August 12, 2016
If we’re friends on Facebook or if you read my nail blog, you know that my most recent long absence from this journal is not a byproduct of just another trip or being too distracted by the mountain: my mom died at the end of July. I’m taking it a lot harder than I did when my dad died in 2000; I had a whole summer of his cancer spreading to get used to that idea before it happened, and I still had my mom around to help me through it when it did. This, this is not the same. I didn’t expect it to happen when it did (though maybe at some level I knew), and now I’m the older relative others are looking at to help them through it.
I had been back in Idaho for less than 48 hours after a three-week trip to Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois when I got the news. I repacked my suitcases with a lot of the same stuff I’d just unpacked and headed back to Illinois the next day. I decided to drive, since there was no longer any rush to get there to see Mom one last time, and it’d be less stressful than flying, with the ability to stay as long as I needed to without hassling with changing a return flight. Mr. Karen offered to come with me, but I chose to go alone, leaving the option open to fly him in if I needed him once I got there and had a better sense how things would go. I wasn’t sure if we’d have a memorial service sooner or later; my mom didn’t have one for her mom for months afterward, and never had one for my dad. I didn’t quite get in those very early days that these sorts of decisions were mine to make now. I mean, I should have, since I was the one who called the funeral director that day to get the cremation process started, and called the hospital to release her body to said funeral director, but it didn’t sink in somehow.
Driving the 1700 miles to Illinois, I had a lot of time to think, and yes, I did some weeping while I drove. I kept in touch with my brother, Scot, and nieces and the funeral director and my mother-in-law, Joan, via text and phone and email the whole way across the country. My brother was able to get down from Wisconsin a lot faster to be with my nephew who lived with Mom, who was understandably shaken. I got to Joan’s house late on a Tuesday almost two weeks ago (is that right? I guess that’s right) and headed to my mom’s house the next morning and since then it’s been a blur of activity: sorting through papers and possessions, trying to figure out what needs to be done in what order, paying off the funeral director for the cremation, picking up the copies of the death certificate, finding a lawyer, picking up the ashes, arranging a memorial service with a different funeral director, deciding on and booking the post-service meal, writing a eulogy, and so on. My brother and I have been working so well together, and Joan has been super supportive, and no one in the family is fighting over stuff or giving out guilt trips, so it’s been going as well as it could be, I suppose. But it’s draining and I’m tired and I’m still trying to figure out what needs to be done in what order but Scot and I are doing our best and will just keep at it. Except soon we’ll take a break to go back to our respective homes for a while and take care of things there.
The memorial service was this past Wednesday. I’d started gathering photos for a potential slideshow or photo board during that day between when I heard and when I left; Mr. Karen helped me with that by finding the boxes with our photo albums in them and flipping through and finding shots of Mom (we’d just brought those boxes back from storage in Michigan). As Scot and I went through things at Mom’s, we kept finding more photos. I was happy to see them, but sad that now I had no one to ask for details about them (Mom and I had gone through and talked about a lot of old photos but these were new to me). I was adding new pictures to the slideshow until late the night before the service. I’ll share some of my favorites now, as I’ve mostly run out of words for today.
I found this first one on some loose album pages that my maternal grandmother appears to have put together (based on which piece of furniture my brother found them in and the handwriting on the pages). It’s my mom as a smiling, active toddler, not standing still for the photo, her older brother reaching out to try and stop her but too late. The page this was on was dated 1931, so my mom was not yet two years old.
I had seen this next one before; I pulled it from an album I put together with my mom’s help years ago. It’s from 1936; my mom would have been six years old, her brother around nine, though he’d had polio so looked less robust and younger than she.
This was another find in my grandmother’s stuff (she lived with my mom for some years at the end of her life). It’s a studio portrait, and I wish I could ask Mom about it, because there was another portrait of her looking younger in a similar outfit. I think this must have been her Confirmation and the other her First Communion, but I wasn’t raised Catholic like she was so am not familiar with their sacraments and such.
This next snapshot is one of a cache of photos from the years she taught in Chicago. She loved holidays and dressing and decorating for them; I don’t remember this particular costume, but she sure seems happy.
I don’t remember which year this last one was taken, but I do remember the scene. It was one of the annual quilt show trips we took together for a decade or so. At this one, the Quilted Northern toilet paper people had a booth in the vendor area, and my mom, ever the extrovert, had such fun talking to the young people who were there to pass out coupons that she wanted her photo taken with them, the first time any of them had had such a request.
I’m expecting I’ll have more words about Mom and grief and other things, but when, I’m not sure.