We spent the next month trying to figure out what came next. A collaboration of people, aunts and uncles, cousins, grannys, and friends, all trying to sort out how to find closure or say goodbye to someone who didn't want a funeral.
My dad didn't have a funeral, either. Both my parents loathed the idea of a black-clad congregation crying over them, cringed at the thought of their bodies on display in attire they'd never dream of wearing in life.
In the end, a small church service was held. A spray of red roses and a photograph replaced the casket. My brother wore his official Army uniform, which is what soldiers wear to funerals. He didn't do it for that reason, but because Mom never did get to see him in his official uniform and would have loved it. I cried a little, seeing him. My mom would've cried, too. She was so proud of him.
Many didn't wear black, myself included. I also wore my mother's necklace that holds my father's ashes. She would've liked that. Sort of like he was there.
Finally, we come to the point. Besides the preacher who presided over the service, there were four speakers. All three of my brothers got up and spoke about Mom, and Granny told a story about an angel she saw when she and my mother were driving through a thunderstorm years ago. I did not speak.
Some people asked me casually why I didn't; others thought it might be rude to inquire. So, I'll tell you the why: I was physically unable to tell my own kids about either one of my parents' passing. My husband had to give the news. It's like the words freeze in my throat, and my heart seizes. I simply can't. The minute Spencer, my younger brother and the first to speak, opened his mouth, I started crying. I didn't want to get up in front of everyone and be unable to say what I wanted to. After all, I'm a writer, not a speaker.
So, I'm saying now what I ought to have said then, and I'm doing it with the correct medium.
My mother had a tendency to repeat herself. Over and over, she'd tell you the same story. Growing up, I heard over and over again this particular thing: "There's nothing in the world that could make me stop loving you." She'd pause. "Except murder. If you killed someone, I don't know that I could forgive you."
Basically, short of taking someone's life, there's nothing she wouldn't forgive. It was her way of explaining to us how much she loved us. She'd forgive any trespass, even if it took time, and love us despite anything--if we were gay, did drugs, robbed banks, voted Republican. She'd be disappointed, hurt, maybe angry. But she would love us despite it.
When someone dies, the first thing we do is start looking back and analyzing our relationship with that person. Every argument, every shitty thing you ever said, every time you might've been better, spoke better, been nicer, had more patience. While in Georgia, I heard so many people mention regrets. We all had something to feel guilty for.
And if you're one of those people, I'm telling you to cut that shit out. Right now. Because I don't think Mom reserved that kind of fierce love for her kids alone; I think she loved her brothers, sister, and mother to the same standard--short of murder, she forgave you. And I know she'd be upset with any of us who lingered over old regrets. She loved us too much to want that. She wanted her life celebrated, not her death mourned. And so she'd tell us to think of the good times, and let go of the bad. And so I will endeavor to do so in spite of my own guilt over decisions I might have made differently had I known how little time she had left.
And now, as to celebrating her life. Let me just say, my parents got around. To a world-traveler, it may seem humble, but it's certainly not a life one would regret. Mom and Dad got out there and made tracks.
From four-wheeling in the wilds of southern Georgia to camping in the Smokey Mountains. Mom had been to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, and Pike's Peak in Colorado. Walked the streets of Juarez, Mexico and rode through Canada. She'd seen the big skies of Montana and the swamps of southern Louisiana. Partied it up at Cheyenne Frontier Days and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco, Pearl Street mall in Boulder, CO, Disney World and Disneyland, the badlands of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore, Washington, D.C., the alien crash site in Roswell. She ate at Emeril's in Orlando and the original Morton's Steakhouse in Chicago. Gambled in Las Vegas, skied in Colorado, and gave birth to twins in Kansas City. She got a tattoo in Cancun, Mexico and did it all with four kids and a successful marriage of over thirty years.
And that's just the stuff she did after she turned 30.
My hat off to you, Mom. I can only hope to do so much. I turn 30 this year, so I'd better get the ball rolling.
In conclusion, my parents lived, filled in every corner of life they could. They reached out, grabbed it, and so my brothers and I inherited incredible, lasting memories I wouldn't trade for anything. My parents left this world with nothing, but managed to give us everything.