It has been a long time since Memorial Day didn’t spark some kind of memory for me that was hard to express. I think I don’t have a problem retelling a story or wrapping some words around a memory….unless it comes to Memorial Day. Suddenly, I can’t. It’s like that dream where someone awful is chasing you and your legs are logs and you’re full of fear, and you can’t escape.
Tonight I read a couple of blogs.
First this one: http://stillstandingmag.com/2015/05/took-daughter-died/ . Then I read this one, which was written because of the first one: http://twomothersmcgill.blogspot.com/2015/05/dear-grieving-mother.html .
And it dawned on me.
Please read those 2 links in the order offered before you read on.
All these 10 years since my mom died, I have been trying to make sense of several things. In about this order:
Mom lost a baby at term. She slipped on ice while living in Arlington, Virginia, about 1961. The baby was named Marie. She is buried beneath Mom at Arlington National Cemetery, along Lefante Drive, sec 38, right under that last tree, nearest the curb.
When Mom died in 2004, I charged myself with observing the little things that would happen, as she slipped away at home with hospice. I think I thought I might need to remember the smell and sight of those heavy days, if to retell, but mostly to make sense of it all. There would be, I assumed, some kind of connection in all of it. Mom did pass at home and the hospice nurse gave me the duties of dumping her meds, removing her catheter, washing her body and wrapping her in a fresh new sheet. I did witness the caring strokes. The nurse still spoke of mom like she could hear us. Her instructions were clear and short. And VERY respectful. The folks who came from the funeral home were relaxed. The didn’t cover mom’s face. They were patient. They were young. They put mom in the back of an adapted station wagon. There was nothing shabby going on. The velvet cover was beautiful and unblemished. I watched them drive off in those minutes before sunrise, there was a light drizzle of rain. I kept my eye on her face until the car was out of sight.
Not long after, my sister and I went to the funeral home with clothes. There was never any discussion about what Mom wished to be buried in. There would be a casket and a viewing. I happened to look into a nearly bare closet in the room we put her hospital bed in. Mom had spent the precious weeks before she lost function culling junk from closets and pointing out the few things that she felt very strong feelings about. She told secrets and stories, but didn’t mention any thoughts about burial. I have to wonder now, was she thinking about being buried with the infant she lost 43 years before? Was that all that mattered? Would it undo the pain of the loss maybe? Would it soften the indignity of my dad’s story telling version of what had to be the worst thing that happened to her? She was a new citizen to the USA, likely not managing the language terribly well. Living in a bustling city with only my dad to navigate through something as immense as the loss of a term infant.
I found 2 very old kimonos in the trunk. One was a very dark red with the slightest dot of design running through it. The other was black with simple and large daisies splashed around. Neither were elegant. It was easy to see that the stitching was hand done. I have nothing to go on except my own assumption that these were maybe her mother’s. Mom lost her mother to (as she said to me) a cancer in her stomach. Mom was 5 when her mother passed. She was still a nursling, romping in after a day at school for a sit in her lap. The baby of 8 children, conceived late in her mother’s life.
My sister and I stood looking at our mom’s body. She was always so robust and sturdy. I had never thought of her as frail. The brain tumor snatched the body we were familiar with. We were left standing before a sheeted and quite cold mom, lying on a stainless table, with a block under her neck.
We burst into laughter. It was so Japanese. Mom wouldn’t mind having a solid block under her head to rest on. Hysterics followed and the funeral staff returned to ask if we needed help. Well, we did. I think they thought we had lost our minds…the way people do when they are grieving and I’m sure there is quite the spectrum of odd behavior when families lose someone. We didn’t know how to move her arms and legs and I had dutifully brought the entire kimono ensemble. The funeral staff was as dumb as we were, they hadn’t dressed a Japanese person before either. Together, with these strangers, we cried, laughed, shared bits of information and history…..and dressed our dead mom. We talked about mortuary science and I found them to be as sacred as the midwives I knew who work both ends of life.
Mom’s death has been a daily reflection for me since. Now and then I feel an urge to write something she would like. I look for a connecting point that will bring November 4, 2004 full circle.
That connecting point happened tonight. Mom wasn’t sure what happened in 1961. My curious mind may or may not seek the truth of what happened. I think it’s time to offer some kind of care for the loss she suffered. Sweet baby Marie. I was never able to replace you.