I haven’t gotten over it. I don’t think I ever will. That night, at her condo in Chicago, in the days and hours before life left, she would open her eyes from time to time and knowingly smile. Sometimes her hands fluttered, like a bird’s wings. As the time drew nearer, she lay motionless, unaware.
Then, early one morning, she breathed her last. My sisters and I hugged each other and cried. We made the call, and polite, strong young men quickly came to take her away from us. They made us leave the room as they did whatever they did. I rode down in the elevator with the men, who rolled my mother on a cart, put her in a black van, and drove away.
I told myself it was all right. I was prepared. She had lived a good, long life I told myself. God is good, all the time, yes. No more suffering. Surely, this great lady already was in heaven, playing her favorite piano gospel songs for a chorus of angels. Surely, surely.
But as time passed, I find myself still grappling with the fact that she is gone. You only have one mother, you know. It seems unreal. I still have the impulse to reach for the phone and call her. I still think of her as being there. And I think of her voice, her laughter, and the fact that, though I’m a senior citizen, she still treated me like I was 12. “Boy, you look thin. Are you eating enough?”
And I think of her homegoing “celebration.” There is some anger there. Why do people call funerals a celebration? Is it a celebration of a life well lived? Is it to celebrate an end to human suffering? Is it family and friends’ expression of joy that a loved one is now in a “better place?” Well, as they say, “everybody talks about heaven, but no one seems to want to go.” And “everybody who talks about heaven ain’t going there.”
When my mother passed away earlier this summer, my sisters and I revised a poem she wrote called “The Lady in the Lake.” We used it as part of the program for her “homegoing celebration.” Late one night, I added to that poem my own more or less surreal feelings about the whole affair. I called it “The Celebration.” Still in mourning, this is what I wrote:
I rowed my gondola down the silent water boulevard
Down, down to that place
Stepped out and quietly walked the river
Sideways up the stairs of that horrible pink failed architecture
Big-hat women, high-heel strutting in
Toting bananas, apples, and baby’s breath on their hat head
Sadly wondering in I wandered
A round-eyed, white gloved lady greeted me
Smiling false cheer
“This way,” she said, handing me the party pamphlet
And I upright tip-toed to the room
Where others sat in bright blue suits and orange dresses
Took my seat in a purple leaning chair
As one by one the blue suits and the orange dresses
And the big fruit-hats
Stepped up to celebrate:
One sang Blessed Assurance
Others spoke in reverent rote
Another made the revelers laugh
With mama stories from inside the womb of memory
I saw tears and teeth they laughed so hard
The room swirled
They leaned in to me
Looking like those circus mirror reflections
Bent, bending, gross exaggeration
Concave faces, convex bodies, great big teeth
Talking off speed garble in the distance
Patting me on my back like I had done something
How strange I thought, greeting each
This celebration is no flowered fun
The guest of honor made neither smile nor sound,
Not one nothing
Just sleep up there, eyes closed, prostrate
Dressed nonetheless to celebrate
As folk went up to see, and whisper in her ear
While the celebrants reveled reverently on
(Can you believe this sorry song?)
At last, the false cheer white gloved lady came along:
“Time’s up!” she said. “Your party must move on.”
We slow sick filed through a hallway gate
And sadly followed The Lady In The Lake
To that grassy place, her new bought home
Where autumn turns to winter’s stone.
My closing thoughts are these: celebrate life, not death; cherish every moment; live so that there are no regrets for things undone. After all, we begin dying the second we are born. Make each second count.
Have a nice day.
Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.