"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Closure



Sitting in the living room of my brother Geoff''s Seattle area home I noticed the copper box on the mantel. "Is that Mom?" I asked my sister-in-law. We were leaving early the next morning to take the ashes of both our parents to their final resting place very close to where we grew up in North Idaho.

"No, that's Dad," she said. He'd been stored away for the last twenty years because Mom wanted him close and then buried with her. I looked at my brother Mark, sitting next to me, then back at my SIL.

"Where's Mom?"

SIL turned ten shades of pale, shrieked, and went for the phone. Mom's ashes were at the funeral home and they'd forgotten to get them earlier in the day. By the time of our conversation, the place had been closed for over an hour.

It looked like we were going to have a burial service for Mom without Mom.

Mark and I looked at each other again, and had to look away because we were both on the edge of giggles. And it was at that point I knew I'd finally let go of my last lingering expectation for how the weekend needed to go.

In the previous days I'd found myself wondering if I was going to have to retract all I'd said about the legacy of love that was our mom's best gift to us. During the planning of her burial service, every lingering bit of family dysfunction popped to the surface as we struggled to communicate through our grief.  My hopes for the weekend of our saying goodbye to Mom were first tipped off-kilter, then turned on their head, and finally shattered completely.

I had struggled to accept the changes, to resist declaring big sister edicts, to hang on to my belief that none of us were really in control of how things turned out. Once I grasped that the fantasy weekend I'd created in my mind was more about my little girl need than anything else, and that I could take care of that in other ways, I began to let go and look forward to the surprises.

My ability to laugh at the possibility that Mom might not even be at her own burial told me I'd achieved the equanimity I was working so hard for.

Of course everything turned out better than any of us could have hoped for.

Ten people: Mom's four children, two daughters-in-law, two grandchildren, a favorite cousin, a friend. Each of us there because her life mattered to us, and because we loved her enough to drive the many miles and brave the blustery weather to gather and say goodbye.

Mark led the ceremony, and as he told stories about Mom's life that made us laugh and cry, I thought about what a gift he has for speaking. Frank, the older brother, had organized the tent and chairs and flowers in addition to making all the reservations for the weekend. He reserved a room for the dinner afterwards and created a game involving facts about Mom's life that had us talking about her and our growing-up for hours. Geoff had taken on all the responsibilities around Mom's care for her later years, including the end-of-life jobs of the last days.

And he managed to get someone to open the funeral home and give us Mom's ashes on Friday evening.

My role was small. I read a letter to Mom at the service. I asked tons of questions and shared information. I stood back, and looked for ways to help. I released my expectations, stepped out of safe roles, and kept my whole and best self as present as possible.

As we placed the ashes of our parents side by side in the small hole, and left them with two roses—one white, one red—there was a definite sense of completion. Mark had shared with me a vision he had of Mom walking away from her old body into the light—radiant, forever young, joyful. I walk forward now in a world without a mother. Missing, perhaps always, the lost possibilities, but free in ways I'm just beginning to realize. Backlit by the place of all Love where she is finally at rest, and walking in the company of my beloved brothers.

28 comments:

Mark Lyons said...

Arrgghhh...I made it all the way through the funeral service without crying...and then I read this. Thank YOU for all that you have contributed to the healing and reconciliation that has occurred over the past few years. I'm so thankful that we could ALL walk away from the service on Saturday truly feeling that her life did matter, that she DID do the best that she could and that we would all find ourselves in a place of peace and comfort at her passing.

I love you
Mark

Wanda said...

The laughter we share around the end of life and funerals = PRICELESS. So sorry for your loss and happy for your giggles.

Teresa aka Journaling Woman said...

Hugs to all of you.

Although, I would like to call the shots at my funeral, (like my x cannot come) I realized that day is not for me; it's for those I've left behind. They need to do it whatever way they want.

But, may I ask for laughter please?

Retired English Teacher said...

I wish I could just sit down and chat with you about this post. I have so much I have to say, but I can't seem to clarify my own thoughts enough to write what is in my heart.

You are an inspiration while I am on my own journey. These events do bring out the family dysfunction. You, my dear blogging friend, bring hope that we can "release our expectations" and step out of "our safe roles."

I must admit I was shocked at first to see the open burial spot since I had just so recently buried my own daughter in a similar place. I then admired your courage at posting the photo. I found it very healing to realize that we both had so recently done similar acts of burial. God bless you.

May your brothers and you continue to walk in healing and companionship.

DJan said...

Such a lovely post about an important person. She would be so pleased that it all turned out so wonderfully. Love and laughter in abundance: that's what I want at my memorial service...

LauraX said...

Your smiles are so precious Deb, so full of love. This touched me:

"My ability to laugh at the possibility that Mom might not even be at her own burial told me I'd achieved the equanimity I was working so hard for."

It is precisely moments like this when we understand what is important...and we see our growth and feel peace (and joy!) I'm glad everything went ok and that you were all together back-lit by love.

Desiree said...

What a marvellously happy picture of you and your brothers! I loved reading this delightfully honest account of your conflicted feelings finally reaching calm acceptance and equanimity. You are such a gifted writer, Deb!

Julia said...

This is just beautiful! Perfect title, Closure. I loved it. One of your very best.

Lilith said...

It's amazing what can happen when we let go. Sounds like it was good for everyone, healing.

Stacy Crawford said...

It seems the giggling is when the healing comes.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Funny how the giggling helps. Sometimes brings the emotions back to an easier place to go forward. A lovely piece, Deb. Thank you for sharing with us.

Richard said...

It's nice to have found peace with your mother. Not only is it a gift to you, it's also a gift to her.

yaya said...

I'm so glad it all turned out and you and your brothers were able to share and laugh and remember...beautiful post.

Wanda..... said...

Your writings are so touching and honest, Deb. Your brothers are lucky to have a gem like you for a sister!

Jessica Nelson said...

I just love reading your posts every week!
Too funny about mom at the funeral home, but wow...what a post! I love that pic of you four. ;-)

Pam said...

You amaze me Deb. These recent times have not been easy, yet it seems you are no stranger to difficulty. Your inner strength, fortitude and gentle humour shines through your writing. I always look forward to your posts.

kario said...

Lovely. I had goosebumps all the way through and I am so pleased that you are able to see her in her wholeness and for the person she wanted to be. I hope that she and your father are at peace and know that they are carried by the love you and your brothers have for them and each other.

deborahjbarker said...

So glad you found 'closure' and found laughter in what is clearly, such a sad occasion. I recall waiting with my mother for relatives to arrive the night before my father's funeral. My mother and my siblings were laughing so much at stories we were telling about my father and ourselves, that we barely heard the doorbell ring. Consequently, my relatives were greeted by gales of laughter as they stood on the step. Their shocked and disconcerted faces sobered us up a little but everything became a little easier to deal with after that.
Laughter is a great medicine! :-)

Amber said...

There can come such peace when some people pass, because we know they are in peace. I am happy for you and your brothers.

love.
:)

Ann Best said...

We need to laugh. Laugh. Smile. And cry sometimes. It sounds like you got your closure, which is what we all need in such situations so we can move on. We all do the best we can. And in the end, there IS peace and comfort to be found. Thank you for sharing your feelings. This is beautiful!
Ann Best, Memoir Author

K.M. Weiland said...

So sorry to hear about your mother. A loss like that always leaves a tremendous hole in your life. Saying a prayer for you and your family!

Kathryn Magendie said...

I smile as I read this - it's funnym, adn I don't mean to compare your real life to my VK character, but when she releases the last of Momma's ashes, she has the release, the sense of freedom, of letting go. But before those ashes were released, before she freed both herself and her momma, there was the looming up of all the befores . . .

I love the picture of you and your brothers. *smiling*

Linda Myers said...

How loving of your family to hold on to Dad's ashes for all those years so they could be buried together.

My sister and I have grown closer since our mother's death two years ago. We scattered her ashes at multiple sites. At one we danced, at another we laughed, at another we were awed into silence. What a passage!

Thinking of you during this time, and hoping for continued renewal for you and your brothers.

Terri Tiffany said...

Again your post made me cry:) I can feel the love you share with your family and how funny that you can let go and enjoy the moment without it being perfect and then it was anyways:)) I love coming here and don't do it as much as I need to. You write from where you are and I value that so much.

She Writes said...

Deb, how often in life it seems we find ourselves letting go of the little girl hoping... And it does free us to be present for what is. Thinking of you.

Katie Gates said...

Beautiful, Deb. The tears are rolling...

Cheryl said...

Ah Deb a beautiful post as always and thank you for sharing something so intimate. I did think of my Dad, tucked up in my Mother's wardrobe waiting for the time to come when they can both be together. I would love for more people to come and read your beautiful writing, so when given an award I once again thought of you as someone to pass it on to. Details on my blog. I hope it brings more people your way. Love and hugs.

deb colarossi said...

Is it okay if I still feel a little of the bittersweet.
The what could have been that the photo of you with your brothers brings up?

But more importantly.. the post, and the comment from Mark?... sacred. sacred.