Begin “Our Long Goodbye” Here

Thank you for visiting “Our Long Goodbye.”  I began my blog in July of 2012 and ended it in November of 2012, a few months after my mom died of Alzheimer’s.   I used the blog genre as a way to organize and make sense of the nearly nine years of notes I kept while my family and I cared for my mom throughout her illness.

In just those five months of blogging our story, I was lucky enough to have thousands of readers from over 50 countries around the world, perhaps a testament to how this disease is universal: people of all ethnic backgrounds, classes, and religions must face the difficulties of Alzheimer’s.

You can skip around and read my individual blog entries—in fact I wrote them as “stand alone” pieces—but if you’d like to know the story from the beginning, please start here:

http://ourlonggoodbye.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/what-the-hell-is-our-long-goodbye/

You can then read each post in sequence by clicking on the next post (a link is found just above and to the right of the current post’s title).

Our story is just one from the millions of families around the world who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Though I can only tell our story, I believe my family’s experiences with my terminally ill mother and my 87-year-old father may be similar to those of other families, stories that may or may not ever be told.  As I writer, I realize that I sometimes speak for those who cannot or do not record their life events, however mundane or momentous.  Please read on.

Posted in Aging Parents, Alzheimer's Disease, Caregiving, Catholic, Death and dying, Family, Generation X, Husbands and wives, Mothers and daughters, Nursing Home, Our Long Goodbye, Sandwich Generation, Terminal Illness | 1 Comment

Goodbye at Last

I was not prepared for all of the people in my life—close friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers—who rest a hand on my shoulder or pull me into a sometimes awkward embrace and ask, “So how are you doing?”

“Good,” I say in public.  “Sad but good.”  I smile.  Like everyone, I have public and private faces.

To those closest to me I say, “I am exhausted.”  My grief wears me down.  I sleep twelve hours on Friday night, and I could still take a nap on Saturday afternoon.  I learned from my parents to “buck up” in any situation and do whatever needs to be done.  Some days I come home from work and lay under a blanket on my couch.  My husband makes me dinner.  I eat a bowl of Special K and go to bed.  My grief is ineffable.  I ache.  I don’t want to talk about it.  What else is there but, “My mom died.”

Sometimes I say to acquaintances, “Her death was expected but still sad.”  It’s not an invitation to hug me.  Still, I am hugged in the women’s restroom, in the classroom, in a University Senate meeting, on the campus mall.

Anyone who has lost a parent realizes the melancholy that comes from feeling “lost.”  I get good advice: “For every sad thought replace it with a happy one.   It doesn’t hurt to cry, either.”   Sounds like something that might be found on a gift shop refrigerator magnet, but it truly comforts me.

I crave time to sit and look out the window.  Time to lay on the couch with a book.  I buck up.  I put one foot in front of the other.  A friend warns me that grief is like walking through a swamp.  I might add with cement shoes. Everything is heavy, as if I’m carrying another body on my back.

Some days, all I can think about are the times I was mean to my mom.  This is irrational, I know.  I realize I had to separate from my mother in order to build my own identity.  The more she disapproved of me, the more I avoided her.

When I was a little girl, Mom called me her “reporter” because I told her everything about anything I witnessed, from play-by-play details of my long days at school to evenings with my brothers and sisters when my parents were away.  I feel terrible now about the years —twenty?!—that I said so little to her.  I know, intellectually, that we had a fabulous third act: I took care of her these past seven years.  But when I consider my teens till I was about thirty-five, I see that I did not value her.  Did she notice?  I was one of eight children, so there’s a chance that my lack of interest in her didn’t show in such a crowd.  Or perhaps she knew I would eventually come around.

Mom and me on her last birthday, her 82nd. April, 2012.

A month after her death, I awaken early in the morning and contemplate how Mom and I fell in love with each other twice: once when I was born and again after she got sick.  Alzheimer’s took away her memory, but even when she didn’t recognize me she looked into my face and I was sure she knew what we meant to each other.  Her groggy last days, I believe she felt my presence.

I wasn’t always the daughter I could have been; my mother was often critical.  This is an ancient and intricate story.   Perhaps it was a defense mechanism on my part that for all of those years she was sick, I didn’t allow myself to think about what my mom used to be like.  For nine years, I simply embraced who she became with Alzheimer’s: like a frightened then goofy then helpless child in need of constant care.  I never mourned who she was before her illness.  Through her death I have been released to contemplate her huge, huge heart and her sharp, sharp tongue.

Now I am a daughter without a mother and therefore without an anchor.  I feel lost, but I also realize that for the first time in my life I am free to float wherever I choose.

Posted in Aging Parents, Alzheimer's Disease, Caregiving, Death and dying, Family, Generation X, Mothers and daughters, Sandwich Generation, Terminal Illness | 17 Comments

Wear in Good Health

About three weeks after Mom’s funeral, Geralynn and I meet at Dad’s to clean out closets.  Ger brings along her grandson, Denim, who entertains Dad while we make “keep” or “give away” piles of  Mom’s clothes and shoes in the living room.

I find Mom’s pink brush and pull out her strands of hair.  I can’t help myself.  I tuck her hair inside a bag of items we’ve put aside for Juliann.  She’ll see this hairball next to an angel-print blanket and an apron, and she’ll understand.  Juliann still has a lock of my hair that Mom sent to her after my first “big girl” haircut in kindergarten.  Strange that Mom sent it, and stranger still that Juliann kept it forty-some years.  I should talk.  I have a mouthful of my son’s baby teeth saved in my jewelry box.   Someday when cloning is a viable option, we will be ready.

Ger and I try on Mom’s coats and blazers.  Mom’s weight fluctuated throughout her adult life, and she never got rid of her “skinny clothes” or her “fat clothes.”  “Smells like Mom,” Ger says. I nod.

“Look—her Smurf hat,” Ger says.

I suck in my breath.  She holds up Mom’s floppy blue knit winter hat, the one she always wore ice fishing.  “Oh, look” I say.

We called her Smurf after the blue cartoon creatures.  Today neither of us takes the hat.  We add it to a pile that our siblings will look through before donating to Saver’s.

Denim runs around the livingroom, playing with the trucks and cars my dad has handy for his great grandkids.  He visits here often enough to know exactly where Great Grandpa keeps his toys and his graham crackers.  Dad sits in his recliner watching Denim and smiling.  Who can be sad around a two-year-old?

Denim carries around Mom’s brush.  “Finger,” he says, as he puts his forefinger in the end of the handle.  This brush becomes an extension of his hand, a big pink finger with bristles.  He brushes his own hair and then his grandma Ger’s.  I startle myself each time I say Grandma Ger.  I still think she should be 29, and I’m 19.

Denim climbs up on my dad’s lap and brushes what little hair Great Grandpa has left.  Dad sits perfectly still and lets his hair be fixed.

When I try on Mom’s trench coat, I smell her more than ever.  Hairspray and Freedent gum, maybe.  I can’t name the scent; it’s just Mom.  The tag inside the back collar reads, “Wear in good health”—part fortune cookie, part message from beyond the grave.  I put the coat on my “keep” pile.

We discover that Mom wrote her name across the tags of most of her dress coats.  “Like summer camp,” Ger says.  Or the nursing home, I think.  I suspect Mom did this because of the many nights she and Dad spent retrieving their coats from dimly lit supper club coat racks.  She wanted hers clearly marked.

After Ger and Denim leave, Dad lets out a long sigh.  “Oh ya,” he says.   I’m no good at asking how he’s doing emotionally, so I say, “What did you do since the last time I was here?”  That was 48 hours ago.  He no longer has his twice-daily visits to Mom at the nursing home to organize his day.   I want to know if he’s getting out.  He tells me a play by play of everything: the grocery store for a senior discount on Monday, then the bank on Tuesday to take Mom’s name off of their joint account.

He seems sadder than ever tonight.    Perhaps it’s that in the back of a dead loved one’s closet, we face our own mortality.  Or it’s less complex.  He has always been the organized one to balance Mom’s clutter, and now it’s all gone.  The only items left in this closet are his too small suits.  I suggest he offer them to some of his grandsons.  “Suits like this never go out of style,” I say.

At home I sort through my bags of Mom items.  I pull a hidden pair of folded gloves out of her trench coat pocket.  My mom’s hands never seemed small to me until she was dying.  They were tiny in her casket, wrapped in a Rosary.  This final Catholic pose always strikes me as odd.  I’m no expert, but I think no one says the Rosary with it wrapped around her hands like that.  When my mother prayed in the car on long road trips, she most likely held her rosary in one hand and smoked a cigarette or drank a Tab with the other.

In bed she held her Rosary in one hand, close to her heart, as she curled on her side and faced the door.  As a girl, I awakened her on many early mornings in this same position.  Often her nightgown was on inside-out or backwards or both.  She always told us kids that happened because she dressed in the dark after coming to bed so much later than Dad.  We believed it till we were adults.  One night out at the bar with my brother, I told him why I thought Mom’s nightgown was really on backwards.  “Sex,” I said quietly.

“No way,” he said.  “It’s because she dressed in the dark.”   Why I think of this now amuses me, part of my daily rush of family memories often in no particular order, as if my brain is in constant word-association mode beginning with Mom, Mom, Mom.

Mom’s hand with mine.

Now I look carefully at this beige pair of Isotoners, stained at the fingertips. “Oh, Mama,” I say to no one.  I cry alone in my laundry room. These are not a treasured item, just an old pair of gloves forgotten in a trench coat she hasn’t worn in maybe a decade.  But they were hers.   I put my hands inside: my fingers where Mom’s fingers used to be.

Posted in Aging Parents, Alzheimer's Disease, Brothers and sisters, Caregiving, Catholic, Death and dying, Family, Fathers and daughters, Funeral, Generation X, Husbands and wives, Mothers and daughters, Sandwich Generation, Sisters, Terminal Illness | Leave a comment

Relics

I asked the Horan brothers to save the nightgown they removed from Mom’s body before she was embalmed.  A week later when they delivered our final bill to my dad’s, they dropped off her blue checked nightgown.  My dad came over for dinner, and he walked up my front steps with Mom’s nightgown thrown over his shoulder.  I cringed when I saw him.  “Mom died in that,” I wanted to say.  Then I remembered: it’s Dad.  Things like this don’t bother him.  I washed the nightgown and folded it in my pajama drawer just to have it near.

~

Those last days at the nursing home, when Mom was dressed in just a diaper and a pajama top or nightgown, I brought home some items she’d never wear again: her robe, her aprons (which were used more like bibs these last two years), a few cardigans, and her lipstick.  In the days after Mom died, I hung her robe on a hook outside my closet door so each time I chose my outfit for the day, I could give it a huff.  Smells like Mom.  Eventually I hung it in my closet and just looked at it once a day.  Soon I didn’t notice it at all.  These are my stages of grief.

Mom loved sitting around in her robe.

 ~

I don’t know what to do with the handwritten note Father Victor left in Mom’s room a few days before she died.

Hi Joe,

Fr. Victor anointed Virgiline today 9/18/12 9:50 am.  We will pray for her. 

God bless,

Fr. Victor 

I couldn’t very well throw it away.  After a few weeks, I finally  put it in my Bible, next to the letter Dad sent Mom before they married.  He was twenty-one and working out of town.  She was seventeen and living with her sister’s family, working to make money for their wedding.  They wrote to each other often, and after they married they cut up their love letters and used them to stuff a throw pillow.  Even as a kid, whenever I’d see this handmade pillow in the attic, I could not believe that they destroyed a piece of their history, which meant mine.  I often shook their pillow just to hear the crinkle of the paper.  I wouldn’t have imagined then that I held in my hands the weight of their desire or recognized that the voices in these letters were of a passionate, young couple.

Once I told my dad, “I’m gonna cut this pillow open and tape the pieces of letters back together.”

“Don’t you dare,” he said.  His response instantly piqued my interest about what these pages may hold and how tantalizing it might be to read someone else’s love letters, even your parent’s.  After I divorced, I saved for my son the many cards and notes his dad and I gave each other when we were dating.  He may never want proof of our love, but it’s there just the same.

I don’t remember anymore where I found this one letter of my dad’s.  Perhaps it was mixed in with old photographs in the attic.  All I know is that I ferreted it away in my Bible.  I was seventeen, immature and secretive but well aware of the historic significance of anything written back when Mom was my age.  I’m not sure when I became a collector of such relics, but I suspect I should blame my family of fellow packrats.

At every turn in my home are treasures that used to be my parent’s: kitschy owl napkin holder or antique kitchen table.  My jewelry box is filled with earrings and necklaces Mom passed on to me when she still knew who I was.  My closet holds some of her old blouses and blazers. Still, when she died I craved something she had recently touched; I needed a robe with her scent or the flannel nightgown that lay against her paper-thin skin when she took her final breath.

The last time I experienced this morose longing was five years ago when my first husband’s mother died.  I loved my mother-in-law till the end and desperately wanted something of hers, but I had been divorced from her son for a few years.  I went to her funeral with my parents, then I drove to a discount store to find an item that I might always recall buying on the day of her burial.  I bought a gaudy, fake ruby, too big for my ring finger, so I wore it on my middle one.  It turned my skin green.  I didn’t care.

Posted in Aging Parents, Alzheimer's Disease, Caregiving, Catholic, Death and dying, Family, Fathers and daughters, Funeral, Generation X, Husbands and wives, Mothers and daughters, Sandwich Generation, Terminal Illness | 1 Comment

Signs

Two days after my mom’s funeral, I realize the silver hoop I’ve had in my upper ear cartilage since 1985 is gone. Mom hated the line of six earrings I wore in my left ear. When I was in high school she said, “Talk to your gym teacher about what your ear will look like in twenty years.” It was a scare tactic.

At some point she got my dad involved. “What’s next,” he said, “a nose ring like a bull?” Almost thirty years later, he could not have imagined that nose rings would be fashionable. My gym teacher is a grandfather. My ear is fine. My mother is dead.

As I got older, I removed my tiny studs one by one. Eventually the only remnant of my wild youth was a single silver hoop I wore in my left ear. Before she got sick, Mom would often tell me I was too old for such a thing. You’re a mother now, she’d say. Then, You’re a college teacher. I didn’t think we had the sort of relationship that she’d understand if I tried to explain how this earring represented a fraction of the bold but impulsive and immature girl I used to be, like holding onto those faded jeans from the summer before college even though they no longer fit. I used to remember the story behind each piercing: who I was with, why we decided to do it—always at home. I will never forget the sound of a starter post ripping through cartilage like a scissors cutting cardboard.

Now it’s highly unlikely that this sort of hoop simply “popped out” given that I have to carefully pull it out of my cartilage each time I clean it. I tell my husband about my lost earring. I say that I’ve checked the bed and the area I dress near my closet. He eyes my mop of hair. “And I checked my hair,” I say. I realize that it’s possible a tiny hoop earring could be lost in my tight curls for days.

I tell him, “So the only explanation must be that my mom came and took it out when I was sleeping.”

Last remnant of my wild youth . . .

Only?” he says. He’s not usually a doubter. Bruce reads Ann Landers each day like I do, and he’s seen her columns featuring readers who write in with their “Pennies from Heaven” stories. Loved ones find pennies in the strangest spots—a car dashboard or sock drawer or displayed on a pillow like a mint—and believe these oddly placed coins are messages from their recently departed. I believe signs are everywhere, and we have to pay attention. Is my lost earring one of them? Maybe.

“You better watch out,” I say to my husband. “My mom never liked men with long hair. You might wake up without a ponytail some morning.”

Bruce and I both know the love story of Wisconsin’s famous magician, Harry Houdini, and his wife, Bess. Like many lovers, this couple believed they shared a body and mind meld, and Harry promised to send a sign to Bess from beyond the grave. After he died of a ruptured appendix at age fifty-two—fittingly on Halloween and perfectly timed, from an entrepreneur’s perspective—Bess did what any dedicated wife might do. She waited to hear from him.

The Houdini’s backstory is not so well known. After Harry sought help contacting his own mother from the spirit world, he spent much time exposing these same mediums who took advantage of grieving loved ones like himself. He wrote books on how to reveal mediums’ fraudulent tricks, including Miracle Mongers and Their Methods (1920) and A Magician Among the Spirits (1924). Though he wanted to believe in spirit-communication, he was unable to find a medium who could offer him a message from his own mother with their pre-arranged code, “forgive.” This word is fitting for any parent and child, whether transmitted from the spirit world or simply spoken during a long distant phone call.

Harry also planned to send Bess a message after his death, and she originally reported that a medium relayed to her their pre-decided code, “Rosabelle, believe!” Harry’s pet name for his wife was “Rosabelle,” after the love song she sang to him in their first show together. She later retracted her statement, but experts and historians claim that this was, in part, so her social circle would not think her “a nut,” and so she could hold yearly séances on the anniversary of her beloved’s death. If Harry had not yet contacted her, Bess could continue to be in the limelight as Houdini’s grieving widow and reap the monetary benefits. The “true” story of Harry’s spirit-communication may never be known, though those of us who believe know that if anyone might do it, Houdini could.

I might easily wear another hoop earring. I don’t. Two weeks go by. My left ear feels bare, but I think that if Mom is dancing on the edge between this world and the next and she’s “talking” to me, then I won’t interfere.

One morning as I am getting ready for work, I look down at the floor, and there is my silver hoop earring. These past fourteen days I’ve swept and scrubbed and shook out clothes. No lost earring. I’ve walked by this very spot for days and didn’t see anything. Yet here it is, right in the middle of the room, waiting for me to find it.

I go immediately to the bathroom and guide my hoop through cartilage and secure it in my ear. I look in the mirror.  Mothers and daughters share an ancient and intricate story told over and over.  There is nothing to say; my earring was lost and now it is found.  Still I can’t help myself.  I whisper to my reflection—to my mother’s eyes and her crazy hair—“Oh, Mama.”  It means everything I could never say to her.

Posted in Aging Parents, Alzheimer's Disease, Caregiving, Death and dying, Family, Fathers and daughters, Generation X, Houdini, Husbands and wives, Mothers and daughters, Sandwich Generation, Spirit world, Terminal Illness | 5 Comments

Aspergillum

I am what my mother would call a “non-practicing Catholic”—a nice way of saying that I don’t go to church regularly.  Truth is I practice my faith daily: I like to think I live the Catholic doctrine of social justice for all; I talk to God every morning and lately all day long.

During Mom’s funeral mass, Father Victor reads a few lines about her from the obituary I wrote.  He only knew her slumped in a wheelchair or in bed.  Silent.  He chose details I suspected he might: she had great faith in the power of prayer, and she shared part of whatever she had.  Because of his accent, Mom’s name sounds like “Wirgie” not Virgie.  She would love this Indian priest transplanted in the middle of Wisconsin.  She’d laugh and laugh at how her name sounded in his mouth.

Father’s message is clear: everyone dies.  He tells as that through death, Wirgie was recently born to eternal life, and we will see her again.  My husband puts a hand around my waist.  He has no way of knowing that he’s holding me up for most of the mass.  Though funerals honor the deceased, they serve the living more than the dead.  Today I belt out these church songs like I mean them, though I’m more of a “One Toke Over the Line, sweet Jesus” Christian than the “Old Rugged Cross” type.  We chose Mom’s favorites, and I owe it to her to sing them loud and proud, even if I’m too sad to sing, even if I’m a terrible singer.    Who knew there are five stanzas to “Be Not Afraid”?  Today each one is heartbreaking.  Blest are you that weep and mourn, for one day you shall laugh.

After mass we pile into cars and head for the cemetery.  Juliann jumps in my backseat and nibbles on the bagel she pulls out of her purse.  Horan’s polished white hearse leads the way.  My son says, “You don’t have to stop at stop signs.  Just follow the car ahead of you.”

I say, “Because my mom died?” Juliann laughs.  It’s not funny to me today.

Between bites she says, “That again.”

The cemetery’s well groomed grass and trees would be inviting if not for all the dead people.  It’s a sunny fall day, leaves on the edge of turning orange and red.  I’ve never seen a mausoleum up close before.  Standing here, all I can think is how much it looks like a three-story concrete card catalogue—an image that most of the people here who are under thirty would not understand.  Mom’s coffin will go in a drawer, the tomb, then it will be sealed until my Dad’s is added, we hope many years from now. Today the opening to their crypt is covered with a red velvet curtain.

Library card catalog . . .perhaps a model for a mausoleum?

I stand near Mom’s casket and read the engraved name plates on tombs surrounding my parent’s.  They will be in good company, among folks they know from church or the tavern or the bowling alley.  Later I’ll tease my dad, “Mr. Tanzer’s gonna be laying on top of you forever.  Good thing you always liked him.”

Many friends and family members gather around us.  Father Victor says a final blessing and shakes holy water on Mom’s casket.  I’ve seen this done in church my whole life, but today I am close enough to notice that the tool in his hand looks like a golden baby rattle.  What could it be called?  A holy water dispenser?  I make a mental note to research the name when I get home.  Father hands it to my dad, who shakes holy water on the casket, and then passes it to one of his kids, who passes to another.  I won’t know till much later that I held an aspergillum (from the Latin aspergere, “to scatter”).  We all bless Mom with holy water for the first time.  For the last time.

Then everyone stands around and looks at one another.  “That’s it,” Father Victor says.

“Now we eat?” Dad asks.  He is exhausted and hungry from the two hours of greeting some 300 guests and then the hour-long mass and the trip here to the mausoleum.

Father Victor nods.

I reach out to touch Mom’s casket one last time.  She won’t be entombed as we watch.  I know that much about the process.  Juliann knocks on the casket. “Bye, Mom,” she says.

“Back to church to eat,” my dad says.   Nobody moves.  “Soup’s on,” he yells to the crowd.  It’s how he used to call us to supper when we were kids.

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Requiem

I gaze at my mom in her casket, and I have to touch her.  I can’t help myself.  Her arm feels like a hunk of wood through her dress, a thin piece of kindling.  I’m not sure what I expected the first time I touched an embalmed person.  Not this, I suppose.  Her hair feels the same, except it’s crisp with hairspray.  She is wearing a camisole under her dress, no bra, so I’m not sure what could be holding these missile silo breasts in place.  It takes everything in me not to poke at her new bust.  Her nails are polished, and a finger on her right hand is smudged, just like when I did her nails.

We chose a photo of Mom and Dad to go in her casket.  It was taken a few years before they married: Mom is sixteen and leaning against Dad on his family’s front porch.  “Love birds,” she’d say about this photo.  Today it’s tucked in the casket lining above her head.  Also displayed is a crucifix that my dad wanted with her.  I’ve seen it hanging in their house all my life, and for the last fourteen months it hung above my mom’s bed at the nursing home.  Until yesterday, I didn’t realize that the back of the cross slides open and inside this secret hollow all these years has been hidden a small vile of holy water.

My nieces and nephews, all college-age through their thirties, mill around the back of church with my son.  “Want to go up and see Grandma?” I ask him.

He shakes his head.

“No thanks,” my nephew says.  Grief experts say it’s necessary to see the deceased to say a proper goodbye, thus the ongoing popularity of open-casket wakes.  My son and his cousins are all adults.  They can choose to stay back here and look at photos of their grandma or go see her in her coffin.  I watch Juliann’s daughter, who crawled into bed with her grandma the last time she saw her just a week ago.  Today she wants no part of being close to the front of church where Grandma is laid out.

My dad is up near Mom.  Some of my sisters stand near him.  Others are in the middle aisle, so we See siblings can talk with guests at different parts of the long line leading up to view Mom.  I choose the back of the church with a sister to greet visitors as they come in.  As I gaze into these old faces, the people I once knew emerge from many wrinkles and layers of fat.  “Oh yes,” I find myself saying, over and over, to different folks, “Of course I remember you.”

My parent’s friends and relatives, many of whom I haven’t seen since I was a girl, say to me,   “I know you’re a See.” Some say, “Which daughter are you?”

I overhear a lot of laughter as guests gaze at the large picture boards we’ve put together with many photographs of Mom at each stage of her life.  Even a stranger could see how much fun she had.

A woman clasps both of my hands in hers.  “You have hair just like your ma,” she says.  “When she was a little girl she hid under a chair every time she had to get her hair combed.”  I look deep into this woman’s face, and I still have no idea who she is.

“This is your Aunt Helen,” another of the aunts says to me.

“Of course,” I say.  Those last years when we still cared for Mom at home, Helen was the sister she often asked for at bedtime.  I always told her, “Helen’s out on a date.  She’ll be home after you’re asleep.”  It was an answer Mom accepted, and then she let me change her into pajamas.    Helen was the beauty of my mom’s black and white photo album, the sister who attracted all the boys.  Or perhaps it only seemed so to my mom who was four years younger.

Now Aunt Helen says to me, “We’d wet your ma’s hair down and run our fingers through it.  Then we’d get the horse comb.  We didn’t have brushes in them days.”  I imagine how lovingly Mom’s older sisters treated this little girl with tight, tight curls.  They all cared for each other, in part because it was such a large family and because they were orphaned.  Mom was eight when her mother died of cancer and ten when her father was killed by a drunk driver.

Seven of Mom’s fourteen siblings now remain, and four of them were able to come some distance to be here today.  My Aunt Evelyn, who lives two hours away, told me, “I’ll walk to Virgie’s funeral if I have to.”  She’s eighty-seven.  Her son drove her.

This stream of bodies entering the church seems endless.  My parents know a lot of people, and my siblings and I have many friends and co-workers who come to pay their respects.  My older brother’s friend, a neighbor boywho is now fifty-seven and still cute, says to me, “Will you write my obituary?”

I tease back, “You bet, but all I remember about you is that I once peed on your shoes during hide-n-seek.”  It’s true.  I was three years old and hiding with him.  I didn’t want to take a bathroom break, and I got frightened while hiding in the dark garage.  I peed my pants while standing close beside him.  Apparently I trickled on his tennis shoes.  When I was a teenager waitressing at a local supper club, he reminded me of this nearly each time I saw him.

I sneak away from guests to go to the bathroom and to eat my granola bar.  On the way back in, I say to my brother, “We just need to get through today.”  I am naïve, of course, to think that our grief will be over after the funeral, but this requiem mass will be a step towards digging out of our heavy sadness.

A Horan brother signals to us that the funeral will start in five minutes, which means he will close the casket.  I touch my mom’s hair one last time and then sit with my husband.  All of us are seated in the pews, waiting.  My dad is beside Mom, leaking tears, as the undertaker removes her jewelry and hands it to him.  We all watch Juliann’s daughter walk up to the open casket at the last moment possible.  She puts her arm around her weeping grandpa and says goodbye to her grandma.

Posted in Aging Parents, Alzheimer's Disease, Brothers and sisters, Caregiving, Death and dying, Family, Fathers and daughters, Generation X, Husbands and wives, Mothers and daughters, Mothers and sons, Sandwich Generation, Terminal Illness | 3 Comments