Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's Day

I buried my mother on April Fool's Day.  I didn't really have a say in the matter.  Arlington is overseeing an average of thirty services a day currently, I found out today, and so you take the time they can fit you in, and I was just grateful it wasn't a month out as I had been led to expect initially.  However, there was some Karmic forces at work that caused it to be on this particular day of the year.

April Fool's Day was an opportunity my dad never missed.  At some point in the day he was going to pull some joke; it was inevitable.  Problem is, you never really knew what it was going to be, you didn't know when it was coming, and you didn't know how it was going to be interspersed with more serious topics.  He had an interesting sense of humor.  Mother's was much the same.  I think it's a Pennsylvania thing, but maybe it's a Growing-Up-In-The-Depression thing, where there wasn't much that was too naturally humorous, so you had to make your own.  Maybe it's both of those things combined.  That blue collar ethic forged in economic hardship.  I'm not sure what really drove it, but it was dry, it was subtle, and it could be cruel. For one thing, it was often humor at someone else's expense, but also because you were never quite sure when the joke started if they were serious or not, and if you guessed the wrong way, it could be bad.  I can't give you any specifics of jokes my dad pulled after all these years; what I remember is being left in tears as often as not and then having Dad be frustrated by that.  We never really meshed on certain levels.  I grew up with a battle tested man who had seen and experienced things I never will; I was a peacenik only kid with a shy disposition and very thin skin.  I hated April Fool's Day.  He lived for it.  After a little over 18 years he was reunited with his widow on this day.  I have to think he saw some humor in it.  Once again, I am not quite in on the joke.

However, if he had a hand in the timing of all of this, Dad certainly oversaw a beautiful day to send Mother to her final resting place.  Beautiful maybe isn't the right word.  Maybe gorgeous is better.  The cherry blossoms, the same ones framing Mother's face in the photo I used for her obituary, are in full bloom.  Yesterday was windy and a bit chilly, and apparently right before that it had been raining, but today it is nearly 80, sunny and still, but it is not a heavy stillness.  There is a freshness in the air.  A feel of spring that I am a little surprised to find in the heart of such a large city, packed as it is with cars, concrete and steel.  I would be, sitting here today, less than a couple of miles from where President Obama spends his days, at the height of contentment if I were here for just about any other reason.

Processing how one feels about saying goodbye to the physical being who raised you is complicated.  On the one hand, Mother was ill and 91.  Our bodies are not meant to last forever.  Hers was done long ago, I am convinced, and it was her sheer force of will that kept her going.  But, before her body betrayed her, she had a good long run with it.  She was in her 70's when she picked up and moved across the country on her own, driving herself the whole way.  I was horrified when she did it (the drive, not the move - I was actually delighted by the move because I knew I could visit and be close to Steeler action), but she saw it as a great adventure, and I think she had the time of her life.  I think, while she missed Dad in her own way, she liked making the decision to sell the house, buy a condo and drive all that way by herself.  There are a hundred examples like that just in the years I knew her.  That is not a life to mourn.  That is a life to celebrate.

And my cousins made it clear that, to them, I am still a part of them, even though the glue that kept us together was Mother, and I like them all.  Genuinely.  I liked hearing their stories, I liked watching the easy way they interacted with one another.  I was attracted to the bond they all shared.  I believe they were sincere in their words, so I did not, as I feared, lose even more than a mother when she died.  I had worried that I could no longer legitimately call them family, that they wouldn't want me to.

I would be lying if I have not thought that now I can work to put a life back together again.  Down to the little things, like exercising on a regular basis, not having to worry about taking a Tylenol PM in case I get a call in the middle of the night.  Then there are the bigger pluses like not having to go to court to be appointed her legal guardian.  For a woman with as much independence and pride as my mom, this was something I dreaded every moment of every day.  I have been released from that burden.

Yet there is a sense of isolation that is probably natural.  There is the shock of yet another loss in a year crowded with them.  There is the shock to the system I am having when everything about my life, including the job I have, is centered around caring for someone who suddenly isn't there.  There is the idea of facing the disposition of all her things.  All the little pings on your heart strings one more time; the mail addressed to her, the phone calls for her and about her, finding something or other that was hers, having people who haven't heard the news ask after her, seeing her number programmed in your phone.  All these things I just got past, now I have to do again.  All the unanswered questions I will now never get answered.  And, there is just the final bottom line:  she was my mother.  Now she is gone.

All of these paradoxes.  A complicated life leaves a complicated legacy.  I have to think my dad is appreciating that this complicated woman finds her final resting place with him on this of all days.

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