When We Bury Our Mothers

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And so it begins.

We book our last-minute flights that leave at ungodly hours, requiring transfers through Atlanta or Detroit.  We return to the churches where we last stood in matching bridesmaid dresses, clutching multi-colored bouquets and smiling with our arms around each other.  Back then, we were exhausted from staying up too late after the rehearsal dinner.  The lives we returned to after the wedding were the uncomplicated (though we didn’t know it then) lives of single, childless women at the beginning of their careers.  We had car payments, transitional boyfriends, portions of our graduate degrees, fabulous highlights.  We didn’t have birth plans or mini-vans.

We return full of sorrow, having slammed against the awful reality we vaguely knew was waiting for us in the far away One Day.

We return to bury one of our mothers.

My own mother is alive and well, recovering from jetlag from a well-deserved summer trip.  My father is too, having survived his first-ever trip to Europe as a septuagenarian.  I’m proud as hell of them for saying yes to the invitation to travel to Spain—for scouring Dallas for the best (but still cute) walking shoes and greeting a new experience with an open-wide yes-ness that took them thousands of miles from their comfort zones, which typically include rounds of iced tea at Corner Bakery and breakfast at a local diner with friends.

They are tired, but alive, still hurtling through new, pleasurable experiences.  I’ll see them in October, and we’ll let my daughter boss us all around, most likely marching us straight to the American Girl Doll store.  We’ll eat too much dessert, they’ll spoil my kids rotten with cookies for breakfast, and we’ll sock away new memories.

But not all my friends can say that.

Some of them have been unable to for years.  As I sit here on a plane to Texas where I’m headed to help a dear friend say goodbye to her mother, smooshed between a hygienically-challenged French citizen and a sweet old lady with a gigantic eye mask, I think, “Oh my God, it has begun.”

This new era’s actually been threatening for a few years.  My friends’ parents have had health scares, close calls, bad doctors’ visits, scans revealing ominous spots on vital organs.  It’s always gut-wrenching to watch someone grapple with a sick parent.  It’s devastating to be the one with the imperiled parent.

Today is the first day I will bear witness, as an adult and as a mother, to a friend’s final goodbye to her mother.  When my own mother’s mother died, I remember the women from my mother’s sorority and grammar school who showed up.  One sweet, tearful woman (Helen?)  surprised my mom at the funeral.  When they embraced, Helen kept saying, “Oh, Erin, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”

I thought that sounded so strange.  It wasn’t like my mom was doing some once-in-a-life-time trick, like jumping from a high diving board into a little bucket.  Helen’s words made what was happening at that cemetery in Baton Rouge sound so exciting. So not-to-be-missed.  Like a circus trick.  A stunt.  A show-for-the-ages.

But here’s what I now understand.  The daughter who buries a beloved mother is jumping from a high diving board into a little bucket.  The bucket is a new world where the daughter no longer has a mother.  She now has a grieving father to support and a new identity as a woman whose mother no longer walks the Earth.  Soon, she’ll have closets to empty, clothes to donate, insurance forms to file, and Christmases and grandparents’ days to get through without her mother.

Jumping from a high dive into a little bucket is fitting metaphor after all.

In my back-and-forth text exchanges with my friend about funeral arrangements and travel plans, she thanked me profusely for coming.  I typed out “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”  Then I erased it.  It still sounded so strange.  Too happy.  Too celebratory. Too jaunty.

Then, I typed it again.

Because it’s true.  I wouldn’t miss the chance to bear witness to her crossing over to her life.  The one without her mother.

Because it has begun.

 

 

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22 thoughts on “When We Bury Our Mothers

  1. This is fantastic. Writing like this, from the heart and soul, is what makes me keep coming back to your work again and again.
    Of course, the humor is fun, too, but this is real, heavy, life here.

  2. This is truly beautiful. Having been there at too young of an age, your thoughts about mothers, loss, and friendship are spot on. I have a friend who contacts me every year on the anniversary of my mother’s death to tell me she is thinking about me. It still means as much as it did 25 years ago. Peace to those missing their moms tonight!

    • Way too young! It’s hard to wrap my head around this loss at any age but you tender hearts who dealt with this so young …. It breaks my heart to think of you carrying that loss in high school. So young. How proud your mother would be of you.

      >

  3. Poignant and moving. It reminds me of a movie quote I’ve always appreciated: ;Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.’ Witnessing your friend as she transitions to life in a world without her mother holds such deep support and profound meaning and it truly is those moments that we shouldn’t miss for the world!

  4. It’s in these moments that the support of family and friends is essential. It’ll be a long journey redefining her role no longer as daughter. Our parents love us like no other. It is so hard to explain to those who have never experienced it and thankful that you haven’t had to yet. What a gift to your friend…now and in the months to come.

  5. I remember years ago being the bridesmaid of my friend. She was having pre wedding jitters- not so much about the man she was marrying- but about how this was a step into adulthood. We were early 20s and yeah. It kind of was. One thing she said to me- pushing 15 years ago- is ‘This is the man I am going to marry. I’m going to bury my parents with this man.’ And I’ve never forgotten that statement. That sort of tilt shifted everything, and when I was married I thought those same things. I can’t wrap my mind around it… but as you say- ‘so it begins’. It makes my stomach flip flop. I hope your friend finds comfort in your words.

  6. I was sobbing as I read this. We buried my mom in January my friends came from far and near to surround me. They brought trays of food, tissues and waterproof mascara. They brought their love and memories of my mom.

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