I believe in St. John suits, women with casseroles, wearing shoes in heaven and most of all my mother’s wit and wisdom.
My mom communicated every emotion—frustration, disappointment, anger and love—with humor. At 16, I found it utterly irritating. That was the year that mom became ill and was hospitalized. I halfway believed it was a conspiracy to get me to clean my room and pay more attention to my grades. But, when she was eventually diagnosed with a life threatening disease, I knew it wasn’t a hoax.
My mom treated her impending death like the punch line to an off-color joke. The kind where you know you’re not supposed to laugh but just can’t help yourself. We had “death talks” that occurred regularly over a 14 year period. There was the standard “just in case something happens, the will is in the file cabinet” conversation. The “if I give you the money now, I might not have anything to leave you when I die” conversation. And, the “baby, you should know that there will be a bunch of women with pies and casseroles in their hands, lining up to date your dad when I die” conversation. (That’s the one that finally got me to crack a smile).
Those talks that were so intensely painful and simultaneously funny were what carried me through the two-week process of her death and the three and half years beyond. At each painstaking point, I found myself searching for humor as a way to connect to her. Part survival tool. Part denial. Part living eulogy. In between prayers, humor became my faith. The only thing that kept me sane.
There was the trip to the funeral home where the funeral director told us that if mom passed, we should select a dress, provide make–up and stockings BUT no shoes. My first thought was “No shoes? Mommy’s from the South where they don’t wear white after Labor Day. She wouldn’t really want to meet God in her stocking feet.”
Then there were the stories from friends about funerals gone wrong. My favorite was the one where only certain family members were invited to and provided with tickets (yes, tickets) to the wake because the widow didn’t like some of her husband’s relatives.
There were, indeed, the women who flocked to our home with invitations for my dad to grieve with them at their retirement homes. Invitations that were, as mom predicted, sweetened by inducements of casseroles and pies.
And, there was mom’s wake, where, as a friend kneeled and cried at my mother’s casket, one of mom’s co-workers looked in and exclaimed “Oooh, she’s wearing a St. John suit.”
From the sublime to the ridiculous and everything in between, mommy loved life. As a teenager, I never understood how she could laugh while facing her own mortality. Never understood how she could approach and conquer every tragedy with a smile. As an adult I believe that there is no other way.
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