Would it be in bad taste to talk about death in bullet points? Should I cut to the heart of the matter? I’ve been a little choked up in my thoughts and emotions. Hang in there with my gallows humor. Colonel Mustard in the Dining Room with a Candlestick.
Now I’ll get serious. Deadly serious. These are some of the thoughts I thunk during the wake, funeral and burial of my mother-in-law.
- Receiving lines can be excruciating for germophobes.
- People acclimate amazingly quickly. My children Freaked Out when they approached the casket for a private moment before the wake began. Within five minutes they were back to normal. Grieving, still, but able to incorporate Grandma Marshmallow’s altered presence into the occasion.
- Death grants a person something of a beatification. What were annoyances when a person was alive are viewed as quaint personality quirks after death. I feel guilty even admitting that I harbored any feelings of annoyance.
- Kids keep me present. Children are so much better equipped than adults are to be in the moment. They are not yet as adept at being wistful about the past or worrying about the future. The are able to be. here. now. and they remind me to do so, as well.
- Observing the dying process has been, in hindsight, like watching a trainwreck in slow motion. You know the ending and you just have to wait for it.
- My memories of Lisa are split in two: before the cancer, when she’s vibrant and beautiful and active and seemingly eternal; and after the cancer, when the insidious malignancy has robbed her of her hair, many of her abilities, her life force. I have a hard time reconciling the two.
- People want to DO something.
- People who are mourning their own losses are comforted by comforting.
- Even if you say, “In lieu of flowers…” people will send flowers. Lots of flowers.
- Friends and family hold us up when grief becomes unbearable. We can always come back to it. Just a conversation or a touch tends to break up the grief.
- Mercifully, grief tends to come in bite-sized morsels. I am amazed at how moments of normalcy took over whenever the grief became to much:
Despair — load the dishwasher — sadness — toilet paper roll needs replacing — grief — oooh, here’s a text message — sob — help Reed find his non-existent socks.
- The burial is the most difficult part for me. I hate hate hate that returning to the earth.
- There’s a yearning to get to a New Normal. We left town two days after the burial, and I dreaded leaving my father-in-law and sister-in-law to their newly quiet lives. But when the time came I sensed that my in-laws and my husband were curious about finding their New Normal. As it turned out, the leaving wasn’t so hard for we leavers or the leavees.
- I view, “She’s in Heaven” and “She’s an angel now” as platitudes to calm and placate. My theory is more along these lines. But I must admit that in the dark days of the wake and funeral, my own beliefs seem platitudinous, too. It wasn’t until our flight home lifted into the air that I was able to start believing again in something eternal and connected and bigger than life in this dimension. Sort of. So who knows what the purpose and meaning of life is?
- Where IS the soul when the body no longer houses it?
- When a person is alive, she is available in your mind as a motion picture. When that person has died, she is accessible to you only as snapshots — the movie no longer plays, not even in re-runs.
I went 40+ years without having to experience the death of a parent/parent-in-law, and Lisa’s was the first death in our parent’s generation. I am fearful that now the bubble is popped, the other three will follow soon. And by “soon” I mean within the next 40 years.
One final note. I am expected to live to age 96. How about you?
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a young adult daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.