My mother’s funeral. I will always remember that was the day my many aunts circled around me like a galaxy of soft, upswept hairstyles and condolences.
I do love all my Cajun aunts. So ripe with character. I can still feel one aunt’s laquered nails on my arm as she stopped me outside the funeral parlor. She looked at me intently and said she had something to tell me. She said my mother didn’t want me to know this but seeing as thing are the way they are…well, (she paused) then told me my cat was dead.
I had left the cat with my mother when I went to college and after the cancer really took hold the cat went to live with my aunt.
‘Your mother wouldn’t hear of any bad news,’ my aunt said, ‘she would say ‘we won’t talk about cancer today’ and she really didn’t want me to tell you about the cat.’
I smiled and thought about my mom in the way you do when someone has died; in one life-flashing-before-your-eyes moment. I could see it was one last-ditch effort to protect me; a period to her long novel of protective gestures.
Looking over the rim of a coffin kind of gives me the same feeling that peeking over a cliff would if heights weren’t my thing. It feels like all I have to do is step out a little bit more and my whole life would change, possibly not for the better, in an instant.
Being the daughter of the deceased means I would have to kiss my mother good bye. My mother was a wonderful, free sprit. However, she was not much of a hugger or kisser so the idea of kissing her while alive was strange enough.
I bent down and felt, as I grabbed the edge of the coffin, how it was so much like the guard rail separating me from a certain end. My face lowered and my lips stopped short at my mother’s forehead.
I remember my first kiss like it was yesterday. How his lips were so clumsy but soft and nicely nervous and inexperienced. I think I was in seventh grade and his name was Billy and he liked to draw pictures for me. He was older and allowed to ride a dirt bike to school because his family lived around the corner.
I pressed my mouth down on her head and felt no softness and inexperience. No give of gratitude. Only the stiff indifference to this world as a soulless vessel can offer. However, in that moment I felt all of the small gratuities my mother set out for me in my short time with her and it felt worth that lean over the coffin threshold.
I went back home and life went on around me and eventually I caught up. I married and had a child of my own.
I had wishes for my relationship with my mother. I wanted to know who she really was and I wanted to hear her tell me she loved me. Regardless, I was soon to know about adding on to what we are taught as children by our own parents. It is not their faults that should drive us to therapy twice a month but something to build on for next time. With new life there is always a next time.
In motherhood I grew to know the depth of my mother’s unspoken love and protection. I add to it in my own life with my son as one would give seasoning a well known family recipie. I touch my son’s face in a way that shows unconditional love, I tell him I love him at unexpected times and I kiss my baby everyday hoping his memory of that living kiss is far stronger than any other I would offer up after my life had passed on.
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