My mother, who passed last December, is – technically speaking – very much with us. In fact, she resides at the top of the closet of the guest room closet, at my sister’s house.
The sad truth of it is that my sisters and I have not come to a decision on what to do with her ashes, and as she left no will or final wishes, we are at a loss.
I loved my mother. But she was a difficult woman. A difficult human, rather – I am not sure it actually had anything to do with her being a woman. She was a recovering alcoholic and though being manipulative and selfish are part of an addict’s personality, I think she might have been that way even without the chemical addiction. She was irresponsible, careless with her money, thoughtless. She didn’t drive. She was an animal hoarder.
I loved her, I truly did. I loved to talk about books and perfume and music with her. I loved to listen to her curse and laugh, I loved to watch her eat a fish sandwich (she always wanted to eat the same thing, no matter which restaurant we dined in). I could be so incredibly angry with her but then we would just fall into our easy pattern of chatter and it would be forgotten.
My breath catches in my throat now, even as I am writing this, to think that I will never do any of these things with her again. At least, not in this life. Not as who we are to each other now.
However, in death she was nearly just as difficult as when she was living. None of her affairs were in order. She had appointed none of us power of attorney or executor – something we should have pushed for, I realize – and she made no will and expressed no final wishes, except for one. Being that we take in her two Himalayan cats (again, without regard to whether our living situations were amenable to an extra two animals).
Between the three of us, my sisters and I paid for her crematory costs (around $1700), we contacted the proper channels who might need to know of her passing, we cleaned up her rental home, and we divided amongst us some items that we wanted to keep to remember her. She did not have much of value, but she certainly had a lot of stuff.
Now we are left with a cardboard box three quarters full of her earthly remains. Human ashes are much heavier than you would expect them to be. I remember my sister cradling the box as we walked somberly from the funeral home to our car in the parking lot.
“These are the arms that held me”, she wept softly, looking down at the box.
And so the box of our mother still sits, heavy with ashes and memories, at the top shelf of a guest room closet. Maybe five months is not long enough to sort out all of our feelings about her. I suppose we have all the time we need, though. She’s not going anywhere.
For most of my adult life I have dreamed of this house. No matter where I am or how long I have been living there, it is always this particular place where my dreams begin and end. For good or ill, this is the spot that my subconscious must believe is home.
From the ages of eight through eighteen I lived in this house. Ten years. I don’t remember very well the home I lived in before this one, and all the places after have become a blur on my timeline, but this house, this time in my life is the foundation upon which my dreams build.
I can’t say it was much better looking than in this photo from a few day ago, but I’d like to think it was, just a little.
My sister, on her way to visit me last weekend, convinced her husband to drive through our old neighborhood. As they slowed to pass our childhood home, it became clear to them that the house had been neglected for quite some time now, and once they stopped the car and walked up for a closer look they could see that it was indeed in foreclosure. My sister skirted the side of the house, peeking in windows, running her fingers along splintered doorframes.
The sliding glass door in back was ajar and without a second thought, she slipped inside.
I don’t know if I could have done that. My childhood, though incarnations of it show up in dreams on a regular basis, is something I’d like to leave behind. I don’t know that I could have faced whatever ghosts lingered in those halls. Worse, then, to feel nothing looking at the handprint stained walls, the kitchen from which I stole snacks while I read Harriet the Spy? I don’t know and I don’t think I could bear to find out.
My sister is very brave, but I would rather hear the tale secondhand, and continue to dream of a place that used to exist, rather than see it for a faded and broken and beaten thing that no one wants anymore, never to appear in another little girl’s dreams.
Here we are again. This started out as a very different sort of blog, but as circumstances changed, so too must the content of this blog. This will no longer be a home for Death Cafe Orlando; though I have archived the previous posts should you wish to peruse them, for all new updates and items of relevance please find your way over >> h e r e<<
Well, and so – what to do? In changing direction for this blog it has become clear to me that I’ve come full circle. It’s been quite a while since I have maintained a personal blog – for projects, stories, etc. – and I am realizing that I miss it very much. For the past few years it’s been important to me that I branch out and embrace new and different people, places and things…but in the doing so I have yearned for the simple familiarity of some former pursuits – such as the keeping of a daily (or semi-daily, or let’s face it, weekly or monthly) accounting of the things going on in my life.
In blithely tripping along the trail of the novel and exciting, I have somehow, without quite realizing it, arrived back at the start of the same well-worn, much loved path. And you know, that is a fine place to be.
“If after I die, people want to write my biography, there is nothing simpler. They only need two dates: the date of my birth and the date of my death. Between one and another, every day is mine.”
Filmmakers Mark and Angela Walley follow photographer Sarah Sudhoff as she works on her series titled At the Hour of Our Death. In the series Sudhoff creates large-scale color photographs of stained fabrics from trauma scenes and discusses the invisibility of death in our culture.
Good Grief is a short stop motion animated documentary that explores the lessons we learn from dealing with grief and loss. Five real people share their true stories of losing something precious and what it has taught them about living.
Made in 2012, Good Grief has screened at 19 festivals worldwide and won numerous awards. Inspired by the loss of her own mother and the grief that ensued, director Fiona Dalwood went about finding out how the experience of loss transforms us. With a shoestring budget and months of hard work, she made Good Grief, a beautiful short film that has been described as “adorable and heartfelt”.
High school seniors at The Harley School in Rochester, New York, have the option of taking a class called “Hospice.” Most who sign up for it don’t know what they’re in for. And none of them forget the experience when it’s over.
David Marshall is an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker who followed the hospice class for two years. In his documentary, Beginning with the End, the question Marshall seeks to answer is: Can empathy be taught?
Greetings! Please join us at Orlando’s first Death Cafe for an open group discussion on all things death related. While death is inevitable, discussions about it are often taboo in American culture. We intend to open up the conversation on death in an an respectful and friendly atmosphere where people can express their views about death & dying and share engaging, thought provoking and life affirming conversation. Bring your questions and stories, your curiosity and experiences, but most of all – an open mind …and an appetite for cake and delicious treats!
Date: Saturday, May 17th, 2014
Times: 2PM-4PM EST
Location: To be held at a private location (residential, Winter Park FL)
This first meeting will be a small group, 10-12 people, and RSVP only. Please contact us to reserve your spot!
[editor’s note: originally posted on my personal blog; also re-posted on Nourishing Death. My mother’s death in late December, 2013 was the catalyst, I believe, for my interest in hosting a local Death Cafe, and I think this is an appropriate place for these thoughts]
My coffee is the same as it is every morning. A packet of stevia, a dollop of almond milk. A dark roast from a noted coffee company, the beans ground just minutes ago, steeped in the french press that we keep breaking, because we are too rough when we try to clean it.
I’m not drinking it, and it is growing cool. I can’t help but to think how my mother got out of bed to make a pot of coffee on Monday morning, probably Folgers in a bulk-size cannister, and never got to drink her first cup of the day. She would have taken it with a scoop of Coffee Mate.
I had just spoken with her on Sunday night. She informed me that she was officially in remission and that she wanted to come to Christmas dinner at my grandparents. My mother has not been to a holiday dinner in years – mostly because as a nurse who worked 14 hour shifts, she was frequently exhausted – and so I was surprised, but promised to prepare the prime rib that she requested and to let the grandparents know to expect her.
The next day, when my sister called to tell me that our mother was dead, the first thing I said was “you’re kidding”. Who would joke about that? Why would I say such a thing? But that is what I said.
Two days later I still think someone is kidding with me.
I am trying to drink my coffee now but it is cold and awful. That is how everything tastes to me: cold.
The police were still in her home when I arrived, and several neighbors were milling around. A toothless Greek man took my hand and sat me down on my mother’s chintz sofa. I have no idea who he was. An officer asked me several questions and I answered without thinking or truly registering who was asking and why. I could see my mother’s bedroom door cracked open, the corner of her bed visible. Her foot was pale.
I walked through the door and sat next to her. Her face was upturned, her expression rapt, as if she had seen something that drew all of her attention in those last few moments. Whether it was something miraculous, or a dangling spider, or even the faces that appear when you stare too hard into the whorls and swirls of humid Florida plaster ceilings – I guess I will never know. Her hands were slightly curled inward, as if she had been gripping something tightly and then suddenly let go. With both of my hands I held one of hers, and it was so very very cold.
My brother in law was the one who pointed out to me that in my mother’s tiny kitchen, a full pot of coffee had been brewed and sat untouched. Grown cold.
We spent a warm, cloudless December afternoon creeping around an eerily quiet antique mall, poking through dusty cigar boxes of faded photographs, fondling rusty skeleton keys and gingerly inching around rickety tables stacked with paper-thin porcelain teacups. My slowing pace unnoticed by my companions, I was left behind for a bit as I paused to imagine the sorts of ladies who sipped from these fragile vessels and what mysterious secrets they might have locked away with such keys. I wonder if my favorite octopus coffee mug will ever find its way to an antiques shop in the future… and what shoppers and collectors may wonder about me?
I am not a haggler or someone who likes to bargain vendors down from a marked price, or else I might have tried to strike a deal on a stack of elegant Victorian-era postcards tied with a bit of frayed ribbon. I would have liked to use them as greeting cards or gift tags or maybe just stick one in a random book that I return to the library or trade in at a used bookstore. I always enjoy finding these surprising pieces of ephemera tucked into the pages of a riveting story, don’t you?
A stuffed crow looked on from his perch as I pondered these things.
Afterward we stopped by another another emporium of oddities, the entrance of which was flanked by this charming fellow. The kindly proprietor informed me that the statues could be had for a cool $25K…
Gargoyles led to Goblin Market where we savored an early evening cocktail. I believe this was an “herbal martini”; I am not certain if I would drink it again, but it was certainly interesting. A strange combination of savory upon first sip and sweet at the swallow.
On the way back we stopped and watched the sun set over Lake Apopka at Trimble Park. Even though I grew up in FL and weathered nearly 20 years of mild, semi-tropical winters, since moving away to the Northeast – and returning back to the south- I find I am having a hard time re-acclimating myself to December days that are not frozen and which do not require layer upon layer of clothing. I only gazed out over the lake for a moment or two before I began adjusting my collar and rolling up my sleeves, uncomfortable in the unseasonable heat.
Today the the clouds gathered and spilled and it was a morning best spent indoors. The results were fragrant, steaming mugs of spiced wassail and even spicier ginger cookies. After a point these endeavors accumulate so many dishes and so much mess, one may as well fully commit and make three more kinds of cookies. This is the sort of logic that is brought about by boiled wine and elevated sugar levels and is difficult to argue with.