Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Saying Goodbye Today

It didn't take long. Mom passed at 5:55 am on Saturday, March 5. I felt sad but at peace. Her suffering was over, her pain at an end. Thursday night had been bad, apparently. She had 3 rounds of morphine and 2 doses of Ativan... 

She was out most of Friday. I went down Friday afternoon and spent three hours with her, just sitting in the silence. Then I talked to her. I again thanked her for all the gifts, and I expanded on what I'd said to her on Sunday. Once upon a time, I would have let loose, knowing she couldn't have responded.  But now, eh, what would it have mattered? It wasn't important, truly. Only the good stuff really mattered. 

Then I sang to her. I sang some Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell songs. I could have sung hymns but my brother had done that. Somehow, I needed to sing things that would soothe both her and myself. God forgive me -- hymns were not going to cut it. I told her that she needed to fly... that when it was her time, she needed to spread her wings and SOAR!! That if anyone in this life deserved to soar, it was her. And my God, did she ever need some unfettered moments.

So many times in life, she found it hard to fly because she was weighted down: helping her disabled parents, taking care of her mom after her father’s sudden death, and being a wife and mother and having a career herself. She was also weighted down later by a body that wouldn’t work properly: hypertension, fibromyalgia, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, chronic bronchitis, and many other ailments – worst of all,  anxiety and depression. I think those ailments, while being partially treated, weren’t explored well enough. My mother could have benefited tremendously from talk therapy, but none of her medical team ever suggested that she seek it out. What a tragedy. How many years might have been added to my mother’s life? My mother also steadfastly refused to do anything that she didn’t want to do….. Didn’t want to exercise? Wouldn’t. Didn’t feel like eating properly? Okay, no problem, junk it is. As much as I loved her, she didn't exactly help her own cause.

We had made the arrangements in the prior week: cremation, with burial of the ashes. Visitation the night before the funeral services, everything at the mortuary. And so we did just that. We followed through with the plans, gathered pictures for a slideshow at the end of the service, and began a mad frenzy of housecleaning. The only snag -- what song to use for the slideshow? 

I'd been singing Pearl Jam's "Given to Fly" quite a bit to Mama, conveniently leaving out the F-bomb in the song. But there went that idea -- no way to take that out. Richard thought about "Time" by Alan Parsons Project, which I love but couldn't have handled. Richard suggested a hymn, but I said we already had a religious song in the program, and this one didn't have to be, so we had wide options! I thought about "The Last  Farewell" by Roger Whittaker, a song Mom liked and I did too but we both immediately thought "Naaaah..." Finally, Dad said, "Oh, I never did my Scripture reading today..." My brother said, "How about reading Ecclesiastes 3? You know, 'a time to be born, a time to die'..." I looked at him, he looked at me and we said, "THAT'S IT!" We knew we would use "Turn Turn Turn" by The Byrds. 

The visitation turned out beautifully -- the line began about 5:30 and didn't end until 8:30. I don't think I stopped talking from 5:15 until 8:45 by the time all was said and done. The flowers were absolutely amazing, once I got a moment to view them. Flowers from our workplaces, from churches, from dear friends -- including one gorgeous arrangement from my brother's football buddies! He was shocked, and they were beautiful. And the line seemed to go on forever!! What a testament to Mom that she was so well-loved and that her children's friends and loved ones came to offer their condolences as well.

The one amazing part was the photo.... We used a solo picture of Mom. I have no idea when it was done. Dad thinks it was maybe her senior year? I think she was a little older myself. But at any rate, it was a Glamour Shots type photo, only waaaay less soft focus and troweled-in makeup. She looked so beautiful!!! And everyone said so -- while also saying, "oh my gosh, you look so much like her."

I never ever saw either of my parents in me. I have Daddy's eyes for certain, and the McClellan feet (give me the boxes, thankeemuch). And I got Mom's abdomen... Ugh!! But facially, I never saw them in me. But a couple of years ago, in my mid-40s I finally started seeing just the tiniest bits of resemblance of Mom in me. And now everyone is standing there, telling me I'm her clone. I smiled and took it as a compliment. Many years, I would have sneered and aimed for their jaw. 

At the funeral itself today, I held strong -- I was proud of myself for not falling apart. Not to say I didn't cry because I did. But I did not have a meltdown. In fact, most of the time, I sat there beaming, thinking how Mom would have been proud of the send-off we gave her. It was not too stuffy, not too casual, not too maudlin, and not too insincere. It was perfect. I had quite a few folks tell me they felt good when they left .... THERE! Is there no better compliment than to leave a funeral feeling good?

And I was so glad to have my family there. A good many of Dad's siblings, nieces and nephews and their families..... all saying goodbye to their Aunt Nancy. Others came to the visitation who couldn't make the funeral. That was such a tribute to her. And one of my favorites was from a cousin's child who said, "I always felt that she never forgot us" (after her folks split) -- and I replied, "Gosh no, and she made sure we always remembered you as well!" To feel such familial love and their shared grief has been a blessing, especially since so many have now lost a parent or grandparent too.

But even with all that, there is always going to be a void for me. There will always be a hole that cannot be filled. I will always miss my mom. I've not even begun to unpack my feelings, to explore the depths and breadths of every emotion I have. I don't know where to start. I still feel a lot of numbness, as if I know it's real but my mind is slow to let the rest of me warm up to it. I don't know when I will reach tat point, that meltdown moment. I've joked with Richard that if Pearl Jam sings "Given to Fly" or "I Am Mine" I might lose it, but if they play "Release Me" then they'll need a spatula to scrape me off the floor of The Well. It would be ugly, ugly tears..... I can't even listen to that song right now. I can listen to "Fly" all day long and smile -- because I think of Mama soaring, free at last from her earthly impediments. 

Mama, I think of you .... I am looking for strange spots in the sky. I see feathers and scars on the sky, and think of you. I sing loud and proud, and hear your voice. Like I told you last week, we didn't always see things the same way, and we butted heads an awful lot, but there was no doubt that love was present.

Big Nance..... You were definitely one of a kind!

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