In the last poem I wrote about my mother, in which I tell a story about one of my last hospital visits with her, there briefly appears a woman named Theresa. Theresa was my mom’s closest friend in the last decade or so of her life. Theresa’s oldest daughter and I are Facebook friends. And when she posted on her timeline that her mom had died and that the service would be that following Friday– well, I had to go. Even as I’d sworn off attending any more funerals, there was no question about paying respects to her.
I wore a shirt and tie, looking better than I would for work and scored random Hello’s from white women(!) on the street, as well a Hard Cheese this female security guard gave me, strolling past the bank parking lot.
The church was one I’d passed for years, blocks away from where I once attended Jr high school. I arrived early enough, among people steadily climbing the steps. I signed the guest book and had to sneak up on an Usher who was busy talking to grab a huge, full color program.
I hadn’t seen Theresa in years and my heart sunk, seeing photographs and reading her obituary and remembering her laugh and Oh yeah; I played catch with one son and tried showing him Akira when he was way too young to see it. (He made me turn it off) And I remembered another son when he was all Afro and freckles, and the oldest daughter getting her hair pressed in my kitchen.
But those memories were antiques. I didn’t look at them often enough. And I didn’t know anybody any longer. Which one was the one I played catch with? Who had the freckles and afro?? And my facebook friend… um, is THAT her?? The room stood as the family marched in. Two sheriff’s deputies stood against the back wall. The row of women ushers at the door… I couldn’t directly look at them without thinking of/missing my mom.
The mocha colored casket sat closed beneath an awning of flowers. A line of 10 people assembled to share memories of Theresa or be encouraging to the family. I thought of doing the same, but my mind was so quiet. I couldn’t remember a story. For a moment, I didn’t think I could be encouraging and positive– no one had been encouraging to me. I didn’t know what that was.
The people who spoke were all brief. An older woman and church member since the 1970’s who considered herself everyone’s mother. A man told a story that made the room laugh (Theresa, he said to many Amens, should have been a comedianne).
One of those to speak was a member of Theresa’s daughter’s sorority. The woman, in red, asked the members of her group to stand. They did, all huddled together in matching colors as if they were a choir. The woman on the mic spoke soft, but was grounded and sounded used to having people Obey her. She turned to the family and said if you need anything, we are here. They stood like gorgeous soldiers, and I knew at that moment they would do anything for the family. Anything. Without question.
I couldn’t help think: Did anyone ever offered that to me? Looking around at the rows of family Theresa left behind, the sons and daughters and grandkids… It occured to me how alone I was. How when my mom died, there wasn’t anyone who had my back. No one stood with me. Ealier this year, when my friend from back east came to cremate his mom, he arrived with his girlfriend and while sitting on my sofa, squeezed her hand and said how she kept him on track, how he couldn’t imagine getting through this without her. I sat quietly listening and wondered how exactly I made it, having no one offer me much of anything. What happened?
I was adopted. After my mom died, I was laid off from family. I still feel that way. The day before the memorial, I called my aunt in los angeles, my mom’s only sister, to tell her about Theresa whom she knew, but there was no answer.
At the end of the service, there was no viewing. The family marched out, the casket was removed and we quietly walked out to the street. A pool of people swirled. I stood against the church gate.
My mom was the end of family as I knew it. And since then, I’ve been and felt less than anything. Standing there amidst all these people, I wanted to be here, but had no reason. I didn’t know anyone. Well– turns out there was one person, a mutual family friend, whom I knew and we hugged. But besides her, I’d been away too long… I didn’t know anybody any more. Even those I remembered, I didn’t remember. I stopped myself from getting in line to hug anybody. And just stood there, watching. Slowly, people wandered off to their cars and one of the members of the family began rallying people to move on to the cemetery. I had no car and was meeting others later that afternoon. I stop here. But something else within me had apparently stopped years before…
I felt clumsy and dumb. I’d forgotten what it meant to be in church, forgotten what it meant to be part of a family. I’d mourned so much and for so long, I nearly felt out of sympathy for others. Unseen, I tore myself away from the church gate, navigated through the crowd and was gone.
Less an hour later, downtown, I bought my second cup of coffee. I sat on a bench, thinking about the service and how much support my Facebook friend had gotten. I bought no flowers or card. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just showed up with love and broken memories and still felt I’d done something wrong. Like I hadn’t done a chunk of homework I didn’t even know was due. I took out my phone and sent her a message:
I wanted to extend my love to you and your family. I loved and honored your mother especially because of the friendship and love she extended to my mom. What I’ve learned in the years since my own mom was laid to rest, is that family is everything. I pray for love to heal and keep you guys together and may your faith sustain you. You will never get over the loss. But may her memory and the knowledge that she has touched so many lives in such a positive and beautiful way sustain you. My heart extends to you now and always..Lovingly, James
She wrote back, sooner than expected, thankful and brief. Yes, we had great mothers. She remembered how her mother adored mine. She promised to exchange prayers.
That night I cleared my head in the company of friends whom I’ll be with for Thanksgiving. We snuck gourmet sandwiches in the theater to see Thor. Me still in a shirt and tie. Him in a Mustang t-shirt. “Job interview?” He asked. “Funeral,” I said.
Days later, I’d get a text message that another older person in my life had died. I deleted it. The memorial was scheduled exactly seven days after Theresa’s. I couldn’t cash out two bereavement requests off work, both within a week of each other. Its true, even as it sounds suspicious. And besides: what is there left for me to pour out? How empty can any thing get… and still exist?