Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

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

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Cake in the Dragon's Lair

Not to dramatize my life to any greater extent than necessary, but Saturday was something right out of this episode of This American Life. I genuinely felt as though we had parachuted into someone else’s family gathering, as though we were spies or reporters or flies on the wall.

Mom, as many of these tales show, was never one to mince words. If she had something to say to you, she said it. Upon realizing that an old family friend was ignoring and speaking badly about Brooke and me for being big dykes, Mom cornered her. I love my daughter. I love Brooke. They have a loving marriage, and I’m happy for them. I would never treat your children the way you’re treating mine. If you don’t respect them, you don’t respect me, and I’m not going to put up with it. That problem ended there. My father? He loves Brooke and calls her my partner, but he would never run interference like Mom.

Brooke’s mom is a lot like my dad, but she’s never introduced me as anything other than Emilin or “Brooke’s friend.” Among her closest family members, mostly limited to her husband’s family and her cousin’s wife and four kids, the children seem not to be allowed to know that I’m anything more than a good friend. In my mother-in-law’s defense, this is entirely directed by those children’s mothers rather than by duplicate family decrees. Nonetheless, I attend these family gatherings as an outsider, not as a participant.

My mother died early in the morning on a Friday. Brooke’s much beloved Great Aunt K died Sunday night. Mom’s funeral was Tuesday. Aunt K’s was Saturday. We attended and rode in the limousine with Aunt K’s closest family—her only son, daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren, along with my MIL (Karen), step-FIL (Al), Brooke, and me. My relationship was described to the family as the co-owner of Brooke’s house. I was miserable. I was unsympathetic to the mourning of an 83-year-old woman who died peacefully under Hospice care. I was at the mercy of my MIL deciding when it was appropriate to leave the huge gathering of mourners in the huge house owned by the woman who refused to acknowledge the marriage her own mother-in-law was so happy to see.

But that’s not quite related to Saturday. Saturday was Brooke’s stepfather’s 50th birthday, and his parents and two of his siblings threw him a party: lunch at a steakhouse and dessert at his sister’s (The Lavender Dragon*). TLD didn’t bring her kids, then 8 and 10, to our wedding because “it would confuse them.” However, she saw fit to bring them to our wedding shower and without telling them what it was or that there was any kind of wedding, even though she and her husband both attended. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I expect that she confused them more that way.

Dessert lasted four hours. I spent much of this time sitting quietly off to one side of the room, smiling just enough to look engaged in the conversation. I watched them all take multiple pieces of this tasty but horribly sugary cake—did I mention the family tendency toward diabetes?—while I could barely choke down my half slice. I sat out at the lake and tried to forget the distressing dream I had had about my mother the night before. I listened to Al make a little speech about how wonderful his life is at 50 and how Karen is a great lover [shudder] and he sure hopes that everyone gets a good relationship with God.

Best of all and most TAL of all, I observed them while they watched TLD’s wedding video from sixteen years ago. Everything about it was very 1988—the hair, the clothes, the people. From time to time, they would call the kids to see a certain part, like Cousin Amy at age eight or their brother Randy who only comes to town once a year. Al’s mother didn’t recognize anyone except herself. Every time someone walked down the aisle:
· Who’s that?
· That’s Joe.
· Joe? Are you sure?
· Yes.
· That doesn’t look anything like Joe.

Joe is her son-in-law and co-star of the video.

Twenty minutes of 1988-quality VHS footage of nothing but people being seated in the church. The commentary from the rest of the room was limited to the occasional snicker about the 1980’s style clothes and hair. TLD and Joe watch this video every year on their anniversary, so I have no idea why we had to be subjected to it that day.

Brooke dozed off in my lap in the adjacent room while I tried to amuse myself by singing the alphabet song backward. I practiced for a solid hour, and I’m actually quite good.

*Kudos to Kyle.


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