Don’t call me. I know you’ll all want to when you hear what I have to say. I am leaving tomorrow to go to Houston for the first time since my mother’s death. But stop yourselves from reaching out to give Lindsay and me room to grieve on our own. If we end up getting together with friends at any point, I’ll make sure you’re included. But we haven’t gotten that far. We’ve only planned what we’re going to do on the actual anniversary of my mother’s death on the second, besides attending my cousin Hunter’s wedding the day before.
Because I thought I’d be in DC during the wedding, I did not RSVP, so I hope they can haul ass to the kitchen, rearrange the food, and squish in a place setting to welcome a “Haiti-an. It actually is important to me to go to this wedding. It’s my mother’s brother’s second child, so I will get to see everyone on that side of the family at a time when we really need each other. Of course it is Hunter’s day, but seeing each other is an excellent added bonus. Plus, the wedding is in Tyler, Texas… the perfect amount of road trip. I haven’t done a real road trip in ages, so even that in and of itself is perfection.
When we get back, we’ve planned to go to the cemetery and just sit with Mom. We enjoy it because the cemetery we chose is so tranquil and peaceful it is an escape from the rest of the city. It’s also been a year since I’ve seen “Fred,” the infant-sized tree planted last year that will one day surround my mother’s grave in its majesty. I’m only sort of glad I waited this long, because I don’t think I would notice as much of a difference in “him” if I’d seen him every week.
Lindsay has said that she’s not crazy about the name “Fred.” I can’t wait to see what name she’s come up for “him.” For me, “Fred” was an easy choice because every plant I’ve ever had has been named “Fred….” and this Fred has people to take care of “him” that actually know what they’re doing. I don’t have to worry that I’m accidentally going to poison “him.” Plus, this time of year the weather should be pretty good… no pictures of the headstones with a “light dusting of snow.” We’ll eat and drink it what is hopefully sunshine and not threatening grey weather. But rest assured that I would carry six golf umbrellas before I missed going to see my mother’s grave.
It is such a bittersweet experience, because logically I know that I am just talking to her shell. Emotionally, she feels very real and present…. not in a viscerally physical way, just that her spirit is near.
It was that spirit which brought me to my knees. I didn’t want to spend that day alone, either, because I didn’t want to spend it with anyone but Lindsay and she’d already come and gone for this week.
She and my father both worked on this idea to let us have our time to laugh and cry, and the fact that they thought it was important enough to spend their hard-earned money and/or frequent flier miles to make sure it happened is exactly the kind of thing my mother would have wanted.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what it is she actually would have wanted, and yet I know this one hits the nail on the head. Now if Forbes, my stepdad, needs to get his internet fixed or his cable is down, that would just be the icing on the cake. My mother assumed my entire adult life that because I work in Information Technology, if it plugged into the wall, I could fix it. She once actually flew me to Houston just to fix her computer because it was exactly the same price as taking it to Best Buy,™ and she knew that I would be nicer to her than they would because I wouldn’t try to upsell her on anything. 🙂
As it turned out, I couldn’t fix the computer after all, because it was a hardware problem and not software… but I still earned my keep. I told her that for the same price as getting her old computer fixed (emphasis on old), she could buy a cheap throwdown that would do everything she wanted it to do and I could transfer all of her files for her, or just install her old hard drive as a secondary drive in the new one. I ended up just transferring her files because I didn’t know whether the hard drive was about to blow, and thanks to her excellent grasp of “the Mommy Save,” it was ridiculously easy. The term “Mommy Save” is an old IT Help Desk joke that refers to people who have no idea how directory structures work, so everything they’ve ever worked on is an icon on the desktop. Mind you, not folders created on the desktop. Individual files that cover every possible millimeter of desktop real estate so it doesn’t even matter what the wallpaper is… you can’t see it, anyway.
And, of course, my mother also had no idea how installing peripherals worked, so of course things that were simple to me, like installing the printer/scanner/copier driver, seemed like magic to her. She really thought it was magic when I discovered that her PSC had wireless and set up every computer in the house to print to it, and enabled file sharing so that she didn’t have to e-mail Forbes everything she wanted him to see.
I also locked down her router so that no one in her neighborhood could steal bandwidth from her using the router’s default username and password, the one that had been on it for, like, two years. I think I gave it the SSID “Baker’s Dozen,” because Baker was her married name…. but I TOLD her it was “Carolyn’s Tattoo Parlor and BBQ Pit.” Because she’d known me my whole life, she knew I was just kidding… and I knew exactly what she was thinking…. my God… you are way too much like your father. I don’t think I am….. he’s WAY more funny than me. Just more practice at it, I guess…. or at least, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Perhaps one day his little grasshopper will reach satori, but I am not holding my breath.
Although this story may come close.
I love temporary tattoos, because there are lots of tattoos I like, but won’t commit to them forever. I was out shopping and found some really cool ones- tribal representations of animals, armbands, etc. My mother, however, did not like tattoos AT ALL. So, I wake up before she does and put this GIANT tiger temp tattoo on my neck. Not even an Oxford button-down will cover it. She comes into the kitchen a little while later and I can see the wheels in her head turning, trying not to explode as she thinks through all the jobs I’ve just lost. She tries so hard….. when did you get your tiger tattoo? If it’s on your neck, it must’ve really hurt. Do you think your job will care? How did you manage to hide it? I didn’t even see it last night…….. Your mom is going blind in her old age……. I let her twist in the wind for a few more minutes before I took some cotton balls and a small bottle of baby oil out of my pocket and rubbed it off. It was nice to see some blood come back into her face, and she laughed- not necessarily because she thought it was funny, but because she knew she’d been had and it was exactly the type joke her firstborn would play on her…. but not before trying to convince me that she’d known it was fake all along, that she was just trying to keep it going, etc. I didn’t buy it for a second, but it was hilarious to watch her backpedal nonetheless.
My mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but because her brain worked on a very high, creative plane most of the time, jokes often went over her head. She had bigger things to think about than whether her daughter was pranking her or not, which made her an easy target, especially since she was so willing to laugh at herself.
One of the times she absolutely lost it laughing at herself was when my dad took my mom, sister, and me to our friend Hardy Roper’s vacation house in Galveston. It had a dock on the bay side of the island, and Lindsay and I were doing a half-hearted job of fishing, using cheese as bait (or as my sister said, “WE’RE GONNA CATCH FISH WITH CHEESE!!!!!). I was wearing my favorite loafers, which happened to be pretty expensive, and my mom just knew I was going to drop them in the water while my feet were dangling over the side. She rushed over to me and said, hand me your shoes. If you lose them, we won’t be able to replace them. So, I hand them to her, and for whatever reason, at exactly that moment she was thrown of balance and promptly dropped both of my precious loafers into the bay. We laughed until we cried…. which is exactly what I want to do at the cemetery.
Of course I miss my mother, and it is incredibly sad, but it is a good thing that part of grief is the uncontrollable laughter of reminiscence.
If there’s anything I hope for during this trip, it’s that nearly every sentence begins with do you remember the time when Mom……………… It is the best opening line for me since once upon a time………….. because once upon a time, I could not laugh like this. I was too engrossed in survivor’s grief, not allowing myself joy because it did not seem appropriate to have fun. I felt that the only thing I deserved was to look down in sadness, tear my clothes, and even though I’m not Jewish, say the Kaddish (also known as The Mourner’s Kaddish) in her honor. If you’ve never heard it, the graphic to the right is the prayer in Hebrew. What follows is the English:
Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.
May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.
Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.
Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.
May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.
I ask all of your blessings as two Christians try to make their own theme & variation on a yahrtzeit that weaves my mother’s personality throughout. The concept of the yahrtzeit is extremely meaningful to me, because it is not the first anniversary of a loved one’s death, but all of them. I tend to
steal borrow from all faith traditions as I try and navigate the largest unknown I’ve ever faced. Making things better probably won’t come out of one book, but many. I mean, not everybody can be Doug Forcett.
I would appreciate each and every one of you holding space for Lindsay and me as we survey dark wilderness…. because maybe next year, having some contour lines will help.
In the meantime, I am praying not only on the words, but the spaces in between. Often, the wisdom is in the pause.