Coping With Losing Mom
Dear Nicholas, This subject gets harder to write about. Writing a tribute was easy. Now three weeks after
her death, losing Mom is no longer a hurricane-style crisis full of shock and activity, but instead the start of coping with losing Mom, a long jagged process of dealing with the emotions and changes.
First, we threw her a wonderful memorial service, carefully custom-tailored to her tastes. She loved brilliant color, wore it almost every day. So we got the wildest combo of flowers we could find. (On the left. Aren’t they gorgeous?)
Call the Piano Player
She’d left very explicit written instructions about how she wanted this event handled, including the phone number of the pianist she wanted to play at the reception afterwards.
She specified that he be sure to play “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” where she and my father lived for a while shortly after their wedding.
She named the hymns she wanted, which psalm to read–she’d told me long ago after attending a funeral that she didn’t want any new translations. I was to make sure that the scripture read: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”
Certainly it should not be: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?”
Of course she wanted it in the church where she’d been a member for 71 years. None of us would have imagined otherwise.
However, the church sanctuary where she’d sat all those Sundays had been damaged by Hurricane Florence which tore through her town about three weeks earlier. At first it seemed that the options were limited to two: go to another church or have the service on her church’s basketball court.
But by the day of the service, an edge of yet another hurricane, Michael, had passed through–and the company in charge of drying out and de-molding the sanctuary declared it safe, just in time.
Mom Had The Last Word
She’d asked for a standard Methodist service, with “no speeches.” But she’d also said to “make it happy.” So my brothers and I gave the presiding minister plenty of good material, lots of funny stories about her, to include in the memorial homily.
Mom’s instructions included that the minister end with the word, “Shalom.” As the Rev. DiGiuseppe concluded, she said, “Margaret always liked to have the last word.” And so the service ended with “Shalom.”
What a Good Funeral Ought To Do
For me, this service and the preparations for it did what such a ceremony ought to do:
*provide a celebration of her life that reflects her soul
*let the world know what it has lost
*draw friends and family closer
*mark a turning point
*give the bereaved the satisfaction of creating a good send-off
*supply those feeling the loss most keenly with a warm blast of sympathy
A sort of high followed the service for me, at least what passes for a high in such circumstances. That faded over a couple of days. When I resumed my usual routines back home, three hours drive away, I found that I was:
*continuing to scarf down sweets as I had when people were bringing food for the bereaved. Not in a scary binge, as in my long-ago eating disorder days, but still, too much sugar.
*having a few one-day bouts of depression, not sharp pain, just a sense of futility
*feeling fine some of the time, especially at work
*dialing the first half of her phone number before I start to think
*sleeping a lot
*and after two and a half weeks, going cold turkey on sugar for a bit, which is where I am now
The Next Step
The business of death isn’t finished. We have to deal with her belongings. I dread this. However we handle it, it seems to me the dismantling of her world. Of course her world extended far beyond “her stuff,” but for me every object of hers I think of pulls up so many memories and so many never-agains.
As I write this, it’s the start of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, the annual festival that celebrates the dead, with food offerings, including a traditional sweetened bread, placed on altars for spirits. Both my parents loved Mexico, so to them the pastries I’m not currently eating.
Fortunately, I do believe that, in some form, souls live on. That and Mom’s long and joyous life –and the living loved ones who surround me–are the best help. Also, the fact that she’d be incensed if I didn’t handle this well. When she took me to my first time at a week of overnight camp, she said, “I will not be flattered if you call up wanting to come home….” You get the idea. One other Mom-ism: when my father died forty years ago, she said, “We honor the dead by doing our own work well.”
So, on with the coping. And I welcome tips and experience here from any and all.
Tags: a good funeral, a sort of high, bouts of depression, business of death, celebration of her life, dealing with the emotions and changes, draw friends and family closer, feeling the loss, food for the bereaved, make it happy, mark a turning point, memorial service, sense of futility, souls live on, standard Methodist service, the last word