother in two minutes? How do you sum up anyone in two minutes? This is not The Gong Show™; no one is going to stop me if I go over, but I want to be respectful of the fact that there are other people speaking besides me.
Tonight is the visitation. I definitely want to see my mother, because her death happened so fast that I need to see her to believe it is real. After that, I am going to find a nice place to sit and stay there. I don’t do well with dead bodies. My parents rarely got a babysitter for me, because my dad had the type job where he could juggle things around, or he’d just take me along. As I child, I prayed with families, went to visitations and graveside services, and just generally provided company for my dad as we rolled around town taking care of parishioners while my sister and my mom were off on their own (generally strange) adventures. I have seen enough death to last my whole life, and enough grieving people to know that we all act insane because our sense of purpose has come unmoored and we are drifting aimlessly saying, “what now?”
To add to my feeling of weird, I’ve never really liked funeral homes, not because the people aren’t lovely, but because the stuff they use to sanitize the air smells really, really weird and loud and cloying….. probably all of the things you would want air freshener that covers up the smell of death to do, but still. I mean, that scent sticking in your nose is probably far more pleasant than if they didn’t spray at all, but it’s like breathing oranges, the air is so thick. Think classic Ozium™ in a professional strength that goes to eleven. I once bought classic Ozium for my car, sprayed it once and threw it out the window because it smelled like the funeral home that held my grandfather after he passed away from ALS.
I was a middle schooler then, so perhaps I will be a different person. My grandparents had such different kinds of deaths than my mother. Even though the strain of ALS he had started backward, taking his throat muscles and eating ability first instead of his legs so that the denouement was quick, there was still enough time to see him get sick and deteriorate so that it was not a mind-numbing shock… just sad. My grandmother had lots of strokes and got to the point where she was speechless and didn’t recognize any of us, and that process was over two years…. again, plenty of time to get used to the idea that this person was not doing well.
If there is anything I know that was important to my mother, it’s that she died with her mind intact. Yes, her life was cut short, but she told me many times that her worst fear was being alive and not recognizing people, not being able to play the piano, and worst of all, in her mind, being dependent on others for her every need.
My mother did not, and I do not, ask for help well. If I ask for help, the worst thing imaginable is about to happen because I just can’t cover it up anymore….. an inherited trait. I thought that my dad’s cancer was bringing up issues of my own mortality, but it is nothing compared to the feeling that my mother died from a fall and I am the biggest klutz in the entire world. Pretty sure if you look up “clumsy” in the dictionary, there’s just a picture of me. My mother wasn’t a klutz, though. Her leg went numb and she tried to stand up too fast, which is how she ended up ass over tea kettle and telling Forbes that they didn’t have to go to the Emergency Room right then… they could wait until in the morning.
It is not lost on me that I could die because of the palsy (palsies?) in my brain, because it affects my movements so greatly. Even when my room is completely spotless, I will still find things to trip over. I have fallen down the stairs in my house more times than I can count. My mother’s parting message to me is not to ignore it if I feel weird after a fall…. and to call the ambulance regardless if I hit my head. Someone needs to look at my pupils with a trained eye.
Otherwise, you might end up fainting and coding before you even reach the hospital.
People have been asking what I need during this time. I need all the mothers to comment. I need all the mothers to rush in, whether they have kids my age or not. I just want love from people who know how I might feel as one of the children left behind, and the wisdom they pass on to their own sons and daughters. I pick up just as much mother-love from people that have toddlers as I do from mothers who have teenagers/adult children.
Because I do not have a partner, I invited my best friend James to be with me at the funeral. We’ve been friends since the first day of school when I was a senior and he was a junior. He fell asleep in chemistry every single day, and I thought he was lazy because it never occurred to me that he had narcolepsy. So, this first day of class, James looks over after waking up and sees the “rainbow rings” around my neck and asked me why I wear them. I told him it was because I was gay, and he said that he was just making sure I wasn’t clueless.
I started wearing my freedom rings to school once my father left the ministry, because while I was out at HSPVA, I went back into the closet for my junior year of high school (my church and my school were quite a bit more conservative than the ones I had in the Heights and the Montrose, as you can imagine if you know the area). Clements High School in Sugar Land was my first dose of “Fuckitol” once I wasn’t afraid that my dad would lose his job.
Sufficed to say, it bonded James and me because he knew something about me that other people did not… there was only one other girl in my grade who knew what freedom rings were and said, “do you wear those because you’re gay, or because you’re an idiot?” Not an idiot. Advertising.
It worked. I found a high school sweetheart that same first day, because our senior English teacher told us that before we left the class, we needed to get the phone number of someone in our class and I beat over three desks to get to Meagan. When I walked in the door to my mother’s apartment, the land line was ringing, and it was her. She said, “why do you wear that rainbow necklace?” It was time to feel her out. “Because I’m gay. Do you have a problem with that?” She said “no, I’m a Melissa Etheridge fan.” I said, “well, I’m not, but thank you for giving money to my people.”
We were falling in love under her boyfriend’s nose, you know, the one you have in high school where you realize that love isn’t supposed to be like this? I never had that experience. I loved Ryan like I loved air. Love was definitely supposed to be like that. I wore his promise ring long after we broke up, because even though I was moving on with my life, the fact that he wasn’t my boyfriend anymore gutted me like an axe… even though by all accounts, it was a mutually beneficial parting. I was starting to come out as bi. He was starting to come out as wanting to see other people. Our frienship wasn’t the same until after high school, when we were both over the hurt. Now he is one of the faces I look to for love in that deep, brother/sister way.
Though I identify as gay, I will always claim bisexuality as well, because I never want Ryan to think that he didn’t matter… that only my female/female relationships did. We went beyond knowing each other to the much-deeper “grok.” Because we were so young, I never got to experience what my sexuality would have blossomed into had we stayed together, another reason it was so inopportune to meet Diane at exactly the same time I was enmeshed in the best relationship I’d ever had to date. She liked Ryan, but she could see right through me, for two reasons. The first is that baby dykes are easy to spot. The second is that she made an effort not to like Ryan, as well, because in the same way she’s had close and intimate friendships with women as an adult, it felt like she expected the same of me. She didn’t want me herself (or so I’d come to believe), but she didn’t really want me to have other relationships, either, because it took away from the attention I had to give her…. exactly the same way I treated Susan…. oooooh, chewy.
I am writing around my grief, because I am trying my very best not to say “kiss my ass” right now. I can’t divulge why, because those people are still living. And I think that anger is a very valid reaction to grief when things aren’t going your way. Remember, I am not in UCC country. I am in a conservative area where people are more likely to use bad theology than good. That this was God’s plan and not some fucking freak accident. That she is in a better place, when her better place is touring Mt. Vernon with me. It was not “her time.” God is not the Actor. God is the responder. God is the one I can go to in my grief, and scream to the top of my lungs if I need to… just use God as the fucking punching bag God is so that I don’t have to take out my anger, frustration, and grief on the people around me.
God is just as angry as I am that my mother’s death came so suddenly. God sits with me in my quiet moments. God thinks all of this is incredibly unfair to me.
God is not the Actor. God is the Responder.