The Last Time I Saw Her Face

Dear Mom, I do not remember what you looked like the first day of my life, but I will always remember what you looked like on the last day of your life. It still bothers me that you left on that sunny day, March 23rd 2010 (a day that would have been your favorite kind of day) without me being there to hold your hand one last time. I am so sorry that the last night you were alive proved too overwhelming for me. I did, however, kept stepping back into and out of the room, taking breaks like deep breaths, and stretching out on the gaudy floral print couch in the waiting area. I wanted to spend the entire night, stay all day, be as vigilant as a knight on a mission beside you… I do not like that I was weak while you were there struggling to be so strong.  My body just could not keep up with my sense of duty.  Or was I just lazy?  Was I selfish?  These questions come up after years of me working on forgiving myself.

I hope you can forgive me.  I’m writing about you on my blog.  Some people who know you, and strangers, too, will read this.  While you were in a home, you never got to explore what being on the internet was like and blogging was a complete unknown thing for you, but you loved writing prayers, hymns, and children’s stories.  If you had the control of your hands, and your eyesight revived, I believe you would have loved blog writing because it is so instantly accessible to readers and other writers.  You had a lot of stories, Mom, and I never got to tell you how grateful I was to learn the value and healing power of storytelling from you. You always taught me to write out my feelings and thoughts. You were a writer yourself and you loved to sing. I’ve been carrying on your tradition of singing everyday at home, making up impromptu love songs about friends and my cat, and writing an essay each week to record my reflections. By your example, I learned how to properly leave evidence of my existence behind so I won’t disappear and that I would never have lived for nothing. Yes, Mom, you were always right. I have a life purpose. I won’t give up. You didn’t give birth to a loser. You gave birth to a daughter of God.

And that is the other thing I want to address. I never again want any member of our family to be rejected over what they believe. I’m sorry you and I didn’t always see spirit to spirit, yet, wasn’t it interesting how strong we were/I am when it comes to our love of the Divine? It is never about religion. It was about our personal relationship with the Gods. Even though you never saw them as multiple, I respected, and still respect, the many ways in which humanity sees God. I promise that when I pass that I will not disallow any member of our family, and none of my friends, the opportunity to publicly turn and relate to the Gods via the religion of their choice. I want my funeral interfaith. I want my life to be interfaith. I will still be a stalwart Witch, but I will refuse to be anyone’s enemy based on differences of faith and spirituality. We had our differences, Mom, and many misunderstandings, yet I feel your spirit is at peace, that you know, now, that all is love.

After you left your body, and the last of your breath escaped your lips, where did you go next? Do you remember how angry I was at your church pastor? I was, in two words, jealous and paranoid.  He got to be there when you died.  I didn’t.  Sure, I was happy you had clergy with you, but I needed to be there at that moment.  I could have been there, if only… !

That day my brother met with your pastor to work out the best way to honor your memory.  I was told to stay in the car or hang out in the church while these men had their meeting.  You know that my brother was only trying to spare me the gory details and emotional pain, but he was wrong to leave me out of the memorial planning. When they locked themselves in that office down the hall, I felt shunned.  I sat in what felt like a place miles away, isolated in a chilly office with glass walls that went all the way up to the ceiling, alone on a sticky, plastic, green chair, waiting too long alone. Alone, surrounded by strangers alone, alone and made uncomfortable by people who were using the event of your death as a means to convince me to join your church. Torture. So I stomped into that hallway and pounded on the door. Foolish me! I almost screamed murder.

I needed to know every detail of your death.  Like I needed to know all the details I didn’t know about your life, all the things you never shared with me. I realized after you died that there was a lot you left out in the stories you told me.  So many moments, traces of you to uncover…  What happened to you?!  It hurt me to desire to know!

“It was a beautiful, peaceful passing,” the pastor said in a tone that made me wince. He mentioned the Biblical scripture DVD that had been playing for your comfort non-stop in your room had come to a pause when you took your last exhale. It was at the tail end of a passage from the book of Romans that went: “It is Done” and the pastor gushed about how moving, godly, amazing it was. It was as if he had scripted it for a movie. It stung my last nerve. You know I’ve got a poison tongue, Mom, and I let it lash.

“I want to know EVERYTHING! Don’t give me some story to comfort me. I NEED to know what happened to my mother, mister. Don’t spare me because, for all I know, you put a pillow over her face and took her out of her misery!” I could not hold back. I may have said more than a few rude words. My voice may have carried beyond the office. When my brother spoke calmly to me, I talked over him, told him to back off, told him how unfair it was to leave me waiting for so long in the office lobby. I accused him and the pastor of talking about me, how are we going to handle Coreene’s pagan daughter? Will the Witch disrupt the church service? Shame on her for being a Witch and causing her mother so much heartbreak! but worse yet I was paranoid about everyone at that church thinking that’s the woman who broke her mother’s heart so bad that she weakened and died and maybe, did you, Mom, did you spend many days and nights crying over me? As brother half-hugged me, apologizing for not including me in the meeting with your pastor, I sank into the leather couch… Why am I remembering all the couches I sat on while you were dying? Strange. Anyway, where was I?

The pastor fulfilled my request and told me the uglier details about your death. Every morbid detail was a relief. I think it strange how people thought hiding the details would make me better. I find it fascinating, Mom, how being told the details of what happened to your body helped me to relax.

It was the same numbing comfort I felt when I last touched your body and kissed your cooled cheek. Brother and I requested, and I hope you didn’t mind, that we got to spend some time with you in the hour after you died before they would take you away. You were still in your little cotton nightgown with that green shamrock pillow you made under your right wrist. The night and days before, brother and I took turns holding your hands, sometimes he took the left, me the right, and so on, so forth. I enjoyed swabbing your lips with water and touching your baby soft hair. In those final times, you seemed like you were becoming a baby again. Your face was a little bloated, but smooth and silky. In death, with all the blood drained, you seemed carved out of alabaster. You weren’t yet like ice. My lips carefully kissed your left forehead and noticed it was clammy — how it feels when someone has a cold sweat due to a fever. As I looked at your face, there was no question you were gone. Even with eyes still open, the spark that was there was gone.

I sometimes go to bed afraid of waking up in your dead body. My body is so much like yours was. The last time I saw your face was a preview of how I will look like when I die. They call it shock, the zombie-like-numbing-comfort-daze where you understand that someone is really dead yet not really gone and you walk around feeling like a lost child or orphan, but more like a senile elder who completely forgets how to get back home. I wanted to stay with your body, hold your hand some more. Did you see that, the time I attempted to entwine my fingers around yours, but then, as if shocked by static electricity at the stiff-clay sensation of your joints when I tried to open your hand, I jumped. Then I really felt bad for noticing how your blood, a deep blue-almost-purple, pooled underneath you. I looked back at your face. Your mouth was the open part of an empty seashell. Your chest was still slightly moving as air continued to escape from you. It was a whisper-gurgle that nearly gave me hope, but, no…

“Tina!” You’d scold me and make that tsk! noise that, to this day, can drive my brother crazy, “Why dwell on something like that? Tell your friends better stories about me. I wasn’t just this corpse. I was your mother, so make me nice.” I can imagine us like we were back in the mid-80’s drinking a diet Pepsi, nibbling on chips and dip. “But, Mom, that was a seriously strange moment, one that is deeply dented in my memory and worth reporting because it really happened. Some people will never see the bodies of their loved ones moments after they die. They may just see the made-up, dressed-up body after the morticians display them nicely in a coffin. Others still will never get to see them at all because the body has badly decomposed, horribly damaged, or just immediately cremated which is often requested by some patients who refuse to let their dead bodies be seen.” I’d then pause to drink my Pepsi and Mom would make her mouth go all crooked like my mine does while thinking of what next to say.

Oh, Momma, I know how much you loved keeping things proper, respectful, and pretty. I must have been embarrassing at times. You wore bright yellows and pinks, while I wore blacks and deep plum and wines. Your lipstick was bright orange rose, mine was cranberry red. My eye liner was thick when I was a teen. As an adult I would, and still do, streak my hair with colors you’d rather see me wear on a blouse than coming out of my head. Your hair was always slightly retro. I still fondly remember your carefully sculpted beehive structured hair-dos from the early 70’s graduate into the puffy perms you sported in the 80’s and 90’s. I so loved it when your hair went completely white, not grey, just this baby seal white so fine, it was like the angel dust we used as Christmas decoration.

How’s that, Mom? Did I paint you prettier with my description now? I sometimes forget to stray away from the morbid and hold back and use the softer, more pastel and Easter-sweet tones you love. Do you know now that Spring reminds me of you forever? When I celebrate the Vernal Equinox, I start to mourn like I do at Samhain. Mother, you are my Kore, my Persephone, and my Demeter. The two weeks after you died, visions of you as a girl dressed in Greco-Roman attire singing all sorts of songs, ones you wrote, Hymns you sang in church, and ones more ancient I did not recognize, interrupted my sleep each night around 4 in the morning. Most people would be freaked out by this and think, OH. M. GEE. MY HOUSE IS HAUNTED. But your daughter is a Witch, spirits aren’t always giving me a scare, and there is no way I am going to be frightened by the after-death presence of my mother who is cheerfully sharing with me the joy of being freed from a body that broke down.

“You still have to let go,” You firmly say and, indicating with a sigh, you add, “Don’t let what happened between us keep you from getting together with new friends and starting new things. I want you to promise me something…”

I am immediately anxious now. Now, Mom, you know how I hate it when anyone puts any kind of pressure on me like that, and you know how I like to take on challenges I really cannot meet. So, come on, hurry up and get it over with!

“Promise me that, no matter what, do not let anyone get away with making you feel sorry for yourself. Remember I love you. You have to take care of yourself. I did not raise a bad person. So, come on, Tina, stop crying and give yourself a break. Keep singing. Don’t stop dancing. Because within you the beauty of all our mothers shines out of you! You’ll see.”

That’s when I imagine my Aunt Sandy, Aunt Madge, and Aunt Viv are in the house. They’ve been in the kitchen all this time, and now they are shewing me out the door, ordering me to go play outside with the other kids while they get things ready…

I’m back to myself alright. I never feel like I’ve “lost” you, Mom. But it gets lonely sometimes. I still have dreams of the days we gathered at Aunt Madge’s. I often visit Aunt Sandy’s apartment as if it were 1986 again, but she’s not sick, no one is, all bad memories fade away. Everything’s forgiven. It is the fantasy that motivates me — the candle I hold even in the wind and carry in the rain — a love that despite any dispute is too stubborn to burn out.

Mom, tell our family, show them all, how much I love everyone. This is no lie. It flows out of me like a prayer. May it be carried to heaven, answered and dropped down to earth with the rain that fell today, and soak into the ground, bringing peace, popping out the green and flowers. Blessings be and wishes true, I have to say it one more time for good measure: I LOVE YOU!


One thought on “The Last Time I Saw Her Face

  1. This is a truly beautiful way to work yourself through your mourning. Grief is no easy thing to handle when it is also weighed down with regret – I felt this when I lost my brother with too many things unsaid. But I love what you said about knowing your mother can see now that all is love… what a wonderful thought to wrap yourself up in.

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