I woke up on the morning after my Mom died with a new list of things to do. Most pressing were the preparations for the funeral, but other things also loomed large, like making all the necessary notifications and changes of address, splitting the financial assets and making decisions about things in storage. Putting first things first, I went to church with my husband, had lunch with our friends, did some grocery shopping and went to the movies.
The next morning my eyes popped open at five AM. Over at Walnut Place they were waking their patients for the day, but I wasn’t there. Realizing there was no going back to sleep I tiptoed down the hall to my office. First order of business was to prepare the obituary. Mother had graciously provided a folder with some handwritten notes and a picture among her things, so I didn’t have to start from scratch. I also had my dad’s obituary to plagiarize from, but stuffing all of Mom’s life into 150 words was quite a challenge.
I ran into another problem. Mom didn’t list her siblings’ names in her notes. I had no trouble recalling all of their first names and even if I would have, I had photo albums to remind me. Obviously the guys’ last names were her maiden name. Three of her sister’s last names were as familiar to me as my own, but not Aunt Gladys’.
I spent at least an hour trying to put my finger on something that would remind me of Aunt Gladys’ last name. I remembered her house, just off the square in McKinney, and the house they moved to in Allen. Her husband usually wore wife beaters when we visited, but that’s not what we called them. Aunt Gladys was the pastry cook at the TI cafeteria, but she had diabetes, so she couldn’t eat what she made. One Christmas she gave me a VERY turquoise VERY mohair sweater. I remembered my mother lamenting she didn’t have any room for Gladys’ pump organ when my aunt died, but that was decades ago, when details like last names didn’t matter to me. My solution was to omit the names from the obituary altogether and just say Mom was preceded in death by her mother, father, three brothers and four sisters. If anyone remembers Aunt Gladys’ last name, please remind me.
Next I prepared some notes for the pastor. He knew my mother well from church, but he didn’t know her early life or what she did professionally or which of our memories were the dearest to us. Fifteen hundred words later, I’d related some endearing moments and impressive accomplishments, but I knew I hadn’t captured my mother in them. She was already slipping away from us.
Then it was time to iron her suit. As my husband pointed out, the only pressing it needed was in the seat of the skirt, so no one would ever be able to tell whether I ironed it or not – but Mom was serious about ironing. There was no way I was going to condemn her to eternity in a suit with a wrinkled seat. After ironing, I placed the suit in a travel bag with her jewelry and lingere. Then it was time to take care of me, but I’d put it off until the last minute – just like my husband put off running an errand in the “good” car.
Just as I rushed out of the bathroom in my funeral-home-appropriate pant suit, my husband returned and handed me the keys to the good car. I’m usually not particular about which car I drive, but with the temperature still in the high 90’s, I needed air conditioning and the “other” car’s a/c is just about kaput. With just a little more luck, I thought, I might even have time to pick up a bite.
Well, I had some luck, but only bad luck. I was halfway across town when I realized I hadn’t brought the freshly ironed suit and its accessories along. I called my sister, so she and the funeral home personnel would know what happened to me, then I called my husband and told him to grab the suit and meet me somewhere midway. He’s been pretty supportive of me throughout this whole crisis, but he really didn’t want to get in that hot car and drive anywhere. Still, the hint of madness at the edge of my voice forced him into the heat. I was only twenty minutes late, but I didn’t get any lunch.
It was downhill from there and I didn’t have any other appointments until the visitation on the following evening. Still, I realized that in losing her, I hadn’t gotten rid of my responsibilities as a caregiver. They were still with me.