Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Sunday, February 15, 2004


I really wish “surreal” didn’t seem like such a trite way to describe the last two days. My thesaurus doesn’t provide anything quite as accurate and not as annoying.

Yesterday, after the funeral home dudes wheeled Mom out of the house (during which time I was camped out in the basement waiting for them to leave), I ate some and made my phone calls. Some were strictly information, some were emotional. I called one friend at work in an absolute pitch because I couldn’t reach the people I wanted to tell first. She talked me down, and I huddled on the floor by the sliding glass door, blowing my nose in a dishtowel I pulled from a basket of clean laundry. I felt so substantially better after talking to her that I refused to make any calls for another hour or so.

We fought to get the hospital bed and other medical equipment out of the house immediately. The deliveries are, of course, more important than the pick-ups, and we hadn’t left directions with them just to come to the house, that someone would be there even if the phone rang off the hook. They didn’t come for twelve hours after her death. Seeing the bed in the middle of the family room reminded me that she had been there and was now gone. She’s gone. She’s in the basement of the funeral home. Whatever it is that made that body into the person that she was is, well, sure as hell not right here with me. I don’t know why I feel so removed from her now, but I do.

Today we met for the third time with the funeral home, second since her death. The obituary they mocked up was impressively badly written. I corrected punctuation, grammar, spelling, and sentence structure eight ways to Sunday until the woman we were working with was thoroughly miffed. We had a go at her extended obit—one of those ones that’s online—tonight, and that was worse than the first. I’ll spare you the details, but one fun phrase we axed is, “particularly prouder than peaches.” Lord, help us all.

We also met with the pastor again. She’s a wonderful person and has the rare skill of exuding this comforting spirituality in a room full of mixed religious devotions. We spoke with her about Mom, about her life and our lives with her.

When Mom was working at a major bank in a secretarial position, she had a somewhat negative performance evaluation from her boss. “Sometimes insubordinate” was the primary complaint. Mom, having recently come from apathetic parents and a poor school district, needed to look it up. She found “refuses to be inferior” in the dictionary and returned her signed copy to her boss with defiant agreement.

Of course she refuses to be inferior. Why should that be a problem?

She taught me that. She taught me to give and receive love. She taught me never to accept anything less than I deserve. She taught me what it is to be a mother, a good parent. I’ll be forever grateful to her for that. I just can’t get past the fact that she’s not here to teach me anything else.


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