35 Years

My Mom died 35 years ago today. Life is short; death everlasting. Mom told Merri she knew I’d be angry about her death for a long time. Indeed, I was, but anger is a bitter memorial. She deserved better.  

They say funerals are for the living, but Mom would have liked hers. The turnout, the finery —  the hats! The Dixieland band playing a dirge as we rolled her coffin a mile down a busy street from the church to the cemetery, next to my Dad. My bear Teddy rode on her coffin. Patsy Coontz pleaded with me not to bury Teddy with Mom. (She’s long dead, now, too, but Teddy is with me.) 

The band was upbeat on the return to the champagne reception afterwards. It was a good send-off. 

That was more than half my lifetime ago. I’m older than Mom lived to be. I often mark this anniversary with a haircut — she loved my hair, as did I. The sacrifice is less each year. 

Chris Hobgood, the minister, said he’d visited my mother in her final days in the hospital. She said she wanted to talk about her funeral yet every time changed the subject. At the memorial, he read this poem, appropriate as spiritual metaphor lacking conventional religious imagery.

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze,
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch her until she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of her destination.
Her diminished size is in me, and not in her.

And just at the moment
when someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
there are other eyes that are watching for her coming;
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
“There she comes!”

(I’ve seen this attributed to Henry Van Dyke and Luther Beecher.) 

Though one of beauty and strength, she *is* gone forever and nowhere else. I believe death is absolute and final. Still, her mitochondria swim within me, and many of my best traits were hers. I’m grateful to her for more than just my life. And sorry she didn’t have more of her own.

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