Monday, July 11, 2005

The Funeral

Mom's cancer went into remission, and I fooled myself into thinking that she had a year, perhaps more, that I had time to make my peace with her, or perhaps with myself. She was an extravagant spender of the bank's money, and so deep was my denial that I told her to stop and think about the future. I wasn't the son that I would like to have been. I should have cried with her and told her that I loved her, that she would always be in my heart, that my children would regret not knowing her from the stories I would tell. I regret that I did not, but before she died, she was given a gift that eclipsed any she had ever received: a grandson.

My aunt called me and told me to come, that Mom was in the ICU and hooked to an air tube because her lungs were losing their ability to retain oxygen. My family and I flew to Houston but I went to see mother alone. The nurse, a Nigerian woman with a lilting accent, took me to see mom, laying there with that awful tube shoved down her throat so that her mouth was pried open in a permanent yawn.

"Laura," the nurse said loudly enough to address an audience, "your son is here."

Mom's eyes fixed on hers with a look that seemed to ask, "where?"

"Not me Laura," the nurse said in a tone that could be mistaken for mockery, to which I took offense, "he's right here." She pointed at me.

I put my hand in hers, smiled and said, "Hi mom." She looked at me for a moment, concentrating.

"That's your son Laura."

And the last conversation I ever had with my mom ended with a squeeze of her hand, and she knew I was there.

Mom's ex-husband Scotty -- technically he was an ex-husband, but in most all other aspects he was part of mom's life -- was in mom's house when I arrived earlier that evening. He knew I was coming and called my Aunt and demanded to have the keys to the house, or else, he threatened, he would break in.

His daughter Kimberly was a juvenile delinquent, with past drug and alcohol addictions, and had spent some time in jail. Mom hated her, and told me Kimberly had stolen jewelry from her that had to be bought back from the pawn shop. Kimberly and her father were both at mom's house the night I arrived, all hugs and condolences. I was too upset to fully understand what was really going on.

Mom had a safe hidden in her closet, which was now open and empty, but that detail would only be revealed later.

I shared my mothers last moments in the company of these two grave robbers. Kimberly held my mothers' hand. I know what I should have done, what would have made me feel better, but I knew that even though mom had divorced Scotty, that she loved him more than the breath she could no longer take.

The doctor pulled me aside and told me that the end was near, and after getting a second opinion to his diagnosis, I authorized a large dose of morphine so that she could go peacefully. When the time came, her eyes opened wide, and for the first time in my life, I noticed how beautiful they were, like a sunny blue crystal lake.

Scotty leapt on top of her and kissed her all over her face, sobbing and screaming, "my baby, my sweet darling, she's gone, oh my god!" I thought he was serious until his fingers started to probe her earlobes and removed her earrings. He never looked up, just reached back, face down on top of her, with his palm turned upwards, and presented them to me. I looked at his hand in horror, and knew the devil through his disguise. I kept my cool and took them and put them on a dresser. He got up and joined the group of nurses and doctors, who were all waiting for me to break down and give them an even bigger show, but my tears would wait. My grief didn't belong to them. I put my head on her chest and said simply, "Goodbye mom."

After that, the deluge.

The family descended like seagulls. A meeting at the mom's house was thrown together to decide how to divide everything up. According to the will, everything was mine, but for a few items specifically given to Scotty. But the pressure was immense.

"I gave this to my aunt and it is special to me. If you don't want it, but no pressure."

"Your mom had a deal with her friend, that whoever died first would give each other their dinnerware set."

"If you don't need this couch, my daughter sorely needs one."

"She once told grandma that she wanted me to have this necklace."

It was my aunt that noticed the safe.

"Laura had made brown paper sacks of her jewelry to give to each of the girls, and now they are gone!"

More family was called in. Everybody decided that I had to do something about it, but the only person who wanted to help me get through it, aside from my wife of course, was my cousin's husband Jim. He was a mountain of a man with the gentleness of a teddy bear. "I'll go over and get anything back that he took," he said to me.

"Do you think he really stole mom's things?" I asked him.

"This isn't his first rodeo."

I thought about it for a moment. "Jim, I appreciate that you would do that for me, but I have to handle this myself."

"Well buddy, I'm here if you need me."

The next day I called Scotty and demanded that he return everything he stole.

"Are you calling me a thief? Because if you are, then we are going to punch it out."

He had a little wiggle room, because earlier in the year, he had presented me with mom's will while she was upstairs sleeping, and asked that he be able to keep the jewelry he had bought her. I didn't want to talk about it at the time, and agreed without thinking. I didn't realize at the time he was talking about all her jewelry. And don't get me wrong, jewelry means nothing to me. I want the memory. It meant something to her, and like a song that brings you back to the time you heard it first, I feel my mother when I hold it close. That's all tainted now by the ugliness involved in getting it back.

He continued, "You said I could have it!"

"What were you doing in her house then, why couldn't we go in together. Instead you snuck in, desperate to be there before I got there. There's something wrong with that."

"I wanted to clean it up before you got there! I couldn't let you see the house in the state it was in." Like Jim said, this wasn't his first rodeo.

Houston is a big city, but I had the bad luck to pull right behind Scotty at a stop light. He got out and confronted me in the street. We shoved each other and had some hard words, but in the end, he stormed off and arranged for the jewelries return. I knew there was more, but how could I prove it?

I arranged for Scotty to have a private viewing before everyone else arrived. The family railed against me for letting him even come, but I blew up at the whole group of them.

"Everybody in this room needs to understand one thing: this is about MOM and what MOM would have wanted! Do you think she would be proud of what I have done so far? Mom loved him so he is coming to the funeral, and that is the end of it."

I sat down and wrote a eulogy, but it was weak. It lacked any real substance because I didn't even know her, that our lives had been spent apart.

When we got to the funeral, my family had taken all the front row seats. I stepped up and looked at them, and they all smiled back, but nobody offered me their seat. I sat in front of Scotty and avoided his gaze. His picture was amongst the other family shots on stands in front of mom's open coffin. He whispered in my ear, "Thank you for including my picture."

I turned to him. "She loved you Scotty, more than anything."

"And she loved you Scott, and she never doubted that you loved her."

The reverend finished his eulogy, and looked to me to give mine. I brought my printed speech and placed it on the podium. I turned to see my mother, laying there, adorned with all the jewelry Scotty had given back. A lump formed in my throat. I pursed my lips and looked at the audience, waiting patiently for me to say something.

"When I was sixteen years old," I forced out, then paused. The audience was waving like a desert mirage, my throat constricted and I couldn't talk. I collected myself and managed in a strangled bleat, "my mom made the biggest mistake in her life and gave me the keys to the car."

I looked helplessly at my wife, who pointed towards herself and mouthed, "Me?" I nodded and she took my place. She would later tell me that she was proud to be my wife that day, to be there when I needed her. And I did, so very much. I took my seat and cried like I never had before. Finally I was able to cry for my mom, but partly I did so out of relief, that I really did love her.

Scotty put both of his hands on my shoulders from his seat behind me. I grabbed the hand on my right shoulder and held on tight.


Beth said...

All I can really say is "wow" to the whole thing. =(

jenbeauty said...

Your writing touches and moves me. I had to leave my computer and office and take a break before I could come back and respond.

Mr. T said...

Excellent writing... I was moved and it doth take a bit to move me. Very touching story, Scott.

Scott said...

Knitter - It's an imperfect world, huh?

Jen - That is a sweet compliment. Thank you.

Mr. T - I understand what you are saying, and thanks.

Mrs.T said...

Im with GK.


trinamick said...

I know exactly what you mean. I sat in both of my grandmother's homes, watching family fighting over meaningless possessions, never realizing that the most precious thing they could ever have was already gone. It's great that your wife was there to support you in such a trying time.

BushCheney08 said...

wow, sad.

Scott said...

Thanks T and BC, I understand your reaction.

Trin, exactly. I wish my family would have stopped for a moment and realized that I had just lost my mother.

Anonymous Midwest Girl said...

How awful to have to even deal with a situation like that in such a tough time. But it sounds like you handled it beautifully. Me, I probably would have kicked Scotty (and his daughter) in the nuts. Hard!

mr. schprock said...

I like how you dealt with Scotty. It was complicated and I thought you were firm, fair and compassionate.

magnetbabe said...

I'm so sorry you lost your mom. You handled the situation gracefully. I would have made everyone watch while I donated her dinnerware to charity! It was good of you to stay true to your mom and carry out what you know would have been her wishes.

Scott said...

Midwest - Your solution was tempting. I wish you were there to help me.

Schprock - Thanks, it was tough to be fair when I wanted to rage.

Magnet Babe - Now that would have been an elegant solution!